We live in a society where there is a strong desire to commoditize everything – water, energy, pollution, and each packet of data that is passed along digital networks. This desire comes from a position that (at least in part) holds that by giving everything a value, by associating costs with the degradation or poor management of commodities, it becomes possible for society to operate more ‘efficiently’. This is the great myth of capitalistic societies; that the deregulation of social goods provides a means to maximally divide wealth, opportunity, and power across the society. In Canada it is NAFTA, and its associated market pressures, that have been largely responsible for the deregulation of social programs and Crown Corporations that were previously responsible for providing core services to Canadians. We now see the specter of similar efficiencies mobilizing to ensure that bandwidth is distributed more efficiently, that people pay proportionate fees for the bandwidth and the actions they use that bandwidth for. In the process, private corporations will limit the possibilities of the Internet – they will stifle innovation by militating how their networks can be used and, as a result, inhibit development that can unexpectedly occur at each bend of these digital highways.
The Notion of Commons
It is possible that you’re not entirely familiar with the notion of the Commons, save for having heard in news reports of the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’, without any real guidance as to what the catchphrase means. To put it quickly, the Commons identifies all places, spaces, items, and products that belong to society at large rather than to any particular individual. This can be better explained by turning to town squares and roads. In the case of town squares, they operate as public space that is available to any and all members of the public to use. Because there is a greater advantage to having those spaces available to a large number of people than if there were not they continue to remain in public hands. By having squares as a public space it is possible to hold various town functions, rallies, readings, and other social events, whereas if they were privately owned the these goods would not have a space where they could be grown, potentially stunting the growth of the community’s identity.