Before it disappears into the archives, I’d like to call attention to a significant article (and cover story: The web’s new walls) in the September 2, 2010 issue of The Economist: The future of the internet: A virtual counter-revolution.
Some points will be familiar to anyone following the ‘net-neutrality’ issue in the U.S. or elsewhere. However, The Economist is dealing with more and broader issues: Government intrusion into and control of internet traffic; the isolation of segments of the internet by language or country; enclaves – usually commercial – within the internet that one way or another limit other connections (Apple iPad etc., Facebook); and the key net-neutrality issue of separating those who pay for faster service from the ‘regular web.’
All of these issues have a dynamic of their own, that is, rationales a presented for each of them – they are ‘natural’ in the sense that you would expect governments, companies, and groups of people to behave this way with the internet. Unfortunately, as the article documents, all of these together are beginning to tear the internet apart and threaten to destroy its global, open, and free nature.
What happens if the internet loses its universality? That is the question posed by the article, and well worth the reading.
Fifteen years after its first manifestation as a global, unifying network, it has entered its second phase: it appears to be balkanising, torn apart by three separate, but related forces.
First, governments are increasingly reasserting their sovereignty. Recently several countries have demanded that their law-enforcement agencies have access to e-mails sent from BlackBerry smart-phones. This week India, which had threatened to cut off BlackBerry service at the end of August, granted RIM, the device’s maker, an extra two months while authorities consider the firm’s proposal to comply. However, it has also said that it is going after other communication-service providers, notably Google and Skype.
Second, big IT companies are building their own digital territories, where they set the rules and control or limit connections to other parts of the internet. Third, network owners would like to treat different types of traffic differently, in effect creating faster and slower lanes on the internet.
It is still too early to say that the internet has fragmented into “internets”, but there is a danger that it may splinter along geographical and commercial boundaries. … Just as it was not preordained that the internet would become one global network where the same rules applied to everyone, everywhere, it is not certain that it will stay that way, says Kevin Werbach, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
[Source: The Economist]