Well, it's been a quiet St. Patrick's day, and that's been nice. Here's a little roundup on the politics of the internet.
First, I came across a good backgrounder if you're not aware of the coming battle for Net Freedom (Network Neutrality):
Telcos and cable operators want to charge more for faster access to content in part because they claim to have invested so heavily in their networks. Demand is only increasing for online video, music, multiplayer games, and other bandwidth-intensive activities, so, they argue, their pipelines are increasingly clogged with data.
Bruce Kushnick, chairman and cofounder of Teletruth, makes a pretty good case that the big telcos have already charged consumers and state governments plenty for broadband infrastructure they've never delivered. They're also feeling threatened by services that compete with their other core businesses, such as VOIP (define), and future offerings. Verizon, for example, is planning to deliver video services via its fiber optic network. That makes virtually any other online video player, from Time-Warner owned AOL to YouTube, a competitor, doesn't it?
In a tiered system, what happens to the long tail and to consumer-generated media (CGM)? I'm betting the blogging software providers, such as TypePad, Blogger, and Six Apart, are never going to buy into this. Yahoo! and Google, the long-tail gateways, say they won't either. Suddenly, the Internet looks a lot like it did in 1998: far, far away. Back then, it existed for most novice users somewhere outside AOL's walled garden. A proprietary ad format called Rainman reigned supreme, and if advertisers didn't like it, well, they knew what they could do about it.
I'm from the long-tail, bitch! Step off.
But maybe the future is not so dim:
Given a choice between the Internet and a tiny wedge of corporate content, subscribers will defect in droves. This, after they blame every slow-loading Web site, premium or otherwise, on their ISPs. Cities and municipalities will be spurred to accelerate public Wi-Fi plans, creating pockets of broadband non-subscribers.
There's my underground socialist utopia. Power to the municipalities! Metro revolution!
But seriously, let municipalities compete. The idea of making Corporations exempt from competition -- the legal response in Pennsylvania -- would be laughable if it weren't so likely to become the norm. The Judiciary is extremely pro-business, and I'm worried that a challenge to this law might be affirmed in the Supreme Court.
Now, I don't know what the telco's plan is, but Consumers for Cable Choice is a Verizon astroturf group. I think it's just building hype for their new Fiber To The Home program. That's right baby: Verizon is bringing fiber-optic cable, the highest bandwidth network ever to your streetcorner, and they're complaining about having to let just anybody sent you content with it, even after you pay $60 a month for the privilege.
Philly, on the other hand, and after quite a bit of early skepticism, is Partnering with Earthlink and smelling like a winner:
The city said Wednesday that pricing of the [Earthlink] broadband service will be kept below $20 per month. Economically disadvantaged users will be charged $9.95 a month, while other Internet service providers will be charged a wholesale rate that allows them to sell access for $20 a month or less to retail customers, the city said.
That works for me. I can already get all the TV content I really care to watch without cable, with the exception of live stuff, like news (mostly a waste of time) and sports coverage. I'd be happy to loose my cable but keep my Internet and save $50 or more a month. It also drives family-wage jobs, civic pride, and new opportunities for education.
If we get our shit together, we could have a generation that is better educated, connected and ultimately successful than the past. That's the promise of America to me, the idea that each generation gets smarter.
The Politics of Online Politics
Access isn't the only area of Net Freedom under attack. There is legislation pending to regulate political activity online, particularly (it would seem) blogging. A number of GoGo (good government) groups want this. Why is sort of unclear. How is a blog different from a talk radio program? Is, as Matt Stoller is asking, it a fetish?
The thing is, Garance never explains why Daily Kos will have to do anything she says it will have to do. Why? What is the point? Is it to increase freedom? Reduce corruption? Help puppies? What is the point of regulating blogs?
I laid out our conceptual overlay, that internet politics lowers the barriers to entry and thereby reduces corruption. Regulating the internet reraises those barriers and increases corruption. But what, aside from a weird distrust of people who can't be fired that write on the internets, is behind this 'must' statement? Nothing, as far as I can tell. There's no rationale behind it except the rationale of a bureaucrat who just says 'because it's always been done that way.'
Plausible. I'd phrase it differently though: the GoGo Establishment is afraid of change. The Balance of Power is shifting as flows of information change, and they're being reactionary.
But really, fuck 'em. The truth is that government has become increasingly corrupt, secretive, and antagonistic to the public interest, particularly in these past five years. They were unable to prevent any of this. It's time to try some new ideas.
Some New Ideas
For instance, why can't I form a public-interest enterprise which seeks to compete in the commercial marketplace, but has it's profits capped and it's surplus revenues used to seed new startups and provide market infrastructure. It would be really easy to get going, like maybe there's some seed money/infrastructure/mentorship to start.
The state would provide high quality accounting/banking tools (like quicken online) for free, thereby insuring total fiscal transparency. A whole ASP for your enterprise. The private sector would still be the place to go for big business, but they'd face competition on the local level from a network of community-scale enterprises.
This "Open Accounting" standard can then be applied to the government itself, as well as to regulated political activity. Because the types of market-space this opens up -- small to mid sized organizations with a community focus -- it's a natural for 21st Century Journalism, and we could once again have a vital fourth estate.
This could be run by non-profits themselves with minimal government involvement. All the state needs to do is loosen up the rules around non-profits selling stuff or services to finance their public service actives. Nobody seems to consider that running a business in a certain fashion can be a public service in and of itself.
Hello? Wanna build a moral economy?. Stop stepping on the little guy. To get the ball rolling Microfinance might work.
Bringing It All Back Home
This is uncharted political territory, and, like energy independence and a global redeployment of the US Armed Forces, could really be adopted by either party from an ideological perspective, but I don't think either are in a hurry. The GOP is very deeply connected to Corporate America and to the Military Industrial Complex, but the Democrats... well, they're not quite as financially or interpersonally meshed up as Republicans, but they have a largely Corporatist way of looking at things. Lacking in Imagination. It's a greenfield.
So the plan then is to push around and through them. We're going to create our own vision for the future, and we'll sell it like Perot, except it'll all be Online and free on demand from your cable company or Tivo:
Two weeks ago, Comcast began rolling out the service: "Getting ample and strategic exposure on television for candidates and issue advocates has, historically, been a challenge. Complex messages are often reduced to sound bytes, with campaigns relying heavily on :30 second commercials to educate and influence voters. With ON DEMAND political advertising, enhanced, detailed and varied messaging can be viewed by the prospective voter."
That, plus an 80% broadband adoption rate, is going to put us, potentially, in enough American homes to play ball. The costs will be minimal. We need to start creating the content. This guy sort of gets it (his campaign staff is young and green, but that's what a small arena like Rhode Island offers. Small can be really good for innovation.
I think the real break is going to come as the new medium is going to let politicians break away from fluffy do-gooder biopic stuff, and be more like real people. I mean, that's the only way I'll ever win at this stuff.