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Post Office Origins of “Net Neutrality”

The Dead-Letter Office at Washington, a wood engraving sketched by Theodore R. Davis and published in Harper's Weekly, February 22, 1868.
Theodore R. Davis, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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The Dead-Letter Office at Washington, a wood engraving sketched by Theodore R. Davis and published in Harper's Weekly, February 22, 1868.

This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR. e book is “How the Post Office Created America” by Winifred Gallagher.

In an online course I taught at UMKC, in 2005 I wrote:

The Internet is neutral about who may use it: so far

  1. Who Owns the Internet - You, supposedly
  2. Who Controls Information on the internet – You, supposedly

Now, imagine: What if the US Postal Service …

  1. decided which pieces of mail and which publications would be delivered?
  2. delivered some right away, some much later, some not at all
  3. charged more (postage) for magazines they didn't like
  4. tore out pages where they pleased
  5. delivered the magazines (and ads) they do like, quickly and cheaply.

Hard to imagine but before 1792 those practices happened. Only a few years before, during the French and Indian War, which was one of the theaters of the 7-years war between England and France, the postal service carried letters from civilians and soldiers which were the main source for newspaper stories, selling the war to the colonists. Shortly after that, in the revolutionary war, the Post Office was used by English colonial officials to restrict or censor or spy on communications by the colonists.
So, the Postal Act of 1792 included provisions against surveillance and censorship. Today, we see unequal treatment of email and articles on the web. That is where “Net Neutrality” comes in.

In 2005, Timothy Karr, for Huffington Post, wrote, "Google's position on Net Neutrality has not changed one bit," Google spokesman Adam Kovacevich told us. “Google's position -- which we testified to last year in Congress -- is that broadband network operators should not be permitted to charge any content owner, extra fees or extra tolls.”

In September 2007 Truthout’s email newsletters to followers were blocked by AOL,

Hotmail, MSN, WebTV and Yahoo. On their site, Truthout stated, “Bluntly stated: AOL, Microsoft, Yahoo and all of the domains they control restrict what you receive in your inbox. And it is at their discretion, not yours … when they are your Internet provider, they are your mommy.”

While most censorship worries used to be concerned with government, it is corporations who’ve chosen to censor content. In April 2017, Google changed its search and delivery algorithms.

Hundreds of independent journalism sites immediately lost massive amounts of traffic

When Google changed their search choices in 2017, sites such as Consortium News, Alternet, Truthout, Mother Jones, Nation of Change and other left-leaning sites suddenly disappeared from Google News. Instead, Fox news, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post, all three owned by Rupert Murdoch, and other right-leaning publications, were suddenly dominant. Search and social media remain heavily weighted to the right.

We are now (2022) seeing Google, YouTube (owned by Google), Facebook and Amazon cutting off and deleting articles, videos and reports with little or no ability to appeal or even make contact. Financial services such as PayPal and Venmo dropped website accounts, taking whatever money was already in the till, such as from MintPress and Consortium News

(https://consortiumnews.com/tag/paypal/ - May 1, 2022). https://www.coindesk.com/layer2/2022/05/23/deplatformed-by-paypal-antiwar-journalists-speak-out/

YouTube deleted the entire 6-year “RT America” show archive of Journalist Chris Hedges in March 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1LU-nV11dg

230 years ago, the Post Office Act of 1792 specifically forbade surveillance and required that all mail was delivered equally regardless of customer or content.

  • All postal routes were created and set by congress.
  • There was no minimum required revenue to setup and run a post office.
  • The privacy of the mail was protected - no government surveillance.
  • Newspaper exchange between printers was free.

Today’s technology (read feedback algorithms) certainly aide, and abet abuses of open speech, yet letting opaque organizations (largely private corporations) control our speech for their profits, means we don’t have free speech.
So, it seems, we are back at square one. Baby or bath water? Or refresh the Post Office Act of 1792. This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR Radio Readers Book Club

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