The Enclosure of the Internet?

* Between 1750 and 1860, the British Parliament passed laws collectively known as the Enclosure Acts to transfer almost 7 million acres of public lands – the “commons” – into private hands.

Large estates, with the latest agricultural technologies, out-competed and then absorbed smaller farms, creating an abundance of cheap farm and factory labor for the Industrial Revolution.

Lobbyists advocating these new laws argued that estate-owners’ superior access to capital and technology would yield greater productivity than a commons open to small producers.

* Between 1928 and 1934, the U.S. Congress passed laws effectively limiting broadcast radio licenses to for-profit corporations, despite the fact that more than 250 community-based, not-for-profit radio stations had been thriving for almost a decade.

Lobbyists advocating these new laws argued that Wall Street-backed chains had superior access to capital and technology and could extend the benefits of radio to underserved areas faster and more efficiently.

The nonprofit stations soon disappeared in the Great Depression or via license-challenges from the corporate chains.

* Between 2002 and 2005, the Federal Communications Commission enacted rules to allow a handful of cable and telephone companies to capture more than 95 percent of all broadband Internet access in the United States, forcing thousands of independent ISPs out of business.

Lobbyists advocating these new rules argued that telecom conglomerates had superior access to capital and technology and could extend the benefits of broadband Internet access to underserved areas faster and more efficiently.

Instead, this handful of cable and telephone companies is poised to complete the “enclosure” of the online commons we call the Internet.

To do so, they must force the FCC to reverse course on a modest set of “open Internet” rules to protect consumers, ensure non-discriminatory treatment of Web content, and promote more competitive broadband markets.

Without these rules, the cable and telco companies will be free to re-structure the Internet into an online world that looks more like cable TV, where easy-to-reach, high-performance channels deliver the content of Fortune 500 companies, while independent and nonprofit content is relegated to second and third-class channels.

Once an electronic commons where innovators could launch a start-up and become the next Google, the Internet is about to become the private domain of online oligarchs.

A few days ago, Google and Verizon gave us a glimpse of this brave new world when the New York Times revealed that the companies had been secretly negotiating a deal to assure favorable treatment of Google’s content.

Over the next six weeks, we have what may be our last chance to prevent the corporate enclosure of the Internet.

Here’s what you can do: the FCC is taking public comment through Aug. 12 at midnight on its plan to restore open Internet rules vacated by the FCC between 2002 and 2005. We have put together a special webpage to help you share your comments with the FCC

It’s also extremely important that you contact your members of Congress – and the White House – to let them know your opinion.

The cable and telephone companies are pouring record amounts of money into Congress (more than $27 million as of May 16, according to the New York Times) to pressure the FCC – and ultimately the White House – to back-down.

Only a strong outpouring of public support can counter this unprecedented lobbying assault by the cable and phone companies and their corporate allies. Please act now to save the Internet.

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2 Responses to “The Enclosure of the Internet?”

  1. [...] in terms non-geeks can understand.  Over at the Mountain Area Information Network, Wally Bowen draws an excellent analogy to British property.  Also, Susan Crawford at NYU’s Cardoza law school (who just spent a year [...]

  2. Thanks a lot for this clear article, making the net neutrality discussion understandable for everyone. In Europe seems not much awareness about what’s going on, despite feverish blog discussions on the Verizon/Google agreement.

    An observation we think is worth sharing:
    We just tried to visit the FCC-website but couldn’t get through. The browser display showed the notice “google-analytics is busy exchanging information”. After 3 minutes this notice still showed up and we stopped.
    The notion “google-analytics is exchanging information” normally means a website owner has the software tool “Google-analytics” installed. In fact the FCC has: http://www.fcc.gov/fccprivacypolicy.html
    This means that Google Inc. is abled by the FCC to gather digital data from website visitors. To our opinion especially in the Verizon/Google/net neutrality debate, this information could give Google a certain advantage above others.

    Not only Google. The FCC homepage contains buttons from Twitter, Digg it, Facebook, MySpace and Addthis. So these firms are also abled by the FCC to collect digital data. To our opinion this could give these communications companies an unfair competitive advantage above others. We recommend the FCC to de-install all software / tools / plugins from the website that enables third parties to gather digital data.