What the World Wide Web of the 1990s can teach us about Internet policy today

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At an industry conference in Barcelona, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said he plans to use key policy decisions made in the 1990s and early 2000s as a guide for his own agenda. Those early decisions include, he said, a bipartisan consensus to not require Internet providers to obey “outdated rules crafted in the 1930s for a telephone monopoly.” He also cited a Bush-era commitment to give Internet providers sole control over broadband networks that they built, rather than adopt a European-style system permitting other companies to use those same cables to sell competing Internet service.

But some consumer advocates say that Pai's historical references are misleading. Although the World Wide Web's own early history was marked by a free-for-all in which online businesses competed on mostly equal footing, it is not the case that the government played no role, said Gene Kimmelman, president of the advocacy group Public Knowledge. Policymakers at the time “were setting up an entire regulatory framework for opening [a] telephone monopoly to a broader competitive environment,” said Kimmelman, referring to a time when telephone lines — and thus Internet connections — were controlled by just a few large players. “And it required substantial government intervention.”


What the World Wide Web of the 1990s can teach us about Internet policy today