Internet Architecture and Innovation

by Barbara van Schewick


Book Cover“Many people have a pragmatic attitude toward technology: they don’t care how it works, they just want to use it. With regard to the Internet, this attitude is dangerous. As this book shows, different ways of structuring the Internet result in very different environments for its development, production, and use. If left to themselves, network providers will continue to change the internal structure of the Internet in ways that are good for them, but not necessarily for the rest of us — individual, organizational or corporate Internet users, application developers and content providers, and even those who do not use the Internet. If we want to protect the Internet’s usefulness, if we want to realize its full economic, social, cultural, and political potential, we need to understand the Internet’s structure and what will happen if that structure is changed.”
Barbara van Schewick, Internet Architecture and Innovation

Today – following housing bubbles, bank collapses, and high unemployment – the Internet remains the most reliable mechanism for fostering innovation and creating new wealth. But this engine of innovation is under threat.

The Internet’s remarkable growth has been fueled by innovation. In this pathbreaking book, Barbara van Schewick argues that this explosion of innovation is not an accident, but a consequence of the Internet’s architecture – a consequence of technical choices regarding the Internet’s inner structure made early in its history.

The Internet’s original architecture was based on four design principles: modularity, layering, and two versions of the celebrated but often misunderstood end-to-end arguments. This design, van Schewick demonstrates, fostered innovation in applications and allowed applications like e-mail, the World Wide Web, E-Bay, Google, Skype, Flickr, Blogger and Facebook to emerge.

Today, the Internet’s architecture is changing in ways that deviate from the Internet’s original design principles. These changes remove the features that have fostered innovation in the past and threaten the Internet’s ability to spur economic growth, to improve democratic discourse, and to provide a decentralized environment for social and cultural interaction in which anyone can participate. While public interests suffer, network providers – who control the evolution of the network – benefit from these changes, making it highly unlikely that they will change course without government intervention.

Given this gap between network providers’ private interests and the public’s interests, van Schewick argues, we face an important choice: If no one intervenes, network providers’ interests will drive networks further away from the original design principles. If the Internet’s value for society is to be preserved, policymakers will have to intervene and protect the features that were at the core of the Internet’s success.

What Others Are Saying About Internet Architecture and Innovation:

“As much as anything else, the economic success of the Internet comes from its architecture. The architecture, and the competitive forces it assures, is the only interesting thing at stake in this battle over “network neutrality.” … Barbara van Schewick’s extraordinary new book, “Internet Architecture and Innovation,” is perhaps the best explication of this point so far for those who should be studying these hard, new policy questions.”
Lawrence Lessig, Professor, Harvard Law School

“This book is the most comprehensive study of the issues surrounding Internet Innovation, Net Neutrality, and related issues. It lays the intellectual foundation for Internet policy over the next decade. … Highly recommended.”
Tim Wu, Professor, Columbia Law School

“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. … Barbara makes a compelling case. I hope everyone involved in this noisy debate reads this book.”
Brad Burnham, Partner, Union Square Ventures

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