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Fearing the Future

Jennifer Granick has a nice piece, Don’t Let Fear Kill Muni Wi-Fi , arguing that we should not let fear kill municipal provision of low-cost or free wireless internet access. Like Jennifer , I agree that the time has come to think of internet access as a public infrastructure that in some cases might best be provided by a municipality. In this post, I am not looking to get into the debate over market vs. government provision, market vs. government failures, and so on. I do that elsewhere. Jennifer’s reference to resisting “fear” reminded me of a paper and presentation by Jonathan Zittrain in which he argued, among other things, that looming and growing threats to the online environment require more serious attention and precaution, and justify (and may inexorably lead to) fundamental changes in the Internet’s nature, including the end of end-to-end (or at least a major refinement of end-to-end). Jonathan suggested that we should anticipate the Internet’s “more locked-down technological future” and we should “acknowledg[e] that an unprecedented and, to many who work in technology, genuinely unthinkable level of enclosure is likely to be the rule from which we must negotiate and justify exceptions.” After hearing Jonathan’s excellent presentation, I remember my own feeling of “fear” and my reaction being similar to Jennifer’s: I believe I said something like “Don’t let fear kill the Internet’s openness,” “Don’t let fear kill end-to-end”, or something like that. To be fair to Jonathan, he was not fear mongering but was calling for a dose of realism and precaution. Perhaps I should really be telling myself, “Don’t let fear of an enclosed, controlled environment kill the prospects of efficiency and security.”