I found something interesting in one of Ron Paul's statements. That's probably not a permalink, btw, sorry, wish he used better software.
He's talking about the executive order by President Obama dealing with faith-based initiatives. I've seen this in the news, but apparently NARA is late to the game, because they still haven't posted the text, as of this writing.
This was the part I found interesting:
The logic behind funding faith-based initiatives seemed reasonable to some. Private organizations are much more effective in charitable endeavors than government programs and bureaucracies. Therefore, why not "outsource" some of the government's welfare-state activities to these worthy organizations? [...] But now, dependencies on federal money have been set, operations have been expanded accordingly, and many charities are waiting breathlessly for the administration to tell them what new conditions they will have to meet.
I agree with this logic overall, and thus see any faith-based office as a pretty bad idea. In fact, I'll take it a few steps further and say that not only should we not be funding faith-based programs, we also shouldn't have any tax exemptions for any organizations. Church,non-profit, or whatever they may be. This allows us to avoid the sticky situation in the first place.
But now to the point of my post. I think this line of reasoning has implications for internet policy also. On the one hand, we could say that having an internet infrastructure run by the government would be superior to one run by quasi-private, regulated monopolies (which is, TMK, almost exclusively what we have here in the US). Points in favor of this are that a government-run network lacks profit motive, and thus the anal raping might not be as bad as with the monopolies. Examples of current infrastructure done this way are roads, I believe some rail lines (don't know about inter-city, but I believe all intra-city subways in the US are government owned and operated), the water system in many places in the US, and I believe in some areas, even the electrical grid.
More on that in a bit, but let's look at some of the points against this. The monopolies might be money grubbing bastards, but they're not stupid money grubbing bastards. They know that any filtering/censorship with fine granularity is expensive. Thus, they have a built-in resistance to filtering, which works in our favor. A government-operated network would not likely have this resistance, unless of course they had actual, reasonable budget constraints to work within (this will not be the case in the US anytime soon).
So what our are choices? A potentially less expensive, more performant broadband, but more filtered/censored/controlled? Or do we continue the monthly anal-raping, and depend on the greed of the rapists to resist the government's urge to control (before they finally give in, and just pass the cost along to us anyway)?
Neither of these are good choices, unfortunately. Probably the best thing for us to do right now is recognize that anything we would do to significantly alter the structure of the internet would only make it much worse. Some people might see that as "defeatist" (I hate the word, but can't think of a better one), but it's the only practical solution I can think of that preserves what we already have.
I wanted to bring up this Ron Paul piece to highlight things that I see missing in the debate in all of the broadband stories recently.
I love American logic. We interpet the no establishment of religion clause to mean that government can make no law concerning religion in any shape, form, or fashion. Thus, churches can't be taxed, or so the logic goes. But who decides what a church is, so that they can get their tax-exempt status? Well, the government, of course! Which is, de facto, a governmental establishment of religion. This is a classic example of American thinking: We get some pretty damn good advice from our Constitution, we coopt the language in it to dodge our taxes, and ultimately we completely contradict the meaning of the Constitution and end up doing the exact thing that it said we should never, ever do.
But in the same way as government has the tendency to reach it's tentacles into religion via these braindead policies, this same process also applies to government involvement, whether directly, legislatively, or regulatory, into the internet. Yes, I hate the cableco's and telco's just as much as anyone, and if there is a god, and he is just, then telco execs will spend eternity in hell on the phone with the cableco's customer support, and vice versa. But we need to remember that, as much as the monopolies want to rape your wallet, the government, if it thought it could get away with it, would rape freedom of speech, press, religion, freedom of thought, freedom to tinker, and any other freedom you may think you have online.
I'm not getting into which one is worse, I won't even venture a guess. What's worse, a kick ass net that no one can afford, or a free digital cable propaganda line piped into your x86? I'm saying that maybe we need cool it on advocacy for making any changes, because, if we actually get any changes, we probably won't like it. Yes, I think it sucks too.
I've done quite a bit of thinking about this problem, and there is one thing I'd like to share. One of the differences between water/sewage, electrical, roads, as opposed to the net and the postal service, is that the former are commonly considered dumb pipes, while the latter are by and large not. If someone says that we should not treat our running water like a dumb pipe, people would rightly call him an idiot. But, everyday, many people are saying that the net is too dangerous to be treated as a dumb pipe. Until this perception is changed in the minds of Americans, we will not be ready to make any significant changes to the internet. IOW, we're screwed.