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Web scholars, tech execs project a less open Internet of the future

Internet scholars and high-tech business leaders said the future of the Web probably won't be as open as it is today, where users can access any information they choose and often for free. Instead, some experts envisioned a future in which walled gardens proliferated or users called for tailored Web experiences where they were willing to pay more for certain services.
 
In a survey released Friday titled "The Future of the Internet" by Pew Internet & American Life Project, about 900 respondents made those and other projections about the Internet landscape of 2020.
 
Of the academics from MIT and NYU, economists and technologists from Cisco, Verizon and Google and several think tanks, some warned that the so-called net neutrality principle appeared at risk. That idea is that network operators such as AT&T, Comcast and even foreign governments treat all Web traffic equally, without prioritizing or charging more for particular applications. The Federal Communications Commission is crafting rules aimed at that goal. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the administration would fight to keep free speech and free access to information on the Internet available around the globe.
 
The experts in the survey differed in their view toward the future, but most noted changes were afoot:
 
Link Hoewing, a vice president of information technology at Verizon, described "slight differences" in the future: "What will change is that people will want to access customized solutions, use special-purpose devices like the Kindle and will have a need for better connections for various things like telemedicine. All of this will not be in sync with the end-to-end principle, but it will use the Internet architecture and provide value.”
 
William Luciw, an Internet consultant and former researcher for Apple and Tivo envisioned that ISPs such as Verizon and Time Warner Cable, for example, would offer more services such as Internet voice applications and video on demand to get more revenue beyond their pipes. As they do that and control the "last mile" of Internet service to the home, they would have greater power over the consumer, he said. 
 
"This means that pricing and service offerings, availability, etc., are all under the control of the communications service provider," he said. "A recent example is Comcast purchasing NBC Universal. Now it would be at least theoretically possible for NBC content to receive special treatment on Comcast networks."
 
Hal Varian, chief economist at Google, noted that foreign governments "will attempt to exert more control over the Internet." The search company recently said it would withdraw from China over practices (it hasn't yet). He added, "However, I think that these will be relatively small changes, so that the Internet will remain relatively free.”

But Susan Crawford, a former economic adviser to President Obama, warned of a greater threat: “The locked-down future is more realistic as things stand now. We've got a very cautious government, an international movement towards greater control and a pliant public. I wish this wasn't the case.”

By Cecilia Kang  |  February 19, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
 
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Comments

Closing up the Internet will only affect the less fortunate. Those with tech savvy or lots of $$$ will be able to route around the damage caused by censorship.

Look for "private networks" that are beyond the scope of regulators, carrying unregulated traffic for those with the $$$ to pay for it.

Posted by: frantaylor | February 19, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Yes, hooray for censorship! The government and giant corporations should definitely be able to control what the public can do on the Internet. That's a fantastic idea! Thanks to the Washington Post and its tech writing staff for showing us the value of strict government regulations. Freedom is such a nuisance.

Posted by: newdoggie | February 19, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

As usual, Cecilia Kang echoes the corporate party line of Google: to wit, that ISPs are a threat and must be regulated while Google is a knight in shining armor. Biased reporting and a severe conflict of interest (Google serves up the ads on Ms. Kang's blog).

Posted by: LBrettGlass | February 20, 2010 2:15 AM | Report abuse

It's already that way. In the future, everything in the internet will just cost arms and legs or fingers and eyes.

And you wonder why there are hackers. I don't even know what hacking is all about or how one would even do it or learn how to do it, but there are going to be proliferation of internet users who will learn to hack into entertainment for their pleasure at home. I hope those people will share with the internet users.

I believe anyting on-air or in-internet is free, at least that is what was advertised back when they were seliing the internet use ideas to the people over.

Posted by: SOCIETY1 | February 22, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

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