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Daily Democracy

Ryan Blethen discusses the press, media and democracy. Daily Democracy is part of the Democracy Papers, a series of articles, essays and editorial opinion examining threats to our freedoms of speech and the press.

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June 6, 2008 12:11 PM

Future of the Internet

Posted by Ryan Blethen

MINNEAPOLIS - That is the beginning of the title of the panel I am now sitting in. The full name is, "Future of the Internet: Open, Neutral, Mobile and Ubiquitous." The panel opened with some words by moderator Timothy Karr of Free Press. The first panelist was Tim Wu, who is not chairman the Free Press board and a law professor at Columbia University.

Wu talked about his life in the telecom industry before being a law professor.

"It was my job to try and sell the world on a discriminated and more controlled Internet."

His experience shows that the telecoms are actively trying to figure out how to control content. He said it was his job to sell expensive devices that would discriminate against content on the Internet. His clients were governments like China and corporations that want to keep tabs on what employees are doing online.

The job lead him to think about the Internet and what it would look like in the future if companies like his former employer, which he did not name, were allowed to bend the Web to its will. This lead him to academia where he studies issues surrounding and open Internet. The term "net neutrality" was taken from a paper he delivered at a Colorado conference. Apparently the topic landed with a thud.

No more. Net neutrality is a hot topic from computer geeks to the halls of Congress.

Net neutrality is not a problem in a vacuum. Wu pointed this out when he brought up media consolidation. He said we are in an era like the early 1900s when a few corporations dominated industry. Now it is the media that is held by a handful of corporations.

If this is the media landscape we have to work with then there needs to be good government regulation, according to Wu. I agree. The Federal Communications Commission has not been doing a good job on its regulatory duties as evidence by the commission's plodding to do anything about network providers blocking content.

Wu made an interesting prediction that an alternative broadband movement will probably happen. This will happen because of the consolidation of the network providers.

"We are too addicted to a tiny number of companies as a source of all our bandwidth."
He foresees people creating their own networks. How that can be done is way beyond my technical experience. Any of you readers have a clue as to how that might happen? What about WiFi? Can that be used to get around the big boys?

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