The Future of the Internet: Enclosure or Commons?
The past two decades have seen competing visions for the future of the Internet. Cyber activists have long celebrated the democratizing potential of the medium and its ability to facilitate the free flow of ideas across boundaries, while large corporations see a vast new marketplace and source of profit. Internet governance is key to determining which path will be taken. A struggle is now raging over “net neutrality,” a key principle for preserving the Internet’s democratic promise. Net neutrality guarantees that Internet service providers treat all data on the web equally. They cannot play favorites, creating fast-track lanes for those who pay extra or slowing the websites of their competitors and critics. A blow to this principle recently occurred in the US as the Federal Communications Commission proposed to allow a pay-for-priority fast lane, undermining the administration’s prior commitment to net neutrality. Not all countries, however, are taking this path. Last month, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff signed into law a digital “bill of rights,” and the European Parliament passed net neutrality legislation. The realization of the Internet’s democratic promise requires a governance regime that treats it as a global commons, not the latest resource for enclosure.