The Covid-19 crisis should change our country’s consciousness when it comes to how we define security.
It’s revealed our flaws in terms of defense spending and the conflict between private profit and the public good. The working people of America, first responders, healthcare workers, and retail workers deserve much credit. Information technology, partially developed in our country’s technology centers but also built on the back of government-sponsored research and development, has also played a positive role in the crisis. It would be a much tougher crisis without personal computers, cell phones, and internet access. Some are even able to work at home and earn a paycheck using these technologies.
The internet is so important that it can’t be left in the hands of the private sector. It’s a public good and using it shouldn’t depend on one’s ability to pay for it. The digital divide has been a political issue in our country for some time.
The Covid-19 crises makes municipally owned WiFi more important than ever. Some cities, New York City and Tampa, Florida in the United States, and Paris in France and Tel Aviv in Israel, have already introduced municipally owned WiFi. A reporter who is delivering important information on a pandemic or a health care worker who must communicate with a superior quickly shouldn’t have to worry about how or if they can connect to a WiFi network.
A segment of the old Socialist Party, Socialist Party of America, defined themselves by a program called “sewer socialism.” This approach supported city-owned sewers, water systems, public parks, public libraries, and improved education systems. The aim of the sewer socialists was to make city life livable for the industrial working class. Mayor Frank Zeidler in Milwaukee and Mayor James Maurer in Reading, Penn. represented this school of politics. A new sewer socialism would provide public parks, libraries, and city owned WiFi for the expanding class of service workers. Internet access will be a right and not a privilege.
During President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, the government created the Rural Electrification Administration and the Lower Colorado River Authority. These agencies started cooperative utility companies for rural Americans, many didn’t have any electricity at the time. A new Municipal and Rural WiFi Administration would set up consumer cooperatives for cities and rural areas and deliver public WiFi. The security of Americans depends on this public good.
Some will wonder how our government will pay for something like this. Lt. Col. Daniel Davis recently penned a wonderful story “How Covid-19’s Fiscal Impact Might Ironically Strengthen National Defense.” Lt. Col. Davis said that cutting back on our obsolete defense structure – designed to fight a ground war with the Soviet Union in a post-Soviet world – is essential to fund the war against Covid-19. He warned that the defense industry, sometimes filed under the category military-industrial complex, will use the weapon of fear to try and prevent this from happening. He also advocated ending the foreign wars our county has been engaged in for so long.
Fighting the power of private interests – the military-industrial complex and private interests that oppose municipal WiFi – and defending the public interest will be a priority in the fight against Covid-19!
Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis.