|Introduction||| Print ||
|Written by Jesse Kline|
The Internet offers many promises. Promises of a world where information is free, where citizens have the knowledge and resources to make informed democratic choices. A world of free trade, where goods and services are exchanged across borders, allowing everyone to focus on their aptitudes and exchange the product of their labour in a virtually limitless marketplace. A world free from tyranny, where governments cannot stop the free flow of information and ideas. A world of democracy and free speech, where people exchange idea and debate the issues of the day, without fear of censorship or retaliation.
I first started using the Internet in the early 1990s. I remember tying up our household's one telephone line as I dialled into the Internet and surfed the web with a text-based browser. Back then the possibilities seemed endless. The Evil Empire had fallen and a new era of peace and prosperity seemed to be upon us. And here we had this new communications medium, which was free from government control. Back then the Internet was often compared to the Wild West. This inspired images of the lone cowboy, at liberty to do as he pleased, to travel wherever the wind may take him, free from any authorities telling him what to do and think. The Internet was something organic, an interconnected world of communities built from the ground up by individuals acting of their own volition. This was a world where the politicians who ran our lives in the physical world were no longer needed.
For many years, governments took a hands-off approach to the Internet, and the world witnessed technological innovations that were beyond our wildest dreams. From the creation of e-mail and the World Wide Web, to the browser wars of the '90s, to the creation of online payment systems, streaming video, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology, and the open source movement, a spirit of competition and innovation created the modern-day Internet. Likewise, personal web pages, blogs, and other technologies have given people around the world the ability to express themselves to a mass audience. The low barriers to entry that the technologies provide created a marketplace of ideas that is unparallelled in any other communications medium and at any other point in history.
Yet all this seems to have changed. Nowadays, net neutrality advocates portray Internet service providers as the big bad wolf, arguing that government must step in to save us from the multinational corporations. Security hawks say that government must spy on us to protect us from terrorism. And the politically correct crowd tells us that our ideas should be censored because they might offend someone else. At the same time, governments are introducing strict laws that prevent people from using the technology to its full potential. Laws that prevent us from sharing our lives and participating in our own culture.
It is now clear that the Wild West is gone and in its place we have something far more tame and much less free. The Internet, however, has become an indispensable tool in many of our lives. People rely on it for business, education, entertainment, and communication. The future of the Internet is, therefore, more important than ever and the policy decisions that governments around the world make will have a profound effect on the future of the Internet and freedom in general. This website explores two of the emerging public policy issues of the digital age: copyright law and net neutrality.
|Last Updated on Thursday, 25 March 2010 14:50|