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How the Internet Economy is like the Wide Open West

Gunfighters 6607

Gunfighters 6607

It was only two years ago during the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) in Dubai that the United States was leading allies to not vote to support any International Trade Union proposal that would enable authoritarian regimes to control the Internet.

At that time, we knew that the Arab Spring, and eventual subsequent citizen-inspired revolutions against tyrannical administrations were originating, festering and building steam in the unencumbered and Open Internet.

Oh what a difference a few years and interested lobbying makes because here we are at the genesis of the tech ecosytem revolution and we see calls for the US to do exactly what it was against back then – have the government seize control and impose draconian regs on some of those exploiting the business opportunities in web-based businesses.

Adopting the type of regulations that comes with Title II of the Telecom Act of 1996 is enabling the government to seize control of what is now a wide open frontier.

The concept of the Internet being an open frontier was presented to me again recently.

Recently, I opened up an email  from a consulting company that a law school classmate had recently launched.

Back in 1997, Chris Boam and I were candidates for the editor-in-chief job at our school’s telecommunications law journal, CommLaw Conspectus. He got the gig. I landed a Senior Notes and Comments Editor position. Over the past 20 years, he and I both have navigated over to the tech space.

When I first started to surf around his new company’s website, I noted that he has named his company 40A&M, after the very popular and well known phrase “40 Acres and a Mule,” which references the United States government’s efforts during the frontier days to encourage people to settle in the wide open planes of the midwest and west.

To entice prospectors, the government offered settlers 40 acres and a mule.

Forty acres and a mule is also the North’s General Sherman’s promise of dispensing the old slave-owned lands to former slaves as compensation for years they and their ancestors endured under harsh involuntary servitude days. (Over 40,000 former slaves got them, though they were promptly taken away shortly thereafter)

But, in his site’s explanation of the name of his company, Boam explained that the Internet is akin to those 40 acres and a mule and in this net economy, the opportunities and options are wide open for the taking.

And many early adopting web-based start ups like Google, Yahoo!, AOL, and later Netflix, Kickstarter et al did in fact profit well from staking their claims in the net’s broad plains.

The thing about the frontier is that there weren’t that many federal oversight in place restricting where and how communities built and formed.

Indeed as Boam writes:

He writes:

“For many, the advent of the Internet and the immense opportunities brought about by the advancement of communications has represented the newest frontier.  The opportunities to ‘stake your claim’ are endless.  The pitfalls, changing daily, are endless as well.  Today’s policies, written and debated in the confluence of these dynamic opportunities and pitfalls, have the potential to make or break tomorrow’s expectations online.”

And as such, we definitely can do without the types of policies that would weigh down cash-strapped entrepreneurs operating lean startups in the open internet frontier.

Rather, the best way for more people to harness the options available is for there to be adherence to the principles of Open access and Open Internet and not revert to archaic ways and regulatory frameworks like Title II.

image: courtesy gfi

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