Openness: Slate’s Alternative Present

Slate has an interesting thought-experiment; what would the internet be like today if the FCC had regulated it from the start?

Citing software development problems, the online services ask that the deadline for framework specs get pushed back from July 1995 to July 1996. The FCC approves.

Because the Web has yet to catch on, eBay, Amazon, and do not launch in 1995. Michael Kinsley, who had been working with AOL on a proposed online magazine, returns to the New Republic as editor when AOL cancels the project. . . .

In September 1996, Microsoft, whose biggest individual stockholders are Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and Steve Ballmer, who are raising millions for the Clinton-Gore re-election campaign, wins the FCC’s online design shootout.

Microsoft calls its online-unifier “Bob.” [Ed – heh.]

“This award is made purely on the technical merits,” the FCC chairman remarks.

The FCC is particularly enamored of the “back door” that Microsoft has built into Bob, making it easier for police to monitor communications in real time. The commission also applauds Microsoft’s forward thinking because it has incorporated a virtual “V-chip” in Bob. The censoring software is analogous to the V-chip the FCC wants TV manufacturers to build into their sets to block violent and mature TV programming from being viewed by children.

As I browse a few million free ebooks for my new kindle, I’m glad that it didn’t go down this way. Maybe I’ll see if there’s some Bastiat; it’s been awhile since I read about the “unseen“.

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