In response to past crises, investments in physical infrastructure have helped the United States recover and thrive after significant challenges. After both the Great Depression and the Great Recession, for example, increased investment in transportation infrastructure was a key part of bringing the American economy back from disaster.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its attendant economic crisis requires a similarly significant response, but it also asks of lawmakers to consider what is next. We can’t just invest in highways—we also need to invest in the technology underpinning the information superhighway. To rebuild from one of the greatest challenges of our time, the United States must invest both in physical and digital infrastructure to secure its recovery.
For the last few years, both Democrats and Republicans have called for major infrastructure investments, only for them not to materialize. These efforts to fund infrastructure investment have focused on the physical world—highways, railroads, bridges. While those are important areas for investment, we must not forget the equal importance of digital infrastructure, especially the free and open-source software (FOSS) that is built mostly by volunteer labor and underpins the digital world. FOSS is even working its way into the physical world, as it is built into our phones, cars, and refrigerators.
FOSS began in the 1980s as an effort to give developers the ability to tinker with and alter software, which was prevented by most software vendors at the time. This led to the “free” in FOSS being defined as “Free as in Free Speech, not as in Free Beer,” although frequently the software was also free of costs. For years, FOSS was primarily the domain of hobbyists, but as computing and the internet became a larger part of daily life, so too did FOSS. The untiring efforts of countless volunteers collaborating remotely eventually led