The Internet Socialists want: A WIRED Q&A with Ben Tarnoff | MarketingwithAnoy

From this point on writes, is the U.S. Senate expected to soon vote on a few ambitious antitrust laws targeting the dominant Internet platforms. The European Union is finalizing its own set of new rules. And states around the United States are passing laws – some better, some worse – that seek to quarrel with a technology industry that is largely considered out of control.

For Ben Tarnoff, this development is sadly inadequate. In an upcoming Order, Internet for the people, he argues that the problems of the Internet are fundamentally linked to the motive of profit; only a transition to public ownership can solve them.

“The Internet reformers have some good ideas, but they never quite get to the root of the problem,” he writes. “The root is simple: the Internet is destroyed because the Internet is a business.”

Tarnoff looks promising in the successful examples of cooperative and municipally owned broadband networks throughout the U.S. rural area. But what would it mean to place the web itself – the websites and apps we use every day – under public ownership? Tarnoff recently spoke with WIRED to present his vision for a socialist internet and how to achieve it.

This interview has been shortened and easily edited.

WIRED: The central argument in your book is that we need to “deprivate” the Internet. That means it was once public.

Ben Tarnoff: The Internet protocols, which are the rules that allow Internet networks to communicate with each other, were invented in the 1970s by DARPA researchers. Then the Pentagon uses these protocols to connect different networks, starting in the 1980s. This network of networks then passes to civilian federal control under the National Science Foundation.

The crucial year is 1995, when the National Science Foundation completes its backbone, a core artery on the Internet until then called NSFNET, and the private sector takes over. So this is where privatization as a process begins: In the so-called basement of the Internet, with the pipes.

There are many places around the world that have much faster, much cheaper internet than in the US and it is provided by the private sector. So the problem here is privatization, or is it deregulation? The Internet was not only handed over to the private sector in the United States, it was handed over on super-favorable terms.

You point to something that is important for people to understand, namely that the United States has a very concentrated market for Internet services. We have four companies that control 76 percent of Internet subscriptions in this country. As a result, we pay some of those most expensive prices in the world for terrible service. I mean, we pay higher average monthly prices than people in Europe or Asia. Our average connection speeds are lower than in Romania and Thailand.

This sounds like an argument for enforcing antitrust to increase competition, rather than getting rid of the whole concept of for-profit ISPs.

You raise an interesting question: Is my goal simply better speed at lower cost? Or is there something else? Research shows that if you were to bring competition to the highly concentrated Internet services market in the United States, it would almost certainly improve speeds and lower costs. That is a very important goal. But that is not quite enough for two reasons. One is that competition tends to work best for people who are worth competing for, which means that competition is best for bringing prices down for advanced broadband packages. Where competition is not so effective is to connect with people who really can not afford it or who live in communities, especially rural areas, where it is not profitable to invest under any circumstances.

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