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Readers weigh in on Internet ownership

From Philadelphia to San Francisco, local moves toward metrowide broadband will fuel the debate over free enterprise versus government intervention.

There's nothing like an argument over free enterprise versus government's role to provoke some thoughtful comments. Such was the case in the response to Friday's perspective by CNET's Harry Fuller on who owns the Internet. From Philadelphia to San Francisco, local moves toward metrowide broadband will fuel the public-private debate.

Here's a sampling of our readers' comments. What's your opinion? Join in the discussion in our TalkBack forum.

I'll support government-run broadband...
Posted by: Aaron Sokoloski

...when I want my Internet connection to have as many potholes as a public road. Downtime happens once in a while for private providers, but it's downright rare compared to what would happen if we let the government run our Internet services.

The government has much less incentive to provide good service. If their Internet service goes down for a day, so what? Are they going to lose customers? You're already forced to pay them taxes, unlike a private business which has to EARN your money.

This is the reason why projects like the Big Dig take five years longer than they're supposed to and cost billions more. Why would the government do better than private companies in high tech? They've already shown they can't even handle something as low-tech as building roads well.

Finally, if the government produces "free" broadband, poorer and less-educated families are going to end up paying disproportionately more for the service, which they are less likely to use. Someone saving to send their kids to college right now has a choice not to pay for superfast Internet service, instead investing in a college fund and (gasp!) physical books for their children. If the government runs the Internet, everyone gets taxed no matter how much they use it.

And what good does free Internet access do someone who doesn't have a computer?

Fiber is our future, and the sooner the better
Posted by: Joe Wroblewski

The Internet has certainly changed the way we work and live--and for me it has definitely been a positive change. As a software engineer, I can now not only do my job better and faster, but I can quickly and easily become proficient in new technologies.

The Internet is capable of so much that wasn't obvious at first--certainly companies like Yahoo and Google are proving that. And I'm sure there is much more to come just leveraging existing technology. But when fiber comes into the home and business, the world will change again. It will enable a whole new breed of software architectures, which will help fuel both business and education.

I don't know if the government should own this infrastructure, but they certainly need to promote it. This country is filled with innovation and creativity--let's waste no time in providing the light-speed canvas to express ourselves on!

Why only Uncle Sam?
Posted by: Donald Nguyen

Well, I don't know our Canadian equivalent of Uncle Sam, or whoever else in the world runs their respective countries, but the Internet is a global work and play space, and getting one agency or country or select group of agencies isn't particularly going to work because then there would be some big squabble. And then soon enough, China will start making their own network and perhaps the whole EU. Then we start isolating countries and it's not going to be good, just because there will be clash-back if the Internet is no longer perceived as a publicly owned entity (where) everyone gets their fair chance of a piece of pie. Moreover, where there's Uncle Sam comes Big Brother, and while we're very aware that Big Brother is already looking over's another item that'll dissuade many people from using the Internet if they think Big Brother has bigger eyes on the Net, and they'll create their own infrastructure. Besides, the Internet is way too big for the governments to just suddenly take over. These clashes between two network companies will occur, but I think rather than control the government, just fine the heck out of the two companies who seriously disrupt this essential service. It's bad enough Vonage doesn't offer real 911; now imagine your call is not able to be routed at all. My two cents.

Digital utility
Posted by: Barry Dennis

What the writer has discovered, as though it were a new idea, is that the free market breeds winners AND losers; we just don't want the process to interfere with our use of "public" infrastructure, from roads to communications infrastructure. While I don't know for sure, I can prognosticate that eventually the "Internet Digital Communications Infrastructure" will be a combination of wired and wireless; owned, joint-ventured, and in some cases local, state and federally controlled and/or managed (networks).

You are absolutely correct that the Internet is a citizen "right," derivative from public ownership of the airwaves. And while not established in law, the airwaves are the public property of the U.S. citizenry, as they should be.

We need further reinforcement of the citizenry's ownership of communications, with management rights delegated to government agencies chartered for this purpose, and responsible only to the public's approval of policy designed to allow everyone to participate.

This may mean American ownership of the Internet within our "electronic " borders; if other countries want to own their Internet, or give it to the U.N., that's their prerogative. But I can't imagine most other countries' citizens tolerating for a minute being "frozen out" of the U.S. communications infrastructure, known as the Internet.

I certainly can't imagine U.S. consumers and businesses allowing ANY interference with their free, unfettered, regulated for public good, enjoyment of the Internet, and all its permutations, from information research to entertainment to communications.

And elected or appointed officials who attempt in any way to politicize, or overlay foreign policy considerations on this resource are headed for a citizen's lynching party.

Start with the metros
Posted by: Paul Vixie

I agree with these comments and I'd like to thank Mr. Fuller for a fine wake-up call. (CNET is enough of a mainstream news source that Mr. Fuller could be called the first non-fringe-dweller to air these thoughts.)

To continue the very apt analogy to roads and power, let's do what works and start at the metro level. San Francisco wants ubiquitous wireless, but they should also be running their own Internet Exchange, requiring all licensed IP carriers to peer multilaterally at that exchange, ensuring that data sent from one city business to another doesn't have to leave the city nor enrich foreign corporations. What works for bike messengers WILL also work for Internet packets. Other cities should follow this same path, and will be forced to in order to stay competitive.

Once this is a done deal for the NFL cities, the die will be cast. If someday we have a Rural Broadbandification Project, federally funded, then it will be because people in the hinterlands lack what everybody in the cities already has. Everything has to start somewhere. The hook for ubiquitous broadband is in the cities, just as it was for roads and power.

Hear! Hear!
Posted by: Aaron Bloom

I completely agree. Everyone has a right to Internet access, and it should be treated as a utility. I'm really glad to see that large cities are beginning to offer free wireless service. You bring up the need for rural areas to have access to the Internet, but what about people in poor urban settings? They need the benefits from the Net as well. The only caveat is the Google experiment in San Fran. Can free Internet be supported across the country by Google ads? It sounds too good to be true.

Free market is messy--and I love it
Posted by: Wes Zuber

I have to admit it sounds very comforting to have someone arbitrate arguments such as the one that is going on between Level 3 and Cogent.

Mr. Fuller feels that if the Internet was nationalized, there just wouldn't be these types of arguments or loss of services. That certainly was the argument for the phone system monopoly. It's true it "worked" for a while. Everyone got a phone, or most anyway. The only people troubled by this system were the people with better ideas.

I don't know if Mr. Fuller is aware of this, but in the days of our wonderful egalitarian phone system, if one had a better idea--say a Microwave dish on a couple of hills to help communication to truckers--one had to PROVE that there was a need for any new idea to a government committee. Of course, the phone oligopoly objected to anything like this. A new idea? Pish pash!

Those pesky risk takers and thinkers. If it weren't for Jack Goeken (MCI) in 1968 and going to war over this, the Internet would never have existed.

Mr. Fuller doesn't seem to realize that the beautiful thing about the free market and competition is that it brings so many perspectives to bear. Whereas Mr. Fuller and others might see a mess, believe me, someone else is looking at this as an opportunity.

If Cogent's model is not all it is cracked up to be, then they will fail (as should be!) and their customers will move off and find someone who will properly support them.

Mr. Fuller's ideas are well intentioned; anyone can see that. Every oligopoly and monopoly starts out with that premise. Good intentions are not enough to keep out the ill effects of centralized control.

Get your points straight...
Posted by: Earl Benser

Universal broadband is a great idea, for anyone who doesn't understand the basics of network installation and maintenance costs. That 'anyone' includes the U.S. government, which has never found a boondoggle that it didn't want to fund. This would be more pork than Congress could ever dream of.

But for now, it's also a very foolish idea. Broadband services are for those who can pay for them. Simple economics, and if you don't like the outcome where you're at, then move or quit complaining.

As for the U.S. Government taking over the Internet itself (as implied by the headline), that is beyond idiocy. The Internet works so well because NO ONE owns it or controls it, except for communication protocols. To get anyone involved as a control point would be the absolute height of folly. It's an idea that no sane person would propose.

Despite the headline, control of the Internet is NOT the point of Mr. Fuller's article. He does focus on broadband access, and the need to extend it as far as financially feasible. Current cable and telco programs will do most of that expansion without prompting--it's a competition thing. On the other hand, if you're at the far end of 50 miles of phone wire with no cable access, there's not much anybody can do or should do for you.

You do have Directway as an option--it's better than nothing. But whatever you get, you're going to have to pay for it. That is, until some politician decides to buy more votes with more pork barrel projects. And that will make the Boston Big Dig into a penny ante project.

Small town broadband
Posted by: Marvin George

We are lucky in my community, which is a small community, that our broadband costs are cheaper than cable, DSL and TI lines. We have a wireless ISP that starts their pricing at $17.95 for 128K. This is cheaper than dial-up and is not a promotion like some DSL or cable companies have indicated. This is always on. So when there is competition, there are some that will price such that people will get the best value. They say it will be up 99.95 percent of the time. In my community they will see the end of a lot of ISPs, and Cox and Qwest may drop their Internet service because they can't compete, period. If they drop their price for this market they may have to drop it nationwide. The bottom line is that in a small community, there are some that bring (access) at a lower cost and still make a profit, period.

Is government more or less likely to inhibit open communication?
Posted by: Chris Cunningham

One could see a federally funded Internet becoming yet another bargaining chip/heavy hammer for international relations. Don't adhere to U.N. mandate will be subject to Internet sanctions...

This is not a role of the federal government, any more than erecting museums or sponsoring broadcast, newspaper or radio media.

The government already meddles enough in the communications infrastructure with verbose FCC rulings that are often anticompetitive in nature. How would we respond to an FCC ruling restricting Internet trade?

The author refers to the highway infrastructure as a parallel; although one would have a hard time arguing that this was unnecessary, we only have to look at the most recent "highway bill" to see how Internet commerce might be affected by federal intervention.

Internet access is a right?
Posted by: Chris Cunningham

Next I will be looking for my "right" to have a car, my "right" to housing, my "right" to a phone line; why do I work again?

Sure it is
Posted by: Aaron Sokoloski

I think we should just pass a law saying that I have a right to whatever I want. I have a right to foot massages by beautiful women (they don't have a right to their own time, though). I have a right to free Internet access paid for by taxing rich people (they don't have a right to their own money, though).

People getting rewarded for making the most of their situations and working hard makes me sick. Why should they have more money than I do? I'll feel better, at least, if they're forced to subsidize my wasting time online when I could be learning new skills and trying to find a better job.

I have a right to use the government to demand truly inessential things from other people that I'm too lazy and weak to give up temporarily while working my way to a better life.

Posted by: Lolo Gecko

Why are we so hung-up on ownership? Maybe too many control freaks? Or, are we just Borg?

Among these are...
Posted by: Lolo Gecko

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of unlimited Internet access.

What's Needed?
Posted by: Harry Fuller

I was heartened to see the spirited exchange. How and where broadband service is made available matters all over the planet. At least nobody argued we should tear out the street and roads in poor areas because those slackers don't pay enough taxes. I can only point out that many people and nations are not poor by choice, and that's especially true of humans under the age of 16. For them poverty and lack of food and other services like broadband is the result of chance, or God's will, if you choose to believe that. Children growing up without computer and Internet access are increasingly ill-equipped for today's world.

Perhaps an easier to accept metaphor: mail and package delivery. We have Fed Ex, DSL, UPS, bike messengers and national postal services that agree to international cooperation.