The Internet Cyberspace: Free Market or Public Service?
In recent years, the emergence and prosperity of Internet technology has changed our life style in multiple aspects. From daily communication to news broadcasting, and from online shopping to advertising, all these have made Internet cyberspace almost equally “fertile” soil compared with the physical world. Briefly speaking, the Internet in current era is trying to construct a space which can realize similar functions without face-to-face interaction, and such feature has provided more alternatives when we desire for some specific services.
Considering from the perspective of media and press, there is no exception under the impact of Internet. The great changes of information transferring process have brought about new ways to form public opinions. Nevertheless, since a large proportion of advanced technology is controlled by several Internet juggernauts such as Google, it might become difficult for a certain number of users to afford the high costs along with some services. Meanwhile, it is also quite challenging for small companies to survive and compete with those large enterprises, thus leading to a monopoly of the market. Hence, some people argue that the Internet cyberspace should be regarded as a public service which is freely accessible to all citizens, while others insist that the Internet industry should still be considered as a free market where competitions are exempted from governmental intervention. And to elaborate this controversial issue, we may first delve into the two concepts mentioned above.
If we try to make a metaphor, the free market model is generally suitable for those daily consumer goods such as snacks and drinks. There’s no rigid demand for these products, and the manufacturers who attract more customers are more likely to form a monopoly. And most importantly, it is a rare case for the government to spare their time and try to interfere the normal marketing operations. Simply viewing from this characteristic, it may seem that the current Internet industry should be closer to a free market because those Internet companies with higher service qualities will be universally welcomed and dominate the field. For instance, considering Gmail, Twitter and Facebook, they take the peek position in the related area, and there are hardly any other Internet services that can shake their advantages.
However, is this what we desire from the Internet cyberspace? Is it acceptable if we let the market develop on its own, leaving the small companies struggling and isolating the citizens who cannot afford? If this scenario comes to reality, then it might be inevitable that more wealthy people will hold the microphone, thus blocking the way in which the others can express and form public opinion. In other words, such situation is seriously against the network neutrality and that’s why some people advocates the Internet cyberspace as a public service. In this model, the Internet industry will be controlled by the government, to ensure that every citizen at least have a share of the online public sphere. It also conceived that the authority should subsidize those vulnerable Internet enterprises or taxes more on those large ones to keep the market balanced. Just as the roads, a part of civil engineering, hardly any commercial competition will be involved. And nearly all the citizens will have the chance to gain access to it. This system seems ideal, but problems remain: if the government try to treat all Internet service providers equally and eliminate the advantages brought by higher-qualified technologies, the stimulation of creativity will disappear, which is even worse to the overall development of Internet.
So, what is the feasible strategy for the current situation? Should we regard the Internet cyberspace as a free market or a public service? In my opinion, if we simply pick one path out of the two, loopholes will always be exposed in the system, preventing the formation of a healthy online public sphere. To put it another way, if we can manage to combine the superiority of them, a “chemical reaction” may well take place and satisfy most citizens. Recall that we just compared the public services to roads, but it is also true that not all roads have equivalent status. Even the government will specially construct highways for those who need to travel in a higher speed, and they need to pay for such high-level service when passing the troll stations. Taking this as a reference, the rulers could also make some interventions to guarantee the basic rights for citizens to utilize Internet and join in discussions and debates within online public sphere. But some advanced functions of the Internet with high technology requirement, will be charged and placed into a free market to induce competition. Similarly, for the Internet companies, only the minimized but necessary interference should be proposed to ensure the survival of small-scaled enterprises, and those juggernauts will still take better position with great creativity and competitive power.
In conclusion, it is neither free market nor public service that is the complete solution to the Internet cyberspace. A mixture and combination of two systems might have a better performance, but the final decision and feedback, will be given by the vast majority of citizens involved in the online public sphere.