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There's this thing. It's called the internet. It doesn't belong to AT&T or Charter or AOL or any other internet service providers. It belongs to you and I as much as it belongs to any giant corporation.

I would like to agree with you. However, this idea is socialist, considering the Internet space to be part of the commons. But USA is not run that way. We are a somewhat capitalist state with the government subsidizing the large corporations. So consider a parallel:

There is this thing. It's called the electromagnetic spectrum. It doesn't belong to ABC, NBC, GE, Disney or any of the other broadcasters. It belongs to you and me as much as it belongs to any giant corporation. Yet the government set up the FCC and that keeps you and me from arbitrarily setting up a broadcasting (or even most forms of narrowcasting) setup.

So, why do we have to pay someone for something that's not theirs?

There are the cables, fibre-optic lines, radio links; there are the routers, mail servers, name servers, news servers, even help desks. Someone has to build them, operate them, maintain them. They mostly do not do this for free. The employees must be paid; the capital investment needs an adequate return on investment.

I understand about the pipeline thing. Somehow, we have to connect to the internet...phone line, cable, satellite... and basically we pay whomever owns the pipeline, the conduit. Sort of.

Remember dialup? They didn't own the phones or the cables. Yet we had to pay them.


Sure I remember. The ISPs had to provide some equipment at the telephone company's central office, and to do that, they had to rent space at the telco. They had to pay for T1 lines from the telco office to their premises. They had to own or rent their place of business, including the computers to provide that service. They had to have UPSs so they could stay up when the local power went down. Many provided backup diesel generators in case the local power went down too long. Most had connections to multiple central offices so if the cable from one office went down, they still could serve through other offices. Mine had at least three high-bandwidth (T3, I think) connections to the nearby Internet backbone access points so if someone was digging and broke one of the cables, they still had Internet connectivity. All this has to be paid for.

I asked the owner of a BBS/dialup (bulletin board service) once. He said, oh, if you want to be a point on the internet you have to allow full traffic both ways, and that takes a room full of computers and servers.

I think he was pulling my leg, I don't know.


It depends on how big an ISP you want to be. With the powerful little blade servers, you can probably get by with three of them if you want to be a very small ISP. You would have one to talk to the telcos, one to talk to the Internet, and one to manage everything else, such as mail servers (including spam filtering), news servers, user web site hosting, etc. Bigger outfits, such as Verizon, AOL, etc., would need rooms full. Not necessarily connected to the Internet, you would need another to do your billing and administration and such like. And the people to run all this stuff. These blade servers would all be on a local area network as well as the telephone company and the Internet.

I'm sure there's some very simpe and sensible answers. But in the end, it's like we are paying middle men. If you switch phone services, they don't run a whole new phone line to your house. So why isn't it that if AT&T can own my line to the internet one day, and TDS can own it the next, why can't I own it the following day? That question may be a little naive but I'm just trying to figure this thing out by brainstorming out loud.

Well, when you go to the grocery store to buy a little box of strawberries, you are paying many middle layers of middlemen. Ideally, you might think you should have to pay only the farmer, perhaps? Actually, usually the farmer gets very little of your purchasing dollar. The supermarket gets some, The holding company that owns a string of supermarkets gets some. The regional jobber gets some. The truck drivers that stuff from the regional warehouse gets some. The warehouse gets some, The trucker or railroad or ship that brings the stuff from Mexico or Argentina, or South Africa gets some. And similarly at the source end that eventually gets stuff from the farmer.

Consider the alternative: you find a local farmer and buy directly. You might in this case even end up paying more. You would not be able to get many things (e.g., berries) out of season. You might not be able to get other things at all. The quality could be a lot higher. But it would take more time. In addition to locally grown fruits and vegitables, you might need dairy products, meat, whatever. Some of these might not be local and you would have to drive many miles each way several times a week.

America should start a lawsuit or something. No one owns the internet. Yet, apparantly, some people are allowed to charge for access to it, and others have to pay to get access to it. A very strange arrangment indeed for something that no one owns.

Your argument applies more to the radio (and tv) broadcasting industry where it could be that no one owns the electromagnetic spectrum. The communications act of 1934 (IIRC) is the one that said that the spectrum was held in trust by the government and frequencies were assigned by the FCC to individuals (and corporations) for the public convenience and necessity. Licenses were to be renewed every three years (IIRC) as a check that the stations continued to serve the public. As years went by, the power of the broadcasters over the government increased to the point that the Licenses were sold (auctioned) to the highest bidders and then became their private property. So while you could say no one owns the electromagnetic spectrum, and it was true in the early days. But now the capitalists (I am trying to use that word in a non-perjorative sense) have taken it over, that is no longer true. Another case of loss of the commons.

The only way I can engineer a justification in my mind is that all the machines that comprise the internet, are also on land lines or cable or satellite, etc. So somehow, that makes all the corporations, owners of the internet.

Yes, it does. Were government policy different, it could socialize all telecomunnications media. Then instead of our paying for Internet service, it would be paid for out of taxes. It can work either way, although generally it is a little of each. In France the government owns the telecommunications and the railroads. But you still have to pay a telephone and radio bill, buy tickets to ride the train, etc. If billing were the major cost, I see justification to giving free telephone service and free train travel. But it is not the major cost, so it is probably better to let the users pay at least a large fraction of the costs (think of those that do not use those services). More could be said on this issue, but this is not a Capitalism vs. Socialism board, with the need to cover both those extremes and the stuff in the middle.

What a strange machine this is. Millions of computers, individually owned, connected by billions of wires, owned by hundreds of cable, tv, and internet providers.

The same could apply to telephone service, assuming the individuals owned their telephone sets. They could own the wires to the telephone central offices -- legally that could be imagined. Then the central office could be a cooperative thing owned jointly by all the subscribers (hard to imagine with our society the way it has become, but it might have been possible in the 1920s and 1930s until the anti-communist scare put a stop to such things for the most part).

The internet still boggles my mind, but I think somehow, somewhere, someone will figure out a way for it to be free for everyone, the way it should be.

I think air and water should be free and no one should own it. But with our current political system, it is not free. You have to pay for water so it is treated to not spread disease. You have to pay for air to ensure that it is not contaminated beyond an uncertain point. You have to pay for health care, public schools, roads (either by taxes or tolls or both). We could, in principle, set up a socialist state where everything is paid for by taxes and individual services are free. Whether this would be cheaper in the long run is a subject of considerable dispute. But whichever way the dispute comes out, those who control the government have the last say, and it is not us.
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