Internet for the People Chapter 3 Summary

  • Chatanooga, TN and about 900 other rural parts of the United States show the outcomes of public and community ownership of “community networks”
  • Researchers found that “community owned fiber to the home” networks in the United States generally charge less than private ISPs. This is attributed to the fact that community networks are concerned not with profit maximisation but with meeting needs.
  • “Community-owned ISPs typically regard the provision of high-speed Internet access as an end in itself and a means to achieving other community benefits,” observed the Harvard researchers. In other words, they tend to focus on social needs, such as universal connectivity, rather than profit maximization.”
  • The EII (Equitable Internet Initiative) is a project that, among other things, aims to increase access to the internet amongst populations in Detroit. At the time of publication, approximately 70% of Detroit children had no access to internet of any kind.
  • The EII (through donated upstream internet access and several donations) has trained community technicians to install internet infrastructure, maintain internet infrastructure and help end users understand how to user the internet. These technicians are receiving and conveying both a political as well as technical education.
  • This effort undermines privatisation in two ways – it enables affordable access to the internet, and it instills the community with the belief that it can manage and operate the internet infrastructure. This belief is a pre-requisite to the community (or a significant portion of the community) coming together to protect their infrastructure from corporate takeover or corporate “attack” (see below).
  • “Self- determination in the digital sphere, and the solidarities it generates, offers a point of departure for achieving self- determination in all fields of social life.”
  • Many private firms have fought to destroy community networks. In the United States, many have spent large quantities of money to prevent the formation of municipal networks. This is likely 1 reason why in 18 states, municipal broadband is restricted or outright banned.
  • Presumably, the “broadband cartels” do this, out of fear that should an example of communal ownership of an internet network become very prominent, then its prominence would undermine the cartels’ long term control over internet infrastructure.
  • Neoliberalism behaves by artificially foreclosing alternatives (e.g. neoliberal politicians defund public services and then claim that only private services can save the crumbling public services). We can see neoliberalism at work through the attempt to dismantle or foreclose public community networks.
  • Given the offensive by private firms, it seems wise that communal networks defend and extend themselves
  • This means enacting statues that pre-empt barring municipal ownership of networks; this could mean creating public funds for communal network development, with the stipulation that the public funds be used to advance democratic control of the communal network.
  • Another strategy is procurement – having institutions (like universities and medical centers) purchase internet from community networks, perhaps with the proceeds being used to defray costs for low income internet clients of the internet networks
  • What is decentralised and small is not necessarily beautiful, however. The US (and, perhaps, other parts of the world) has had a history of small locales enforcing regressive measures (such as locales flouting public law demanding de-segregation, blocking public housing projects). It seems that some balance between, on one extreme, extreme disparities in exclusion and access at a local level (i.e. small is bad) and, on the other extreme, top down technocracy (i.e. one ISP controls everything) must be negotiated.
  • Troubling is that even if small networks proliferated, ISPs (who essentially own the internet backbone) could deny access to small networks to access the backbone. This suggests than a offensive campaign to claim a backbone must be made. In the United States, Tarnoff suggests that the backbone could be constructed as part of new infrastructure (with an adjacent fiber-optic layer) laid out as part of the Green New Deal. This backbone could be used to connect community networks.