There are many parallels between the proposals for government-run internet services and the proposals in the mid-nineteenth century for the US government to create a nationwide underground telegraph service. Before the telegraph, the US Postal Service was a government-run service, and made news more readily available to those far away. However, when Samuel Morse requested that he government provide funding for an underground telegraph service that would consist of an “information railroad” that would string telegraph lines from coast to coast. Instead, private companies strung their own telegraph wires, and the telegraph was thought of as a network that would operate within a competitive environment of private industry. This private-industry model led to chaos, as competing companies vied for market share and made their customers to buy equipment that was incompatible with others’ equipment. Government bureaucracy can also prevent further development of new technologies that challenge the established system, and can make changing things difficult. Also, telegraphs were not very reliable, so it was important to write concisely and include the most important information first, in what we still call the pyramid style today. Overall, while it had its drawbacks, most realized the large benefits to getting information so much faster.
This is similar to wireless networks in the way that internet and private networks have their own pros and cons. Having a private network can lead to better connectivity and a better bandwidth needed for high-quality video or audio. However, using private networks also has its costs. I could create a new digital divide in which the majority of internet users have a cheap or free network with severe limitations on uploading or transmitting multimedia content, while large media corporations or wealthy individuals have high-speed, high-quality private networks that transmit content to a smaller paying audience. This quality-of-service issue came up in a 2007 to 2008 debate between telecommunications providers and the public over the term network neutrality. Network neutrality is the idea that the internet should treat all content that comes through it equally and that internet service providers should not charge higher rates to frequent users or for certain types of applications or content. These changes in more private networks are things that we do not need.