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Solomonizing The Internet

In a short debate some months ago, economist Tom Bozzo and I argued over competing plans to fix the Internet problem in the United States. Yesterday’s Gallup poll, which showed that, while high, the Internet’s reach inside the United States has stalled at 75%, is testament that something can be done to spread network connectivity, especially broadband. Information, as they say, wants to be free. I argued that information would be best emancipated by the then-Bush plan, which called for reducing corporate taxes and regulation in order to remove “governmental stumbling blocks in the way of the Ditch Witch.” The Democratic plan I criticized, which seems to hve gained little traction, essentially called for the federal government to act as Americans’ internet service provider.

Tom posts again on the subject today, imputing some serious potential evil to the Comcasts and Verizons of the world, and asking “whether anyone should trust business not to divide the ‘nets into a collection of feudal businesses, with their CEOs trying to play the Olsonian ‘stationary bandits.’”

That seems less likely than the problems that could arise from a future United States Internet Service. When government provides access to a flow of information—when one’s taxes keep the spigot running and one’s modem dials into Washington for each drink—there is always a case to be made, and a fair one, that This or That Must Be Restricted Because Not All Taxpayers Support It. One can imagine religious lobbyists successfully banning access to online poker sites. The ears of Comcast executives, meanwhile, are much deafer to such special interests. Or, at least, better at calculating the business cost of capitulating to special interests.

More on this later…


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