Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Time for the Alternet?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has now circumvented checks by congress and the courts, in their bid to regulate the Internet. Started during the first big wave of the "progressive" movement with the Communications Act of 1934, the FCC has always been the government's tool for regulating technology, commerce, and of course, information. When it was first created, the FCC was regulating the then-new technologies of interstate and foreign telegraph, telephone, cable, and radio communications. Where in the Constitution did We the People give government the authority to do that?

By establishing a few strategic choke points on business, the government has very powerful control over content. Where in the Constitution did We the People give government the authority to do that? If radio stations want to keep their FCC license (i.e., stay in business), they have to comply with reams of technical, legal, business and content regulations. Even for a small mom-and-pop station, it requires at least one full-time employee just to stay in compliance. See section 73 and section 74 of the FCC Broadcast Rules. But wait, there's more! Much more! I know. I used to be the chief engineer (First Class Radiotelephone Operator License P1-13-10705) for just such businesses. The excuse given for this overwhelming government take-over in 1934 was to ensure freedom from interference and to set up international and interstate compatibility standards. Never mind the fact that the free market could have done the same, and in fact, was already moving in that direction. Where in the Constitution did We the People give government the authority to do that?

Now, the functional equivalent of radio stations -- the connection to the general public -- Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are in the cross-hairs. If they don't comply with FCC regulations, the government can fine them, or revoke their license (i.e., put them out of business). Where in the Constitution did We the People give government the authority to do that? From the government's perspective, this free-wheeling, wild and woolly internet has been free long enough. With things like conservative blogs, pornography, WikiLeaks, the threat of ISPs setting up tiered pricing in order to manage a limited resource (bandwidth) using the tried-and-true free market approach of charging more for something of higher value, the FCC wants to step in and control all of it. Especially information. But it also has its eye on "monopolistic" ISPs that might do something "greedy". Never mind the fact that I am at liberty to terminate my internet service any time I don't like my provider's terms and conditions. I really don't need the government's help with this non-essential frill. It's nice to have, but my survival does not depend on it.

I don't like the government being in control of my information sources. Radio, television and the Internet are today's free press. Or free speech. Since government has now seized the Internet, I think it is time for patriots and free thinkers everywhere to consider establishing the "Alternet", the free alternative to the Internet.

The Internet was built on research and technology from ARPANET. ARPANET packet-switching technology was intended to provide multiple routing options over an unreliable network, such as you might find on a battlefield. Today's computers and routers are built on top of protocols and modular technology that is now owned and operated by private citizens worldwide. Whenever you set up a local area network (LAN) and wireless network (WI-FI or WLAN), you are installing a miniature version of the Internet in your own home. Obviously, home routers are not up to the task of industrial-grade networking, but folks, We the People are in possession of the right technology and know-how to set up the Alternet. Certainly, there are logistical hurdles to overcome. But we shall overcome. Google is working on a self-driving car, for crying out loud. The Alternet would be child's play by comparison. We cannot let the government control our dialog, our information or our liberty.

P.S., you remember short-wave radios, and the Citizen's Band (CB) craze of the 1970s and 1980s? You might want to look in your attic, and dust off those old relics. See if they're still working. We might need them.

P.P.S., it appears that the name "Alternet" (or AlterNet) has already been taken. According to Wikipedia, "AlterNet, a project of the non-profit Independent Media Institute, is a progressive/liberal activist news service." Doesn't that just figure. Well, "Progressives" don't like copyrights and private ownership anyway, so I'm sure they won't mind if we use "Alternet"!

"Support for this government take-over of the Internet is provided in part by: the Pew Charitable Trusts, Bill Moyers's Schumann Center for Media and Democracy, the Joyce Foundation, George Soros's Open Society Institute, the Ford Foundation, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and by contributions from other suicidal NPR supporters like yourself."

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