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Who will run the Internet?

28 Nov 2005

In the beginning, the Internet Protocol’s job was to form a network of different kinds of networks by ignoring properties that were not shared by all. Thus the original Internet sent packets, and that’s about it. All Internet applications were done at the edges. Meanwhile, network service providers like telephone companies (and, in the US, cable TV companies) had long established a vertical business model whereby fees paid for their applications, ie telephony (or television), subsidized the operations of the network.

As the Internet becomes more capable, Internet telephony, Internet TV and other applications are causing the old network service providers to lose revenue. Extrapolating revenue trends to their logical conclusion, we can foresee the severe weakening of the operators of today’s Internet infrastructure. This raises the question, who will operate the Internet?

David Isenberg presents four scenarios, Telcotopia, Competition, Re-Regulation and Customer Owned Networks, as a sample of plausible alternatives for the Internet’s future.

David Isenberg

Fellow, The Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard Law School

David S. Isenberg spent 12 years at AT&T Bell Labs until his 1997 essay,’The Rise of the Stupid Network,’ was received with acclaim everywhere in the global telecommunications community with one exception – at AT&T itself! So Isenberg left AT&T in 1998 to found, LLC (an independent telecom analysis firm based in Cos Cob, Connecticut) and to publish The SMART Letter, an open-minded commentary on the communications revolution and its enemies.

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