The Great WiFi Hope (get it?! “The Great White Hope” …. Wifi Hope …. forget it)

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?

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4 Responses to The Great WiFi Hope (get it?! “The Great White Hope” …. Wifi Hope …. forget it)

  1. tophermario says:

    If we trace the internet back to its origins, we might say that the internet was designed to be freely used within certain networks of people, namely scientists in order to collaborate on data and findings. It was designed to combine a singular network with a network of networks but that was within research and educational organizations. I’m not sure that the intent was for us to share videos of flash mobs or for me to post pictures of last nights escapades on my buddies wall but this is the semi-free internet we have come to know and love today. As we as a newly connected global society are slowly coming to realize, certain freedoms on the internet may not always be a good thing for us all. Given free reign and little education/ experience on the matter, we are prone to post and/or share things that could come back to bite us in the end. There are issues with access to copyrighted media, plagiarism, access to things like bomb-building manuals, you mane it. without some regulation, one person is liable to mess it all up for the rest of us. Now having said that, I believe information at its core should be freely available, after all, knowledge is power. The only problem is what that power can do in the wrong hands. Of course who is to say what is right and wrong on the internet? Perhaps relying on democratic processes to determine the level of freedom the internet has is the right way to proceed. Perhaps we could create new elected positions for people to police the internet. The problem with that, as in our society today is the possibility for corruption. Myself, knowing that I would never intend to use the knowledge or power I gain from a free internet to harm another soul vote to keep it free but I cannot speak for everyone.

  2. Well stated.

    I think it really comes down to, on the individual level especially, how much ‘freedom’ we’re willing to accept. I want bomb making instructions freely available. But I think that stuff is cool because I’m a physics nerd. In my free time I read books on astrophysics and subatomic physics. But I can see how others wouldn’t want that information freely available. Unfortunately for them I don’t care 🙂 I think that’s a case of you take the good with the bad. But I’m a fairly liberal guy, I also think we should be able to own whatever firearm we so choose. If you want a rocket launcher, go for it. Just don’t fire it at my house. Want to shoot up heroin? Why not, just don’t get behind the wheel.

  3. kristako says:

    The Internet is free by design and free by the grace of its users/non-regulation by the government. The design of the Internet and how it can be used is something that COULD be controlled by government but hasn’t been because it would cause a huge uproar in the U. S. of A. Much like the taking of our firearms, we don’t allow the taking of anything that is connected to freedom by the government. The Internet has the capabilities to provide global connection and communication and for that reason I believe it to be a space of “freedom”.
    We are almost stuck in a twilight zone when it comes to the Internet, government regulation, and freedom. The lack of education around the world is what has driven the widespread use of the internet because it can provide so much information to the masses that has never been possible before. It has provided the world with a valuable tool that can bring about positive change just by being a medium for information to travel and people to connect. Therefore, the twilight zone that we are in is due to the need for some sort of government regulation. I am not saying that I agree fully with the regulating of the information flow but more so regulation to protect all users, no matter where you are in the world. It needs to be like a global trade route, some ports need more regulation while others need less. All in all, like what our troops fight for everyday and what countries around the world hope for, freedom or being “free” will always be a battle. But the real solution will come when we collectively understand the kind of change the Internet can bring to our “global village”.

  4. superbrent89 says:

    It is interesting how similar the issues that arise in the virtual space are to the issues we face in reality. How much control and freedom can we really have? When does freedom become chaos and who has the right to organize or restrict that chaos? When it comes down to it, without order and control, things can and will get out of hand. I don’t know about you, but online anarchy doesn’t thrill me all that much. However, balancing the freedom of responsible users and the restriction of irresponsible users is an ongoing mission, one that remains as real as it is virtual.
    There will always be crime and those looking to make trouble. Online, this can happen in many new ways. Regardless of the control taken by the government, there will still always be those who wish to find back doors and loopholes to exploit. “Hacker” is a term that is now associated with violators of online ethics, and however smart someone is at programming a firewall, there is always someone who will try to hack the system. This is a problem that could likely escalate to the point of virtual police. The anime film “Ghost In the Shell” explores a potential future with a specific law enforcement agency that specializes in Internet crime. They will track hackers and find them and bring them to justice. This is, in my opinion, an inevitable outcome of our problems regarding online privacy, monetary uses of the internet, and even physical harm stemming from technology use.

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