Freedom of reach IS freedom of speech
The online debate over free speech suuuuucks, and, amazingly, it’s getting worse. This week, it’s the false dichotomy between “freedom of speech” and “freedom of reach,” that is, the debate over whether a platform should override your explicit choices about what you want to see:
It’s wild that we’re still having this fight. It is literally the first internet fight! The modern internet was born out of an epic struggled between “Bellheads” (who believed centralized powers should decide how you used networks) and “Netheads” (who believed that services should be provided and consumed “at the edge”):
The Bellheads grew out of the legacy telco system, which was committed to two principles: universal service and monetization. The large telcos were obliged to provide service to everyone (for some value of “everyone”), and in exchange, they enjoyed a monopoly over the people they connected to the phone system.
That meant that they could decide which services and features you had, and could ask the government to intervene to block competitors who added services and features they didn’t like. They wielded this power without restraint or mercy, targeting, for example, the Hush-A-Phone, a cup you stuck to your phone receiver to muffle your speech and prevent eavesdropping:
They didn’t block new features for shits and giggles, though — the method to this madness was rent-extraction. The iron-clad rule of the Bell System was that anything that improved on the basic service had to have a price-tag attached. Every phone “feature” was a recurring source of monthly revenue for the phone company — even the phone itself, which you couldn’t buy, and had to rent, month after month, year after year, until you’d paid for it hundreds of times over.
This is an early and important example of “predatory inclusion”: the monopoly carriers delivered universal service to all of us, but that was a prelude to an ugly, parasitic…