Please forgive my relative lateness to this blog post party, I posted this accidentally to my blog and not the class blog.
The great hope of the Internet is the exchange of information free from geopolitical borders. But as Palfrey remarks in “Four Phases of Internet Regulation” that dream is far from realized. In the time of Palfrey’s “Open Internet” (1960s – 2000) there was a free sharing of information and ideas, but there were major barriers that got in the way. When the Internet was created computers were expensive and required specialized knowledge to use them, meaning only government and university systems were tied in. The flow of information was free, but access was far from universal.
Today access is nearing universality but the flow of information is no longer free. Phones with a data plan can be bought at the nearest 7-11, WiFi can be accessed for free on a $100 used iPod at a coffee shop. While at the same time, top search results can be bought, governments can block services, and DMCA takedowns happen without challenge.
Is the hope of a free internet dead? One bit of proof that the Internet is still free is the Flash Mob. Improveverywhere.com is all about the free sharing of ideas. Although many (me too!) find Improv Everywhere annoying and childish it is a testament to the freedom of the Internet that groups of complete strangers can pull off some amazing pranks, scenes, etc.
There is more to do in a free Internet than be silly though. Internet communication as a form of free speech is a powerful tool (although limited at times by government and social control). It gives fringe candidates a chance to take the spotlight. Ron Paul is a former Texas Representative who in 2008 ran for President on a platform of limited government base on a strict interpretation of the US Constitution. Not exactly a mainstream candidate. He had a secret weapon though. The Internet and a grassroots campaign made Paul a viable candidate who joined the big time and was even invited to the televised debates. If the Internet were not somewhat free this could never happen. The current political power players would move to stop fringe candidates and movements. This could all change though.
Is the Internet inherently free by design, or is it free by the grace of its users and government regulation/unregulation?
If the Internet is free, do you think it will stay that way?
If the Internet is not free, do you think it can be?