Recently, the United States Department of Commerce, along with the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration, (see references below) conducted a survey where they found, to no one’s surprise, that the more wealthy people are in this country, the more likely they are to have broadband access to the Internet. They also found that those with more education were also more likely to have broadband access to the Internet.
The report by the government led to speculation in most of the major media outlets in the country that the government was, and is, considering subsidizing broadband Internet access for the poor, just as it does with food stamps. The thinking goes that access to the Internet is now a critical component of living the American Dream, thus, those without it are being denied the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
While this may or may not be so, the question remains, what might the impact be on broadband Internet access if the government were to start subsidizing access for the poor? Some speculate that it would quite naturally lead to more governmental oversight of the Internet (at least the part that goes on in the United States) which would lead to both more regulation and taxes, as that is what happens whenever the U.S. government gets involved in anything. Others, more optimistically point out that it might mean more governmental spending on R&D for Internet related science and services, as it comes to see the Internet as a valuable national resource; one that cannot possibly be left to its own devices as the powers of free enterprise will quite naturally push up those services that are profitable, while abandoning those that are not, which in turn might lead to a privileged society and a lower class just as there is now in real life.
In either case, it seems there is an inevitability aspect regarding the Internet and those that use it, just as there is for other utilities. And that is where this whole discussion is truly heading. Once the government gets involved, it’s very likely that the Internet will become just another tax payer supported infrastructure that people use to get around, just like the railroads, or the national highway system. And just like the national highway system and the railroads, the odds are that regulations will bog down innovation and before long, we’ll all find ourselves traveling down the Internet highway the same way we do on our freeways; at a much slower pace than do travelers on their own stretches of highways in other countries, with more interruptions and more tolls.