Kim H. Veltman

American Visions of the Internet: A Crisis of Trust

Maastricht, May 2001-January 2004. Unpublished.
Originally accepted by Digicult and then considered too controversial.

1. Introduction
2. Background of the Internet
3. AT&T
4. MCI/Worldcom
5. Verizon and the Baby Bells
6. Bellcore and SAIC
7. Electronic Numbering
8. Domain Name Systems
9. Education
10. Next Generation Internet
11. Only English or Multilingualism?
12. Six Trends
13. Consulting, Accountancy and Banking
14. Energy
15. A Bigger Picture
16. Future of Law
17. Conclusions

1. Introduction

Since its beginnings in the 1960s there have been many stories about the Internet. One is that the Internet was a US invention. The story that officials in AT&T were once adamantly opposed to the Internet led to a received wisdom that telephone or telecommunications companies (telcos or telecoms) and the Internet were unrelated. The telephone companies, we are told, were big monopolies, blind to innovation and the Internet was started on the sly by a few scientists and academics. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) version is more subtle: The telcos did infrastructure, while those who developed the Internet did applications.

When one looks more closely at the evidence, a very different story emerges. The Internet began in Europe. In the United States, which is the focus of this essay, the development of the Internet has been dominated by the major telcos. While received wisdom tells us that AT&T was disbanded in 1984, there is evidence that the major players are a) AT&T; b) its competitor MCI/Worldcom; c) AT&T’s Baby Bells especially Bell Atlantic in its new guise as Verizon and d) AT&T’s BellCore in its new guise as Telcordia. In theory these are four sets of players. With the bankruptcy of MCI/Worldcom, there is in fact only one major player: AT&T in the various guises as itself, the Baby Bells, and its research labs (Lucent, Telcordia). There is significantly more cohesion between the parts of AT&T than would at first sight appear.

AT&T was a telecommunications company with Internet interests. Through its various subsidiaries AT&T became intimately involved in four related domains:

a) Electronic Numbering: to achieve Internet Telephony b) Domain Name Systems c) Education d) Next Generation Internet.

AT&T’s links with carrier equipment companies, computer companies, content holders and home entertainment firms have led to a much more comprehensive vision that includes the entire information/knowledge production and life-cycle. An understanding of this vision gives insight into factors behind some of the bankruptcies among those who are not part of this plan. While this vision is largely industry driven, it has significant links with academia, government, and the military. It will be suggested that this vision entails six major trends.

Parallel with this is another vision of media, investment and energy which, though championed by the President himself and nominally the government, has strong connections with the secret services and the military. This second vision entails many of the important events of the past years: September 11, 2001, the Afghan war, the so-called “wars” on drugs and terrorism, the spectre of a new oil crisis, the war with Iraq and possibly other “evil” states. This vision links media, finance and energy. It is prepared to use military force to attain its ends. In theory, the two visions are completely independent.

In practice, the second appears to be compromising the first. The Internet, which is supposedly for everyone all over the world, is in danger of becoming the tool of a small elite in the US government. While posing as representatives of the people, this elite appears to have agendas, which entails a crisis in trust and integrity and threatens to undermine the future of freedom and democracy. While the first vision offers serious cause for concern, the second vision poses dangers for the future of civilization. It is shown that recent economic crises are overshadowed by a more fundamental crisis in trust, integrity and a legal framework.

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