Net Neutrality: History Lesson
Amity Shlaes is Senior Fellow in Economic History at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of the highly regarded The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression (2008).
Her recent column on AOL News taps her knowledge of the 1930s to recount “what happened in the 1930s to the Internet equivalent of that era, the utilities industry” when the government decided to get into the business via TVA.
It is an interesting and woeful tale, including the observation: “The takeaway from the 1930s is that government spurs can be too sharp, and that government yardsticks quickly morph into birch switches. It’s all something to keep in mind whenever someone proposes government help.” It does not support any idea that detailed government intrusion into telecom is likely to be of net benefit.
[No more quotes – the objective here is to get the reader to link to the original so that AOL can collect clicks and sell ads and thus pay Ms Shlaes to write more. Quoting enough to substitute for reading the original would not only violate legal principles of Fair Use, it would be contrary to the purposes of Digital Society. Go read it.]
A related point: one of the things that has baffled me about the telecom companies for several years is their a-historicism. U.S. history is rich in information about infrastructure, its financing, and its control, and very little of this supports the idea of intense government regulation. But as far as contemporary debate goes, this is a rich vein of ore that lies fallow.
[Correction 10:10 am: Spelling of “Shlaes” fixed]