For Americans, it’s insane to try to imagine living in a place where essentials like water, electricity, and roads are privatized. Though there are certainly places in the world where such a situation has or does exist, we’ve become so accustomed to assuming that we have a right to these services, that the very idea that access to them could be placed in the hands of a corporation is unthinkable.
So why are we so comfortable with the internet being treated that way?
That’s the question Seattle Mayor Ed Murray asked on April 9 in an official statement, saying that he talks to constituents who tell him I have seen people say online, “I don’t need a road to get to work, I need high speed internet.” It’s an interesting way to frame the public’s relationship to the internet, but it’s also rather true.
In 2012 roughly one in five workers telecommuted, and that number is rising fast. With so many workers dependent on the internet not for cat videos or baseball scores but rather for their very livelihoods, it’s becoming harder and harder to argue that internet access is akin to something like television access. That is, a luxury and not a necessity.
Murray doesn’t go as far as saying that we need to nationalize internet access quite yet, but does argue rather that any public assistance given to telecoms to ensure steady, uninterrupted internet access should be passed onto consumers and not, as he put it, create a situation that brings “marginal improvements to customers and higher profits for corporations”
The corporations in question, of course, are the big US telecoms: AT&T (T) , Time Warner (TWC) , and Comcast ($CMCST), to say nothing of Google Inc. (GOOG) and their plans for ultra-high speed web access. While a world where those companies are legislated out of the internet business is still some time off in the future, with the Murrays of the world becoming less an anomaly that future seems to be inching closer and closer to reality, no matter how used to a world where the internet is private we currently are.