Winston Churchill had an astute observation about the American social psyche. He said we would always do the right thing – once we had run out of all other options. After twenty years of rapid growth, we now stand with an unregulated and uncontrolled Internet vulnerable to attack and disruption from anywhere and by anyone on the planet.
We have minced around the edges of doing something about this essential part of our daily lives for years. The time has come to declare reality. It is a public utility. It affects all Americans lives. It needs to be regulated by the government.
Somewhere in the past five years, the Internet crossed the line from being a cute toy to an integral part of American existence. We do our e-mails, buy our goods, rate our services, and reach out through social media to our friends and colleagues every day. The business of the Internet and its purveyors is huge. Apple is the highest valued company in the world. Larry Ellison of Oracle is buying islands in the Pacific. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has become a billionaire (for the moment) and had a movie made of his exploits.
Yet, the child remains curiously the father on the man. The Internet was founded with the 1960s spirit of freedom and sharing, and security was either neglected or for someone else to worry about. Regulation was bad, government was worse, and the founders, servicers, and developers of it knew how to take care of the system. Let a thousand flowers bloom was the philosophy. We all grow up. Now the purveyors of the Net look like guys in their mid-fifties with paunch and gray ponytails dating girls in their twenties – unseemly and more than a little off the beam.
The litany of daily hacking, overloaded systems, failed security, and others disasters on the Net that affect government, businesses and private citizens is sickening and dangerous to all who depend on it. Power is essential to us as well. We do not let people string electric power wires to their home. Nor do we let power companies decide on safety standards or what level of power they each generate. It is a crucial good to all. Electrical companies are regulated because that is what government does best; take care of society’s social good.
I have not the slightest illusion that regulation of the Net by the government would be an easy pill to swallow or implement. I also do not believe regulation is an unmitigated nirvana. Nor do I believe the industry will not keep complaining and fighting any effort to control it.
But the time has come to face facts. The Internet is a necessary but dangerous place. Americans are vulnerable and need protection. The half measures of government-business cooperation and exhorting individuals to take on their own Internet security has not and will not work.
The Internet is a public utility. It needs to be regulated.