Interview: The Internet Was Never Free

RawStory: December 12, 2010

Exclusive: Internet was never free or open and never will be, media studies prof. says

By Nathan Diebenow
Sunday, December 12th, 2010 — 10:33 am

Author: If Americans want a truly free network, ‘we’ve got to build it from scratch’

Secrets outlet WikiLeaks’ continuing struggle to remain online in the face of corporate and government censorship is a striking example of something few truly realize: that the Internet is not and never has been democratically controlled, a media studies professor commented to Raw Story.

“[T]he stuff that goes on on the Internet does not go on because the authorties can’t stop it,” Douglas Rushkoff, author of Program or be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age and Life, Inc.: How Corporatism Conquered the World and How to Take it Back”, said. “It goes on because the authorities are choosing what to stop and what not to stop.”

Rushkoff told Raw Story that the authorities have the ability to quash cyber dissent due to the Internet’s original design, as a top-down, authoritarian device with a centralized indexing system.

Essentially, all one needs to halt a rogue site is to delete its address from the domain name system registry.

“This is not rocket science,” said Rushkoff, who also teaches media studies at The New School University in Manhattan.

For example, the Dutch teenager arrested Thursday for helping to organize a denial of service attack on an ‘Operation Payback’ online chatroom: “They just took him off. He had his own server, and they just go, ‘Oh, nip this one!'” Rushkoff said.

This is why, he noted in a recent CNN editorial, the actual threat to PayPal, Visa, MasterCard and Amazon last week were “vastly overstated” in most media.

“The forces of bottom-up anarchy have reached a similar impasse, and the authorities of the Internet have once again demonstrated their ability to fend off any genuine peer-to-peer activity,” he explained. “This is a tightly controlled network, and you know, that’s why I think the Chinese do have it right in that they understand, ‘Oh, we can control this thing. We just censor the fuck out of it.”

“[The general public] didn’t realize that the only difference is now we can see that we’ve been censored.”

Rushkoff said that until the recent WikiLeaks attacks, no one has talked about plans to create truly democratic, peer-to-peer alternatives to the Internet’s centralized domain index since political activist Paul Garrin’s work in the mid-to-late 1990s.

Garrin’s anti-trust lawsuit NAME.SPACE v. Network Solutions, Inc. paved the way to lower domain registration costs by breaking up the monopoly-based domain name registration system into a wholesale-retail market.

“What [Garrin] showed was that if you don’t want to use the domain name servers that are officially in charge of the net, you can create your own network of domain name servers,” Rushkoff explained.

“You can set up your computer to look them up instead of the official ones where we can create our own names database, so I could be ‘Douglas.Rushkoff,'” he said. “You know, we could have any name we want. It’s arbitrary and artificial that they’ve limited domain at top-level registers to what they have. I mean, they have their reasons for it, of course, but it’s artificial.”

Most people, he said, would rather “just stream Steve Jobs’ authorized movies” than connect to an open public space that would almost certainly become demonized as a haven for terrorism and lawlessness.

“If we want to have a true peer-to-peer network, we now understand what it might look like,” Rushkoff said. “If you want to have something real, we’ve got to build it from scratch.”

With editing by Stephen C. Webster.