First off, thanks to Concurring Opinions and Danielle Citron for hosting this online symposium on Jonathan Zittrain’s The Future of the Internet – and How to Stop it. Before I launch into my own thoughts, I want to add my own version of the praise that the book has already won. It is an immensely readable work that succeeds in showing us where we’ve been, how we got to where we are, and the steps to take to avoid going where we’d rather not be.
I have three brief points, involving a comparison with Japan, some thoughts about competition, consumer protection and innovation, and finally, a somewhat different take on the lessons of Wikipedia.
This symposium is incredibly timely, particularly given the concern in recent weeks about the Google/Verizon agreement. In TFOTI, Zittrain highlights the risks that threaten the Internet’s future, and explains how the net neutrality debate is in some ways a mismatch for those risks. For example, he points out that the migration from the Internet to, in his words, tethered appliances like the iPhone and TiVo, ultimately provide an end-run around net neutrality on the Internet (pp. 177-185). Accordingly, he argues that preserving generativity is a better-tailored principle.
The lead in The Economist this week also takes on the Google/Verizon agreement, and critiques net neutrality from a different angle calling America’s “vitriolic net-neutrality debate” “a reflection of the lack of competition in broadband access.” If you’re reading this symposium, you probably already know, possibly because you read this, that in many other industrialized countries incumbent telcos were forced years ago – and not just in a superficial way – to open up wholesale broadband to competitors.
I’m in Tokyo this academic year thanks to Temple’s long reach across the globe and to my gracious hosts at Keio University Law School. I’ve been travelling to Japan repeatedly since the late 1980s, and one of the changes I’ve been struck by is how a country that in the 1990s was generally held to be well behind the U.S. in telecommunications now seems ahead in broadband and mobile Internet. Read More