Walls in Cyberspace

The first year I was in graduate school, I put up an essay called “Walls in Cyberspace” (which, I am embarrassed to discover, can be found in the Internet Archive). I was, by the way, being intentionally provacative and reactionary, but that was not the way some read it. As usual, I was too subtle for my own good. The ideas I was playing with would be much better thought out and explained by Lessig a couple years later. But back then, I thought claims that the internet would be wholly colonized by corporate American to be hyperbolic.

But with broadband service discrimination this looks to be the direction we are headed. Take a look, for example, at an editorial by FCC commissioner Michael Copps published in the Mercury News last month. It reads in part:

Think about what could happen if your broadband provider could discriminate. It could decide which news sources or political sites you could view. It could prevent you from using children’s Internet filtering technology that it didn’t sell or that filtered out its own Web sites. It could prevent you from using spam-jamming programs to block its spam. It could impose restrictions on the use of virtual private networks by telecommuters and small businesses to keep them as paying customers of the public network. It could limit access to streaming video to protect its core content business. Sound far-fetched? It’s already beginning to happen.

There was some discussion at the conference I attended last month about the role of the FCC on the internet, and the idea that they might in some way regulate such a medium was seen as comical. The reason the FCC (or its forerunner) was established was, in part, to place the airwaves in the hands of a fewer number of broadcasters, and these broadcasters ended up almost exclusively commercial.

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