Defending the Commons

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Jay Hauben
Amateur Computerist

By their very nature all things within the public commons are attractive to the commercial sector of society. Central Park in NYC would make a wonderful outdoor market place. The Internet would yield tremendous economic power to whoever could own it. But commercialization and/or privatization of the commons always results in less for the public or at least lower quality.


Is the Internet an international public commons? It was developed at public expense by a scientific community that was shielded from commercial pressures. It benefits the whole society and is becoming more and more a necessity to live a modern life. The original vision guiding Internet development was to unite communities of human beings via computer communications into an Intergalactic Network, as JCR Licklider called it, a vast human-computer symbiosis. The developments that have made the Internet possible were achieved by an international collaboration among computer scientists fostered by a public administration of research projects encouraging openness. this public funding, social purpose, and cooperative origins to have created an electronic, public commons.

The Internet is a wonderful global electronic commons. To whom or to what will the benefit of privatizing the Internet accrue? And what role are such forces playing in bringing about for example the creation of the Internet Corporation for Names and Numbers (ICANN). This private corporation has been working since November, 1998 to take over the functions of the Internet still under the oversight and management of the US government or its contractors. The other clue is that the supporters of privatization have never been willing to discuss or debate the question of why or how privatization might serve the general welfare.

Is there a defense of the internet commons against its privatization? Will successful privatization lead to the fragmentation of the Internet and pricing it out of the reach of a substantail portion of the world's people?


Shouldn't society defend the Internet public commons? From where can come the principles and the strength to insure that the internet remain an international public commons? There is guidance from history and analysis that can strengthen the defence of the internet commons.

The commons of the Internet should be protected not privatized. John Locke suggests that this protection is the responsibility and obligations of governments in league with each other. He writes, "For in government the laws regulate the right of property, and the protection of the land is determined by positive constitution." The history so far of the Internet suggests that acceptable use policies and voluntary gatherings of network administrators with online forums might also play a crucial role. However at present it is especially governments that have the obligation and responsibility to protect the Internet commons.

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