Google’s Cerf floats trial balloon: “Why not nationalize the Internet?”

-By Scott Cleland

Google’s Internet Evangelist, Vint Cerf recently asked publicly: “Should the Internet be owned and maintained by the government, just like the highways?” according to a post by Erick Schonfeld on TechCrunch.

  • Since the Government neither owns or maintains the Internet today, Google may have much grander plans for ‘nationalizing the Internet’ than anybody appreciated.
  • Maybe we should take Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt much more seriously when he declares: “The goal of the company is not to monetize anything,” and “The goal is to change the world — and monetization is a technique to do that.”

Let’s dissect how radical and destructive Google’s notions for nationalizing the Internet are.

First, the Government privatized the Internet from 1992-1995 in recognition that the government was totally incapable of enabling the social and commercial potential of the Internet. It is no coincidence that when the Internet became private and a free market it exploded in use and value — from thousands of users in the early 1990’s to an estimated 1.4 billion users today!

Virtually all of the practical Internet innovation, investment, adoption, and applications have resulted from market forces — not from government.

Second, the Internet is entirely a voluntary system; governments are inherently coercive. Government ownership/maintenance of the Internet would destroy the voluntary system of self-interest and incentives that make the Internet what it is today.

Third, nationalizing the ownership/maintenance of the U.S. portion of the Internet would, conservatively, cost the Government over one trillion dollars, because the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment states: “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

For the Government to “own and maintain” the Internet would require either the largest tax increase or deficit spending in the history of the nation. It also would run totally counter to the consensus of the U.S. Congress, which recently extended, nearly unanimously, the Internet Tax Moratorium for the third time.

Fourth, Government ownership of the Internet would be a 180 degree reversal of bipartisan and successful Internet policy which has been embedded in law since 1996:

“It is the policy of the United States — to preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet… unfettered by Federal or State regulation.”

Fifth, Government ownership of the Internet would ‘balkanize’ the Internet and quickly destroy its essence: universal acceptance.

One of the greatest aspects of the Internet is that it has broken down historical sovereignty barriers — enabling people of all nations to interact, assemble, learn, and do commerce like never before. Ownership of the Internet by governments would make it more like the physical world — which would quickly destroy its unique universal value.

The Internet is truly global — comprising networks in over two hundred countries. If the U.S. started to seriously consider nationalizing the American portion of the Internet, it would encourage every despot in the world to clamp down and tightly control the Internet in their country — just like China does today.

Finally, if the Government were to own and operate the Internet like they own and operate the highways, wouldn’t that naturally involve an “Internet Highway Patrol” where the government limits and enforces the speed limit?

Bottom line: Given Google’s increasing market power and influence over what we find on the Internet and how it is valued, people should pay much closer attention to whether they support Google’s radical vision to “change the world.”

If one asked the average American if the U.S. Government should take over ownership of the Internet — they would look at the questioner as if they had lost their mind. While Google’s search engine may be mainstream, Google’s proposed policies for the Internet are radical fringe thinking.

Scott Cleland is one of nation’s foremost techcom analysts and experts at the nexus of: capital markets, public policy and techcom industry change. He is widely-respected in industry, government, media and capital markets as a forward thinker, free market proponent, and leading authority on the future of communications. Precursor LLC is an industry research and consulting firm, specializing in the techcom sector, whose mission is to help companies anticipate change for competitive advantage. Cleland is also Chairman of, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Precursor LLC and an e-forum on Net Neutrality funded by a wide range of broadband telecom, cable and wireless companies. He previously founded The Precursor Group Inc., which Institutional Investor magazine ranked as the #1 “Best Independent” research firm in communications for two years in a row. His latest op eds can be seen at

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