The US Internet and cable TV giant Comcast is set to swallow up yet another competitor, Time Warner Cable, which would further increase Comcast’s near-monopoly position as a broadband Internet provider. As part of Comcast’s previous merger with NBC-Universal, the company agreed to provide budget-priced Internet service to a select few low-income children enrolled in the federal school-lunch subsidy program, while completely ignoring households where no children reside.
This program was not offered as charity, but rather was intended to prevent Comcast from abusing its monopolistic position in the market to raise Internet costs excessively. Nonetheless, the fact that the FCC approved this low-income program for children only suggests that the anti-adult-content purity crusaders are having regulatory success with the contention that the Internet is primarily a toy and homework tool for small children, rather than a powerful entertainment and information platform for adults.
The Internet began as a military project in the 1960’s but was later expanded to include universities over the next decade. Once the Internet became commercialized in the 1990’s, much of its technological advancement, as discussed previously at this blog, was driven by adult content. Pro-censorship lawmakers, alarmed at the amount of free speech available online, tried to suppress the new technology with measures such as the Communications Decency Act, which was meant to turn the Internet into a “safe playground for children,” but that law was unanimously overturned by the US Supreme Court.
Comcast and the FCC, in agreeing to expand this children-only low-income Internet program, apparently do not care about the need for unemployed adults to have access to job opportunities and to take online courses to improve their skills, or for disabled and elderly adults without children to have some entertainment, news, and the ability to socialize. Evidently, however, it is an important governmental priority that eight-year-olds have 5 Mb connections to play online games and complete third-grade homework assignments.
As someone familiar with the dark side of the Internet, I do not feel that the Web is an appropriate tool for unsupervised children at all. Putting aside the issue of adult content for a moment, the risks of identity theft, fraud, and malware installation are too great for almost any child to navigate safely without close parental involvement.
Of course, the US government’s consistent backdoor efforts to push more young children online are being used, again, as justification for imposing further restrictions on adults who want to use the Internet for business and commerce.
As attorney Scott Greenfield reports at his blog, Simple Justice, the child-welfare warriors are using the presence of unsupervised children online as yet another excuse to further weaken what little is left of online privacy and anonymity. He cites an emotion-laden report from the “Digital Economy Task Force” as claiming that:
Technologies that facilitate online anonymity, such as bulletproof hosting, anonymizing networks, and anonymous payments systems, offer a particular challenge: balancing their use for positive social impact against their potential misuse by those who perpetrate illicit activities.
Greenfield concludes, and I concur, that the report is “a fundamental attack on what little privacy remains in the name of making the digital world as safe and happy a place as the physical one.”