The End of the Internet At Hand? (Serious Question)

Writing for The Atlantic, Gordon M. Goldstein, who served as a member of the American delegation to the World Conference on International Telecommunications, notes that if the Internet were a country, its economy would be among the five largest in the world, but warns that “fierce and rising geopolitical conflict over control of the global network threatens to create a balkanized system — what some technorati, including Googles executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, have called ‘the splinternet”.”

He cites pioneer (Netscape) Internet entrepreneur Marc Andreessen recently commenting in a public interview “Im the most optimistic person I know on almost every topic,” and “Im incredibly concerned”, adding that it is an open question whether the Internet five years from now “will still work the way that it does today.”

Goldstein says some experts believe that the Internet will devolve into a fragmented archipelago of regional or national networks, each with different content regulations and trade rules, and perhaps with contrasting standards and operational protocols,,quoting Eli Noam, a professor of economics and finance at Columbia Business School, who believes that a progressive fracturing of the global Internet is inevitable; that a standardised Internet is the past but not the future, which will be a federated internet, not a uniform one,” which Noam thinks can be managed in part through the development of new intermediary technologies that would essentially allow the concatenation of Internets to talk to each other, and allow users to navigate the different legal and regulatory environments.

Goldstein is doubtful, noting that a patchwork Internet would be disruptive to companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and eBay whose global reach would be diminished. he concludes that the Internet is simply too consequentialsocially, politically, and economically — for states to readily abdicate control of it, observing glumly that “Perhaps it was never realistic to expect the World Wide Web to last.”

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