“A Historical Mandate for Expanding Broadband Internet Infrastructure” (2010)

Photo of the cover of the Review of Policy Research.I wrote and published this piece in 2010 and have meant to come back to it. It looks at the arguments that were given on the issue of government postal roads and offices, when the Founders were drafting the U.S. Constitution. They believed that the immediate and free flow of information is essential to the proper functioning of a democratic government. You cannot get more immediate than internet communication.

The idea that the government would be involved in that, rather than only private industry, at least in setting the basic foundation for free-flowing communications, was thought essential. Otherwise it would be very cheap to communicate within a city, but very expensive for those who lived in rural areas, like where I live, in Mississippi.

Portrait of Senator Trent Lott.Check it out. Guess who makes an appearance in the paper — none other than a young then-Congressman Trent Lott (I work with the Lott Institute), who was the moderate voice in a discussion with American Enterprise Institute representatives. The AEI folks felt quite sure that private industry was all that was needed. Lott was forward thinking, even, suggesting in the 1970s (!) that the post office should be looking into electronic communication. They did not do that, unlike France, and look at where our postal services are compared to the French – or trust me, the latter’s faring far better. They’re even looking into drone delivery services.

The topic of this paper is important to me, as it attends to an area in which we might build up American infrastructure in a way that is enabling of business and democratic communication. Keep in mind that many private businesses — newspapers — wanted the post office mail for free! Yes, read the paper. Mailing letters, catalogs, and payments, enables business, even if it takes some government regulation of part of a market — postal communication — to do so.

When I delivered this paper years ago at the Policy Studies Organization’s Dupont Summit conference in Washington, D.C., a representative from the American Enterprise Institute, whom I won’t name, told me that I had convinced him, which was a nice compliment. “It’s in the Constitution,” he said. Indeed, there’s a Constitutional basis for public investment in improving our infrastructure.

Read the paper on Academia.edu


Weber, Eric Thomas. “A Historical Mandate to Expand Broadband Internet Infrastructure.” Review of Policy Research 27, Issue 5 (2010): 681-689.

The Silent Giveaway of New York City’s Internet Domain: Will De Blasio Step Up?

The election of Bill de Blasio as Mayor of New York City suddenly presents a rich opportunity to reclaim a commons-based resource that the Bloomberg administration was on the verge of giving away. I’m talking about the pending introduction of a new Internet “Top Level Domain” for New York City, .nyc.   

Top Level Domains, better known as TLDs, are the regions of the Internet denoted by .com, .org and .edu.  They amount to Internet “zones” dedicated to specific purposes or countries.  Over the past few years, far beyond the radar screen of ordinary mortals, the little-known Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) – which manages TLDs -- has been pushing the idea of TLDs for cities.  If Paris wants to have its own Internet domain -- .paris – it can apply for it and get it.  Rome could have its own .rome and London could have .london. 

New Yorker Thomas Lowenhaupt of Connectingnyc.org – a long-time advocate for treating the TLD as a shared resource – has written, “I’ve often thought of the .nyc TLD in its entirety as a commons -- that the .nyc TLD is a digital commons that we all need to protect as we today (seek to) protect our physical streets and sidewalks by not littering, and provide clean air, parks, schools, health care, fire and police protection, and the like, to our built environment so that it best serves 8,200,000 of us.”

Here are some examples that Lowenhaupt has come up with for how .nyc could make New York City more accessible and navigable: 

The idea is that Internet users could use the TLDs to access various aspects of city life by using them in creative ways.  Instead of having to rely on Google to search for museums in New York (which would yield thousands of not-very-well-organized listings), you could use museums.nyc and find everything laid out more intelligently.  Or if you were new to Brooklyn Heights, you could go to brooklynheights.nyc and find all sorts of civic, community and commercial website listings for that neighborhood – the library, recycling resources, parking rules, links to relevant city officials.  And yes, the businesses. The possibilities are endless -- and potentially enlivening for a city.

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The Importance of Infrastructure to Commons

My friend Silke Helfrich recently wrote a great blog post about the importance of infrastructure to the commonsdrawing upon the keynote talk on infrastructure by Miguel Said Vieira at the Economics and the Commons conference in Berlin, in May 2013.  Silke reviewed Miguel's talk, prepared in collaboration with Stefan Meretz – and then added some of her own ideas and examples.  Here is her post from the Commons Blog:  

Infrastructure is, IMHO, one of THE issues we have to deal with if we want to expand the commons….Let’s start with a few quotes from the (pretty compelling) framing of the respective stream at ECC, which was called, “New Infrastructures for Commoning by Design.”

"Commons, whether small or large, can benefit a lot from dependable communication, energy and transportation, for instance. Frequently, the issue is not even that a commons can benefit from those services, but that its daily survival badly depends on them. … When we look at commoning initiatives as a loose network, it does not make sense that multiple commons in different fields or locations should have to repeat and overlap their efforts in obtaining those services (infrastructures) independently…“

We need to sensitize commoners about the urgent need for Commons-Enabling Infrastructures (CEI). That is, we need infrastructures that can “by design” foster and protect new practices of commoning; help challenge power concentration and individualistic behavior are based on distributed networks (as extensively as possible) provide platforms which enable non-discriminatory access and use rights (for instance: a “ticket-free public transport system” is not cost-free, but it is designed in such a way that the funding of maintenance is not tied to the traveller’s individual budget).

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