The future of the Internet – should it be stopped?

The network of networks has come a long way since its beginnings. Last week, the Economist wrote about “A virtual counter-revolution“. From being a “great unifier of people, companies and online networks”, the Internet is now developing in a slightly different direction:

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.

Just a few weeks earlier, Wired Magazine declared: “The Web is Dead, Long Live the Internet

Two decades after its birth, the World Wide Web is in decline, as simpler, sleeker services — think apps — are less about the searching and more about the getting. Chris Anderson explains how this new paradigm reflects the inevitable course of capitalism. And Michael Wolff explains why the new breed of media titan is forsaking the Web for more promising (and profitable) pastures.

The truth is that the Web has always had two faces. On the one hand, the Internet has meant the breakdown of incumbent businesses and traditional power structures. On the other, it’s been a constant power struggle, with many companies banking their strategy on controlling all or large chunks of the TCP/IP-fueled universe.

The role of law as a tool enabling progress instead of building obstacles has sometimes been underestimated in the history of the Internet. Let’s hope that the future will hold more possibilities for law and its proactive role in society.

Sent from my iPad

PS: For those who want to discuss the future of the Internet more in detail, especially with regards to Jonathan Zittrain‘s book The Future of the Internet–And How to Stop It, an online symposium is being held at the moment.

This post is also published at the blog of the Swedish Law and Informatics Research Institute –

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