Internet Architecture and Innovation

Barbara van Schewick’s book, Internet Architecture and Innovation, is out and everyone who cares about the future of the Internet should click here and buy a copy. It is not an easy read, but the architecture of the Internet and the ways in which that architecture is directly responsible for the explosion of innovation over the last 15 years is not an easy topic.

Thoughtful, well intentioned people find themselves on different sides of the net neutrality debate. Internet access providers have spun network neutrality as needless and overreaching government intervention into a vibrant, competitive market. On the other side, net roots activists attack any innovation in the physical network as a threat to the Internet. Barbara’s book offers a comprehensive framework for sorting through the issues.

In the end, she concludes that the architecture of the internet is changing – that the economic interests of the internet access providers are not the same as the interests of the applications developers or end users, that there is not enough competition in the local loop to provide market discipline, so without intervention, innovation on the Internet will suffer.

Barbara challenges policy makers and advocates to imagine policy at an architectural level – a difficult task for regulators used to managing specific behaviors or politicians who prefer to hand out checks at ground breaking ceremonies. She argues that protecting the original design principles of the Internet is the most efficient regulatory regime. In effect, she is saying that only by learning to regulate at an architectural level can we create flourishing competitive markets that do not require the constant attention of over worked and ill prepared regulators.

Barbara makes a compelling case. I hope everyone involved in this noisy debate reads this book.