The Economist briefing: The Future of The Internet

The EconomistThe Economist has published a comprehensive briefing A virtual counter-revolution on the state of The Internet – including Net Neutrality and trends towards balkanization.

The briefing notes that Net Neutrality concerns are a peculiarly American obsession, due to the lack of provider competition:

America’s operators have long insisted that open-access requirements would destroy their incentive to build fast, new networks: why bother if you will be forced to share it? After intense lobbying, America’s telecoms regulators bought this argument. But the lesson from elsewhere in the industrialised world is that it is not true. The result, however, is that America has a small number of powerful network operators, prompting concern that they will abuse their power unless they are compelled, by a net-neutrality law, to treat all traffic equally. Rather than trying to mandate fairness in this way—net neutrality is very hard to define or enforce – it makes more sense to address the underlying problem: the lack of competition.

The briefing notes increasing nationalistic trends in government control of Internet traffic, and worries that nations will ultimately go rogue on the DNS system; also that the predicted dominance of tightly controlled cloud-based apps which will turn the Internet into a series of ‘walled gardens’ aka ‘islands’ – inhibiting generativity. However such trends are not seen as inevitable:

Yet predictions are hazardous, particularly in IT. Governments may yet realise that a freer internet is good not just for their economies, but also for their societies. Consumers may decide that it is unwise to entrust all their secrets to a single online firm such as Facebook, and decamp to less insular alternatives, such as Diaspora.

The briefing concludes that it’s anybody’s guess how it will all turn out.