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A Free Internet From An Historical Perspective

Stewart Ogilby writes of the "Future of the Internet" and it's "interesting practical and ideological considerations."

Those of us who owned home computers in the early 1990's thrilled to rapidly advancing wonders of a technology which exploded into today's digital revolution. The future progress of this revolution is threatened today by its very success, corporate America having become involved in pursuit of its own commercial interests.

Our present screed is not an attack on capitalism. The profit motive resulted in rapid dissemination of huge technological advances and introduced wonders of a new personal computer age to millions of persons. Our present concerns, however, provide an example, as well as a warning, of dangers created when the corporate world, despite its efficiency, succeeds in monopolizing avenues indispensable to the free-flow of human creativity.

The future of the Internet brings us face to face with interesting practical and ideological considerations. As in many areas, a conflict arises between free market policy in a world of corporations and a public interest to be protected by regulatory involvement -- laws and control by the State. Each of us must now examine the issues and express her views. Failure to do so may result in losses to us all of further technological advances and of yet to be imagined wonders possible in the coming years. How I wish I had known in 1994 what my hobby would have become in only ten years! Of course, I would have registered dozens of cool domain names (after all, we picked them up free at the time).

For several years, the ISP (Internet Service Provider) business, often run on a geek's computer located in his basement or garage, provided computer owners access to each other's machines by means of one or more telephone numbers. Prior to Internet interface there were a number of separate and unconnected so-called "online services" including CompuServe, Genii, Dephi, AOL and Prodigy and there were hundreds of local "bulletin boards" containing (among other things) wonderful utility files created to broaden the computer's operations in a DOS environment. Ah, the good old days!

To begin with, we knew that it was bound to happen. Even after the online services interfaced with the Internet and were thereby able to exchange emails, and as long as access to the new medium was diversified, censorship and control was problematical. However, after the telephone companies and cable TV companies replaced the local ISP's in providing access, censorship and control would inevitably become an issue.

By centralizing and owning the pipelines, these corporations acquire the means to control its content and technology. Again, we knew that this day would come. We also knew that we would be faced with a paradox. On the one hand, we would argue for freedom from internet controls and, on the other hand, we would seek regulatory controls to prohibit telephone and cable companies from interfering with "our" new medium.

To my way of thinking, the decision is clear. We must prevent these corporations from interfering in any way whatsoever with content, as well as with developing technology created in the digital revolution. Content may threaten certain individuals' sensibilities. Developing technology may threaten certain vested commercial interests.

In the past century we have witnessed horrible and tragic events resulting from having populations of national states governed by political henchmen of corporate commercial interests. That is the inevitable result of governmental support of powerful financial interests in lieu of other human values. Net neutrality provides a microcosm of this fundamental problem. Today it is, perhaps, its most important aspect.

The Internet must be left free to develop in its own way, just as populations must be left free to develop in their own ways. It is the Internet that brings to mankind the potential to communicate freely across national borders and the hope for a world united in peace, tolerant of differences, and indifferent to corporate balance sheets.


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