Putting the Highway in Information Superhighway

In a recent episode of This Week in Google, Jeff Jarvis, with some support from Leo Laporte, suggested that perhaps, given the incredible importance of the Internet, it should be treated like the highway system, with the government paying companies to build it out, but having state guaranteed access. I enjoy listening to TWIG, and many other programs on the TWIT network, but this idea immediately made me think of an old SNL skit:

Compared to turning the Internet into something like the highway system, the ideas in that clip are absolute genius. Consider what the government routinely does on the highway:

  • It limits speed, sometimes in opposition to highway engineers’ opinions
  • It sends out patrols searching for contraband
  • It claims the right to stop and inspect travelers’ cars based on the judgment of the police officer (probable cause)
  • It levies taxes on machines which use the highways, above and beyond the taxes it already collects on the purchase
  • It licenses users, charging them for the right to drive, on top of the taxes it already levies on the sales of vehicles and license plates
  • It mandates insurance, corrupting the insurance industry and incentivizing them to support government policies and donate to political campaigns
  • It forbids the use of technology to hide the interior of the car (window tinting laws) as well as technology to avoid speeding tickets (bans on radar jammers and detectors)

Turning the Internet into something like the highway system would mean government inspecting Internet traffic, blocking it, or even arresting users for things like copyright violations, setting policies on how traffic is prioritized, banning encryption except for approved encryption which the government can decrypt at will, taxing users for the right to use the Internet, and mandating the purchase of security programs. It is hard to imagine a finer example of a Bad Idea.