Basics More Important for Sandy Survivors than Internet Open Access Agenda

by Mike Wendy on November 6, 2012

Did you know that according to Internet activist, Susan Crawford:

What disempowered New Yorkers most wanted during [Sandy], in addition to safety and electricity, was a way to communicate.

And, true to her nature, she has a great government “solution” to solve that empowerment problem:

My suggestion: Prioritize rebooting communications infrastructure for New York City and its environs at the same time that we think seriously about water barriers and other infrastructural needs.

Yes, Susan.  Crassly use Hurricane Sandy to push your anti-incumbent, anti-capitalist, pro-government takeover of the Internet because, heck, why let that crisis go to waste, right?   So, let’s “reboot” Internet infrastructure first so that New Yorkers feel empowered (again).  Then all that other “water barrier” stuff, let’s just, er, “think seriously” about that at some later date.

Umm, Okay.

You know, I like the Internet and talking on my cell phone (or landline) as much as the next guy.  Doubtless, it’s important to have this stuff working during, or in as close proximity to, natural disasters when they do occur.  But, from my own personal experiences with force majeure, “priority” for me and my family hasn’t ever centered on rebooting communications infrastructure.   When we went through Andrew in ’92, Isabel in ’03, Irene in ‘11, and the Derecho this summer (among other weather-related messes), communicating on the Internet or chatting on the cell phone was about the last thing that entered my mind.

You know what concerned me more (sometimes for weeks at a time)? Knowing that I could access the real, “empowering” basics – such as safe shelter, electricity, clean water, fresh or canned food, ice, pots and pans, emergency medical supplies or attention (if needed), a personal protection device (such as a bat, bow and arrow, hunting knife, 9mm, etc.), a shovel or pickaxe or gas powered chainsaw, a hammer, a screwdriver, a Swiss Army knife, a strong belt, rope or string or fishing line, extension cords, flashlights, matches and candles, a magnifying glass, a charcoal barbecue, wood (or flammable materials that safely burn), clean clothes and footwear, comfortable bedding and blankets, relief from the climate (depending on the season), relief from your stir-crazy kids, a shower (every now and then), a mirror, toothbrush and toothpaste, a comb, and a razor blade (among other essential items).

Pretty much the old Boy Scout checklist – which remains useful even after the advent of the Internet.

Quite frankly, increasing communications capacity, getting fiber infrastructure out to everyone, and boosting Internet competition through government subsidy – which Crawford implies would “empower” those in the midst of calamity – is not what most Boy Scouts would look for during times of trouble.

The Internet has changed many things, but it has not changed basic survival instincts and techniques of self-preservation.

This is not to belittle the legitimate communications needs of the New York area and its residents.  But Susan Crawford is not really concerned about that.  She wants only that incumbent communications providers be treated no better than public streets or heavily regulated utilities; and she will use most any crisis or situation to advocate to that end.


Communicating with your neighbor during a crisis – now that’s truly empowering. You can still find this empowerment without the aid of government subsidy, mandated broadband fiber line or the Internet, you know.

Unless you live in Susan Crawford’s world.

Catherine Fitzpatrick November 19, 2012 at 12:00 pm

I’m so glad you called out Crawford on her appalling exploitation of Hurricane Sandy to try to push her collectivist vision.

I had to undergo mandatory evacuation during the flood and ended up in a place that lost power, too, and didn’t have power or water for 12 days. Trying to recharge a cell phone was impossible — all the kids mobbed every available outlet.

I was commuting uptown where the lights were still on to try to get food, water, etc. Obviously, checking into FourSquare and tweeting your pics of downed trees aren’t uppermost in your mind when you need clean water, warm shelter, and a place to go to the bathroom. Oh, and food that isn’t spoiled. I was glad I had my cell phone to contact scattered family members during the flood and get updates from my local assemblyman and the mayor’s office, but I don’t begrudge Verizon being down here or there or making load balancing decisions and don’t feel that they need to be seized by the government to serve the public in a crisis. After all, television and radio stations and telephones always have, you know? And yet they were able to remain private companies without over-regulation.

I’ve long been calling out this entire “First Amendification” of the management of consumption (the fake “net neutrality”) of Crawford, Rebecca McKinnon, Jay Rosen and others who try to convert their “progressive” agenda into a civil rights slate. It doesn’t shoe-horn very well, especially when the real crimes against the Internet in places like Iran or Syria or Uzbekistan are so much more compelling than my son not being able to get his WoW patch quite as fast as he’d like.

Cell phones are obviously useful during a flood and obviously save lives. But who is going to make the political decisions about who gets to download their Lost episodes and refresh their Facebook status, and who is going to call 911 from a top the roof of their house being carried out to sea? Even if we declare the Internet a utility like electricity or water — and we as a society haven’t done that yet — there’s still the wide variety of usages to which it is put that raise issues of whether/how it should be regulated.

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: