The Internet's Mid-Life Crisis

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The central question for the October 25th event, The Internet’s Midlife Crisis, was whether or not the Internet had entered a phase in its life where it was being progressively walled off, and if this was a bad thing.  Andrès Martinez, the event moderator, began the discussion by asking if Steve Case had been prescient in 2000 when he engaged in the merger with Time Warner, and if Steve Jobs was now finishing the job Case had begun ten years ago.  Internet expert, and author of the new book The Master Switch, Tim Wu responded that the Information and Communications Technology Industry, like most industries, experiences long cycles of increasing openness and insularity.  The trend toward vertical integration in the ICT industry is not abnormal given the history of technology and industry.  The AOL/Time Warner case wasn’t necessarily indicative of the fact that the Internet is built to resist this kind of vertical integration, though it might be, but, rather, that the captive audience Time Warner thought it was getting in AOL didn’t actually exist, because new search technologies were about to make AOL obsolete.  The next panel—composed of Sascha Meinrath of NAF’s Open Technology Initiative, Bruce Bartlett formerly of the FCC, and Link Hoewing of Verizon—continued in much the same vein.  Relying on Steve Job’s recent characterization of the two camps as “integrated” vs. “fragmented”, it was ultimately argued that in many ways these simply represented two different product models, for two different classes of customer.  However, as Meinrath pointed out, the existence of a moderate amount of consumer choice didn’t mean that we were fairing well relative to other industrialized nations, or that there wasn’t a trend afoot to try and integrate the Internet itself, rather than just the devices we use to access it.  The existence of one group of consumers that wants a clean, trouble free, and easy to use product, and another that wants the option to customize every aspect of their technological devices, does not preclude the possibility that corporate actors are moving to “wall off”, or segment the Internet in ways that might be inimical to both innovation and freedom of expression.

Agenda

8:45 am: Registration and Coffee

9:15 am: How the Internet is Losing its Mojo

    Tim Wu
    Author, The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires (Knopf, Nov. 2010)
    Professor of Law, Columbia University
    Future Tense Fellow, New America Foundation
    Contributing Editor, Slate 

    Andrés Martinez
    Director, Bernard L. Schwartz Fellows Program
    New America Foundation

10:15 am: But aren’t Consumers Driving the Internet’s Transformation?

    Bruce Gottlieb
    General Counsel, Atlantic Media Company   
    Former Chief Counsel and Senior Legal Advisor, Federal Communication Commission

    Link Hoewing
    Assistant Vice President for Internet and Technology Policy, Verizon

    Sascha Meinrath
    Director, Open Technology Initiative   
    New America Foundation

11:30 am: Adjournment

Event Time and Location

Monday, October 25, 2010 - 8:45am - 11:30am
New America Foundation
1899 L Street NW Suite 400
Washington, DC 20036

Event Photos

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Video Clips

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Video of Panel Discussion