Policy ForumSociology

Can We Reinvent the Internet?

Science  24 Jul 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5939, pp. 396-397
DOI: 10.1126/science.1178418

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Summary

Recently, researchers who support “network neutrality” have become worried that the Internet may lose its innovative edge. They are concerned that control could be shifting from the edges of the Internet toward the service providers at the center, which would allow the providers to have “gatekeeper” capacity and would contradict the Internet's “end-to-end” principle (13). This core tenet states that control over information flows should take place, to the extent possible, at the end points of the network (4). President Obama supported net neutrality during his campaign (4) and in recent statements (5), and the European Parliament has added net neutrality to its recent telecom bill (6). Taking the end-to-end principle from protocols to users, Jonathan Zittrain has called for maintaining the Internet's “generativity,” the ability of users at the network's end points to create, distribute, and run whatever software code they choose (7). There are good reasons to preserve network neutrality and generativity, but it is unclear whether these are sufficient to ensure continued innovation. The larger issue is what policies are optimal to foster innovation on the Internet?