Concept Cars, Snake Oil, and Regulation

The argument for national regulation in regards to Internet access and usage is a strong one. We’re going to get in to our way back machine to talk about a few important things in our lives that are now government regulated and why that’s a good thing …

Toyota Pod concept car

We could go down the long road of the history of car safety and regulations, but here’s a link to a better resource; Visit for information about the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Here’s the gist. Cars were unsafe. There wasn’t anyone out there regulating safety, cost, etc. People were dying when a few additions could have save their lives (e.g. seatbelts). Ralph Nader even wrote a book in the 1960s called Unsafe at Any Speed.

Regulation to the automobile industry is more than just safety. There are laws and regulations in place for what kind of emissions cars put off as well as fuel economy regulations. Those regulations mean that engine designers have to get creative. How to make an awesome muscle car engine follow the rules? That takes skill. Pat, from the stands “by the fact that having to make an engine that meets fuel economy and emissions regulations is why we have the horsepower we are enjoying now.”

There are some cons, of course, to such stringent regulations. Most of the cars on the market today look very similar. But I argue that that is the manufacturers choice and desire to make a significant profit. We’ve seen concept vehicles that would work within the regulations, but because profit matters more than art, cars look the same.

So, what have regulations on the automobile industry done … save lives, made reliable vehicles accessible to everyone.

Snake oil or Memory Elixer anyone

Okay, so food regulation is a little touchier. You’ve got a government agency, the FDA, in charge of regulation of big business food industry (aka Monsanto) as well as small farmers and food producers.

The FDA says that they play a “role in helping reduce the risk of malicious, criminal, and terrorist actions on the food supply.” Some would argue that Monsanto is participating in terrorist actions against our food supply and that the FDA is not doing anything about it. But in turn there are stringent regulations on small farmers, making it harder for them to make any kind of profit.

Let’s look at the history of the FDA … in 1906 the Food and Drug Administration (not their original name) came about to stop the tampering of food and the selling of drugs that weren’t quite right. Of course it wasn’t perfect from the start, so weird elixirs and products have made it through and caused the deaths of numerous people. As to be expected, the reach and the regulations of the FDA have expanded and modified.

The FDA has got a lot of territory to cover — everything from food safety and recalls and oversight of medicines and supplements. Not really surprising that some things fall through the cracks and that there might be some heavy lobbying by big business that might influence decision making.

Okay, after that very brief look, what have regulations in the food and drug industries done for us? In general, foods for us are safer to eat and when a recall is made, the information is disseminated quickly. In the cases of drugs, regulations are put in place to test them to make sure they do more good than harm before they are released.

Smartphone as Child Toy

And now we return to why we’re all here. The Internet. The big debate here is whether or not we should have the government in on regulating the Internet providers and what that means for the consumer.

There are going to be pros and cons no matter how we look at it. We can see the positives of automobile regulations, but we see the decrease in creativity. We can see the positives in food regulations, but we can see where big business is able to manipulate the system.

With regulation of the Internet, more people will have access within a reasonable cost. Right now, not all locales in the United States can even provide the access (e.g. locations in Montana and other rural states with low population) nor can big cities provide access to low-income students other than libraries. While access to the Internet at public libraries is definitely viable, many studies have been done in regards to the impact of lack of access to technology on low-income families and what they are missing educationally.

We already have a government agency in place, the Federal Communications Commission, which has begun to take on the regulations of the Internet. They’re reminiscent of the FDA in that they have a lot of territory to cover. They have purview over telephone, television, radio, and more. We’re going to see a tumultuous start and we’ll get through some rough patches, but ultimately the regulation of the Internet to make it accessible to the many will outweigh the bad.

Morgan C. A. Smith

Emerging Media Graduate Student

Loyola University, Maryland

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