When the Federal Communications Commission approved net neutrality, one of my conservative friends tweeted, “Apparently the private sector will now have to invent something to replace the internet.” The private sector, though, didn’t invent the internet. The government did. Giant telecom companies now want to take it over and profit from it at the expense of the rest of us.

The internet was created by academic researchers at public universities who wanted to collaborate, not compete. They needed to share data quickly among several laboratories and devised a way to do it over telephone lines beginning in the late 1960s. Virtually every innovation to the system during the next 20 years came from government funding, not the private sector.

Now, the service providers like Time-Warner, Verizon and Comcast want to take it over. People go to the internet for the content, not the providers. What better way to kill the creativity of the web than to let the telecom giants determine what we can and cannot see? Fortunately, the FCC stuck with the masses instead of the gazillionaires.

Still, can you imagine the Republicans today supporting the development of a network that allowed a bunch of intellectual eggheads to communicate faster? They would be ridiculing it as an example of academia wasting precious tax dollars. The free-marketeers that make up today’s GOP would have killed it off because it doesn’t fit nicely into their ideological box that says only competition and the private sector create anything worth having.

The government and academia have a long history of working together to create things the private sector can’t or won’t. They built the space program, providing us with everything from cordless drills to solar panels to memory foam. In North Carolina, they created the Research Triangle Park, building one of the most powerful economic engines in the country.

However, if you live in rural North Carolina, you’ve seen what happens when the unregulated free market has it’s way. Remember the furniture industry? Killed by the free market. The textile industry? Decimated when the government decided to let free trade reign. Twenty years after NAFTA and we still haven’t recovered.

The internet, the space program and the Research Triangle Park were all built when pragmatists from both parties ran the state and nation. They understood that government and the free market each have their places and both contribute to the betterment of our society and economy. Today, the GOP has been taken over by ideologues who demonize government while worshipping at the altar of the free market. No telling what we’re missing out on now.

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