Monday, July 11, 2011

Libertarians and the Internet

Once upon a time, ladies and gentlemen, the Internet did not exist. I know, hard to believe, but true, there was at one point in time no such thing as the Internet!

Indeed, until 1993 it was actually illegal for private individuals to hook up to the ARPANET/NFSNET. The notion was that this would be unfair competition to the private networks, folks like Tymshare, Telenet, Compuserv, AOL, and so forth.

At which point you say, "Who?!" Exactly. See, the deal is that private industry didn't see any profit in connecting individuals together. All of the technology we use today for the Internet existed back then, and these networks had that technology -- the long haul T1 / T3 lines, the modem pools, and so forth. But they wouldn't connect to each other. If you had a Tymshare account, you couldn't talk to someone who had a Telenet account. Someone who had a Telenet account couldn't talk to someone who had a Compuserve account. Someone who had a Compuserve account couldn't talk to someone who had an AOL account. And so on and so forth. After all, they could lose customers to Compuserv if Compuserv customers could still send email to all their friends on AOL. Where was the profit in that?

The reality is that if Al Gore had not opened up the NFSNET to interconnection so that private ISP's could connect their own networks to the NFSNET backbone, there would be no Internet today. The problem that kept the private networks from interconnecting was the deadbeat problem. Smaller ISP's would benefit more from interconnecting to larger ISP's than vice-versa, so why would larger ISP's do so? But by providing a means for the smaller ISP's to communicate with each other, the Clinton Administration created a large enough "pseudo-ISP" that the larger ISP's *had* to interconnect with the nascent Internet. The magical Free Market Fairy simply would have never done it -- remember, the technology of the modern Internet was TEN YEARS OLD by the time the Clinton Administration opened up the NFSNET interconnection exchanges. The Free Market Fairy had ten years to create the Internet out of all those independent networks -- and failed. Because, see, fairies are IMAGINARY. Duh! And there simply was no PROFIT in connecting these independent networks -- until the Clinton Administration let all the smaller networks hook together via the NFS interchange points and created such a large mass that the big ISP's had to join too or be rendered irrelevant.

SO: The Internet would not exist without government. There simply is no profit motive that would have created the Internet without the government intervention of providing that initial interconnection backbone. So my Libertarian infestation is using a government creation to.... criticize government. That's such a hilarious bit of hypocrisy that it takes the breath away, but not particularly unusual. Libertarians tend to be blind that way.

-- Badtux the Technology Geek Penguin


  1. I'm a self-made man! I self made my public education and system of economy and infrastructure, and I ensured my safety and security for all these decades BY MY SELF!!

    And life would continue on exactly like this, but better, if we had NO GOVERNMENT or TAXES. Then, I could keep ALL MY MONEY, which I invented and continually support.

  2. *sigh*

    It looks like this "Libertarians = Anarchists" meme is spreading like wildfire. Can't help but wonder if this is simply ignorance of the differences between the two stances, or an intentional twisting of the facts in order to discredit libertarians.

  3. Show me any Libertarian who would support using public money to develop a network that would destroy the business model of private networks. The core problem is that most Libertarians believe that providing services to the public is the responsibility of private enterprise, and if private enterprise doesn't provide said service, well, it probably wasn't useful anyhow.

    The Internet is a prime example of something that private enterprise refused to provide because there was no profit in doing so (remember, the private networks existed for at least TEN YEARS before the ARPANET/NFSNET was opened to the general public rather than being restricted to the government research community), but which has proven to be a huge benefit to society. It contradicts the meme of "if private industry isn't doing it, it isn't worth doing" that pervades Libertarian circles such as the Cato Institute. The reality is that there are some things that *are* worth doing due to their benefit to society -- but which private industry *won't* do because there's not profit to be had in doing so (in this case, the initial interconnects between networks to create critical mass). Government is the solution there, at least to get things going (once things reached critical mass in the early 'oughts the original government-run backbone was retired and the commercial backbones now carry all non-military Internet traffic).

    But to hear the twits at Cato, government shouldn't have interfered with "the free market", even though government interference actually made "the free market" run *better* by pushing the Internet over a profit hump until its benefit to society could be monetized and privatized. Inexplicable.

    - Badtux the Pragmatic Penguin

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  5. Well at least you didn't repeat Gore's foolish boast that he "invented" the internet.

    Nor, I might add, did the government. It was the activities of various boffins in various universities who slogged through the early advances and made possible the linking of networks. All that Gore did was take the last grip of government control off the steering and throttle gear. After that, as usual when governments leave us alone, the whole thing took off.

    However, 'Snarky', I would be interested in your opinions on the current efforts by some in congress and the administration to take back control over the internet. Oh, all in the interests of, er, 'fairness' and 'neutrality', of course!

    David Duff

  6. "Indeed, until 1993 it was actually illegal for private individuals to hook up to the ARPANET/NFSNET."

    Sounds like an example of the gov't interfering with the free market. Once that restriction was removed, things got better for the general public.

    Thanks for a wonderful example of libertarian policies working in America.

  7. Gore never claimed he invented the internet:

    And, purple, I tried to exaggerate for effect, but I've seen precisely that kind of attitude, and similar claims by many people calling themselves Libertarians.

  8. Purple: Uhm, except the ARPANET was a research network funded by the federal government, and it's illegal to use research networks for profit. You're saying that the government creating a research network that is not allowed to compete with the free market is... interfering in the free market? What color is the sky in your universe anyhow -- purple? Are the unicorns pink there, or some shade of puce?

    Duff: The majority of the Internet protocols were developed at U. Cal. Berkeley (a public university) via a federal grant provided by the federal DARPA agency. I have no idea what else you're talking about, because it has no bearing on that. To say that technology developed using government money by contractors isn't *really* government-developed technology is like saying roads built by private contractors with government money aren't *really* government roads because private contractors built them. It makes no sense. Every single highway in America was built by private contractors, but nobody doubts the fact they're government highways because in the end, stuff belongs to the person who pays the bills, not to the person who builds it.

    - Badtux the Baffled Penguin

  9. Shorter me: Better trolls, please.

    - Badtux the Snarky Penguin

  10. And of course, where are those early pioneers now? AOL (once called "Almost On Line") is still around, sortakinda, but Compuserv seems to be gone ( goes to a placeholder/scam WalMart gift card thingie, goes to an Italian site). Tymshare and Telenet are probably geekdom's answer to Attic Greek.

    Ah, the good old days.... not.

  11. ROTFL at a most brilliant and snarky Penguin! I definitely want to immigrate to the planet of the Penguins.

  12. I would not call purplepenguin a troll. Trolls pointlessly stir up shit for the purpose of generating ire. It seems to me like the other penguin meat is disagreeing with you in a borderline snarky way, but it's a legitimate ideological quibble, not shit-stirring for its own sake. I happen to agree with the Tuxological non-glibbo perspective, but I will deride to the death the Gibbertarians' right to blather whatever they want.

    Anyway Purple One, when you get down to purist Libertarian principles, they DO demand anarchy. Just like purist Muslim and Christian principles demand killing everyone who does not follow their chosen fairy story about the non-existent Sky Spook. And the trouble with ideologically driven movements is that there's always a pressure to go in the purist direction. The extremists are always pushing that way, and true believers WANT to be more pure, so the tendency is to drift to extremes. Like Wahabbi Islam and anti-abortion Xtians.

  13. Bukko, I'd have agreed with your assessment until the Purple one said that a government research network not being allowed to compete with the free market was somehow interference with the free market...

    - Badtux the Contradictions Penguin


Ground rules: Comments that consist solely of insults, fact-free talking points, are off-topic, or simply spam the same argument over and over will be deleted. The penguin is the only one allowed to be an ass here. All viewpoints, however, are welcomed, even if I disagree vehemently with you.

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