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Goodbye Internet, we hardly
By Scott Bradner
This end of year article is a looking forward one -- looking
forward to a year in which the Internet will be under a multi-pronged attack
that threatens to change it irrevocably in ways that may destroy much of the
Throughout its history, the Internet, in most places, has
been essentially free from government regulation. There are significant exceptions -- a few counties do quite an effective job of controlling
Internet content and a number of countries control specific Internet
technologies such as encryption and voice over IP. But, on the whole, the Internet has been left alone to
disrupt businesses, governments and society. The Internet's impact on the music and film
businesses, newspapers, privacy, social unrest, government transparency
(voluntary and otherwise), and education, among many other things, as been
course, there are a lot of people not all that happy with the changes that have
been enabled, or in some cases, forced by the Internet. For quite a few years the copyright
industry has been railing against the Internet. They have tried repeatedly to legally mandate technical
controls, such as the broadcast flag (see Protecting the past -
http://www.sobco.com/nww/2005/bradner-2005-05-16.html), media taxes (which
assume that all users of CDs, for example, are stealing copyrighted material),
and penalties such as 3-strikes rules (which cut off Internet access on
multiple accusations, not on proof, of copyright violations). (See ACTA: No longer secret but still
plenty to worry about -
http://www.networkworld.com/columnists/2010/042610bradner.html) To date, most of these efforts have
caused some individuals great pain but not changed anything fundamental.
efforts to control the Net in other ways are beginning to heat up. There was a great deal of discussion
during the recent ITU
Plenipotentiary Conference in Guadalajara Mexico about the possibility of
bringing the Internet under the same regulatory
regime that the world's phone systems are subject to. In the end, strong efforts in this direction were deflected
and the meeting ended with global Internet regulation largely nonexistent. But a new threat has surfaced from the United
Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development, which has voted
to establish a government-only Working Group
Improvements to the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). The IGF (http://www.intgovforum.org/cms/) is a
multi-stakeholder group that meets to discuss Internet governance issues but
has largely left the regulatory picture
unchanged. Now, a UN
government-only group will investigate how to fix the IGF - it does not take
much imagination to see what the likely result will be. (See http://www.v3.co.uk/v3/news/2273887/icann-united-nations-internet)
Governments, in general, do not much like the Internet, or
at least the Internet-based activities that they do not control. Some governments, such as China, have
established strong controls over the Internet in their own countries. Venezuela
has just proposed to do the same.
(http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D9K19TN80.htm) Restructuring the Internet so that each
country has a control point could easily wipe out the ability of Internet users
to find out what is going on in the world.
But we do not have to wait until the UN acts to see the
future. The US government recently
seized a bunch of domain names without letting the domain name owner contest
the seizure. (see
http://thehill.com/blogs/hillicon-valley/technology/130763-homeland-security-dept-seizes-domain-names-) News reports show that the US
government pressured PayPal and Amazon to stop
supporting WikiLeaks, again without any due process. You do not have to be a fan of WikiLeaks to understand that
letting the US government decide, on its own, without the legal process defined
in our Constitution, what should and what should not be accessible on the
Internet is not a recipe for freedom. Maybe they can take pointers from China.
Meanwhile the FCC will be voting on a new US regulatory
regime for the Internet on December 21st.
The FCC has not bothered to actually be open enough to let us know what
the FCC will vote on but the rumors should not make anyone interested in a open
I may be being a bit alarmist above but signs do seem to be
converging that the future Internet will be the Internet of old more in name
than in fact. Happy New Year.
I'm sure there are Harvard folk into onomatology but I did not consult
with them about the future Internet so the above pessimism is mine alone.