The Internet As A Utility

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…And access for all.

In a post-Edward Snowden Internet, it’s hard to believe any politician who lays claim to the notion that we need the Internet to be treated as a public utility – much in the same way that we have railroads, electricity and more. The public will require more trust, at this point. With that, we have seen the rise of an era when the Internet must be considered a birthright (which is something that I blogged about in 2010). We need this, just to ensure that all citizens have equal and direct access to information in a world where forty percent of homes no longer have landlines, the newspaper’s ink business continues to plummet, and fewer people could care less about the dials on their radios while in the car. How else are people going to know that they shouldn’t drink their polluted tap water, if they’re not spending any time on Facebook?

One Internet to rule them all.

It turns out that the Internet is much more than a transformational technology that allows us to connect like never before, but that it is actually a public utility like electricity. The Internet has, without question, become the fundamental backbone of how our society connects, communicates, shares, transacts, falls in liove, learns and more. It is how we are now being paid the salaries that we earn (face it, your money is just a bunch of zeroes and ones that are transferred from one digital account to another every couple of weeks) and – if the futurists are correct – everything that we used to plug into a wall will soon be connected and, even the stuff that we no longer have to plug into the wall will also be connected. You don’t want to see the data on just how often people are busy fondling, touching and swiping their smartphones in comparison to their spouses. Think about it this way: when you first wake up in the morning, what is your “time to device” in comparison with your “time to spouse”? Don’t be depressed, you are not alone. But, yes, be depressed for society, because it’s a sad truism. We stress out when we’re not connected or near our devices (an entirely separate concept worthy of unpacking at another point in time).

The Internet should be labelled a utility. The Internet should be labeled the greatest utility of all. 

This begs the question: should we have one Internet to rule them all, or do we need to focus on the commercial and capitalist opportunities that the Web provides? Do we allow the government to ensure that fair, fast and equal connectivity is available to every human being, and that the same level of equality be afforded to businesses of all shapes and sizes? Beyond the fact that we now have to trust the same government that has been proven to be spying on our every tweet and text message. Perhaps the answer is more opaque upon reflection. If the issue is that there should be two lanes on the information super highway (one being access for all, and the other being faster access for those with more resources), or is it that speed is a scarce resource or something that can’t be offered to all? There are those that would suggest that everyone should not have access to the full pipe, because it’s too expensive. There are those who believe that if a company wants to have faster speeds, that they should pay for it. The logical universal answer must be that everyone should be given fair and equal access to connectivity. It makes the most sense. It’s the fair thing to do. How that, realistically, plays out will be complex. There are business, government and the public good’s needs at play, and they all don’t come to the table with the same interest at heart. Still, the notion that the Internet must transcend a business proposition and be named a public utility feels right and true. How that gets executed – in reality – is a much larger and complex debate. Can the Internet be a utility that is privately run, funded and operated by? For brands and marketers it is also an important debate, and one worthy of our attention and our involvement. It should also be a discourse that transcends the ideology that this is an issue limited to neutrality, when it’s really a broader topic. Was there ever any debate that one community should be more entitled to a public library than another?

The Internet is a utility. Now, let’s figure out the best way to create access for all, without limiting its entrepreneurial power.