This Week’s Agenda: What Is in Our Interest?

Let me start this week with a proposition.

It is in the interest of all of us (Internet companies) that people spend more time and money here. It is in our interest that they upgrade to broadband and use big heaping gobs of bandwidth. It is in our interest that they come online without fear and that their knowledge of the Net not be seen as dangerous.

We all have narrower interests in addition to that broad interest. Internet advertisers may disagree with publishers, and everyone in this industry has the right to pursue their corporate goals. But the interest we hold in common — the healthy growth of this industry — should sometimes trump all that.

Unfortunately, no one is expressing that interest right now. As a result, various narrow interests are trumping this broader interest. People are being made afraid to use the Internet and to upgrade their connections.

When we have good news that debunks the fear — when researchers at Carnegie Mellon find that Internet users are not, as they thought, alienated and detached — it never seems to get much play.

We may have nothing to fear but fear itself, but when our customers open their newspapers, all they get is fear.

Censorware-maker Websense claimed recently that “U.S. companies lose $63 billion a year in lost productivity due to the Net.” If companies are questioning their need for the resource, if they’re restricting access at work, this might be the reason. Shouldn’t someone be questioning these conclusions and how they were arrived at, in the interests of all Internet companies?

All this gets personalized in cases like that of David McOwen. He may go to jail for putting the distributed.net encryption project on a few hundred computers he was managing at DeKalb Technical College, a few miles from my home. The fact is that major media are telling parents every day that the Web is one big red-light district. They are telling corporations that Web use is a waste of time and resources. Every virus or worm gets huge play, encouraging people to go offline. Colleges and companies are cracking down.

If people are afraid to use the resource or to let others use it, bandwidth lies unused. That can’t be in our interest. So who is speaking for us? Mainly, it’s privacy advocates and hackers — it’s not the industry that’s most affected by all this fear.

The result is that our most creative users — the kids who might grow up to be the next Bill Gates, Scott McNealy, or Alan Meckler — are being driven further and further underground. Is that in our interest?

Who is speaking for our interest in having people use, enjoy, and gain value from this resource? Can Internet content and Internet advertising flourish in a world dominated by cops and robbers? If we’re not involved in the debate, urging people to use the resource and gain its advantages, we’ll lose the game.

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