A publicly supported internet

I just learned via the Media Guardian podcast, while “running” this morning, that my friend Tom Loosemore, who helped guide the BBC into the future and who on the side helped create the constituent-empowering They Work for You, has left Auntie to go to OFCOM, the British media regulator, where he’ll work on the idea of public-serving publishing (PSP) — that is, a publicly supported internet.

If a country were to take taxes to support work on the internet — and I’m not saying it should — I don’t think it should follow the old broadcasting model of creating content and a closed network to distribute it. I don’t pretend to understand the thinking that has gone into PSP. And American that I am, I would be leery of creating taxes to support internet activities, which in turn gives government and political control over internet activities (see: meddling in public broadcasting and broadcasting as well). I also think the market is doing a magnificent job exploring and exploiting the internet’s potential.

But having issued those caveats, this got me thinking: If there were to be a publicly supported effort such as this, what is missing? If you’re going to do this, then I’d say it would be God’s work to help create infrastructure and open platforms to help sustain the people’s creativity, which is already blooming. So what could that be?

* An open advertising infrastructure. Yes, I know that sounds antithetical to public-serving and -supported publishing. But the goal is to create the means to make anyone’s creativity sustainable, on merit. Creating an infrastructure, a platform, also scales far better and lasts much longer than revenue from a tax. If more creation can be supported independently, that benefits both the creators and society.

* An open government infrastructure. Make all government information and actions open to public scrutiny. Turn us loose and we call become reporters. Old powers would despise this. That’s just the point. Rather than waiting for us to file freedom-of-information requests, just free the information.

* An open education infrastructure. I’ll write more about this soon, but I keep coming back to the idea that the next institution to explode — after media, advertising, consumer companies, politics, and government — is the academe. This will have profoundly disruptive implications for both education and research. But why shouldn’t educational institutions — especially publicly funded ones — follow the lead of MIT and other universities and put their curricula online? And wouldn’t it be ducky if there were a good, standard infrastructure for doing so and even for joining in with other online students? And, of course, why shouldn’t we all be able to create courses to share?

* An identity system? No, ID cards are already controversial enough. Scratch that.

* Authoring tools? The market is doing a damned good job with that.

What else?

In any case, I’ll watch with great interest what Loosemore does at his new gig and I wish him luck.