Quick Study

By Brian Robinson

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A heavier government hand may shape Internet policy

Ever since the advent of the Internet back in the early 1990s the government’s philosophy has been to step back and let innovators and entrepreneurs drive the growth of the information superhighway (remember that?), but the growing complexities of the online universe are forcing it to contemplate a more activist role.

At least that’s the argument that Lawrence Strickland, the assistant secretary for communications and information at the Commerce Department, made recently for the windup to what he’s calling the age of Internet Policy 3.0.

Stages 1.0 and 2.0 went through commercialization of the Internet through growth, leading to the “social innovation” that’s the current big driver of the Web and the Internet. Now, it’s “time to respond to all the social changes being driven by the growth of the Internet”, according to Strickland, and thus the need for Internet Policy 3.0.

As Strickland sees it, everyone has much higher expectations of the Internet today than previously, as it has become the central nervous system for modern society:

“It is important not only to preserve but to enhance access to this open and dynamic medium that fosters unprecedented innovation and public participation. … [T]he Internet is not a natural park or wilderness area that should be left to nature.

“It’s more accurate to describe the Internet is an agglomeration of human actors — a large and growing social organization. There are no natural laws to guide it, and there is most certainly no self-regulating equilibrium point because this cacophony of human actors participating in this organization demands that there be rules or laws created to protect our interests,” Strickland writes.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which Strickland heads, has a slew of policy initiatives it will be tackling this year ranging from privacy to cybersecurity and governance of the Internet itself. Strickland went so far as to define a new focus for his agency – the “I” in NTIA now stands for Internet/information policy.

He also said in a throwaway line that if all of this is successful, perhaps the NITIA could become the “National Trust the Internet Administration.”

That would be a coup, because the last thing most of the Internet-Web universe would admit to is trusting government involvement. However, he promises collaboration in all of this, but only time will tell.

Posted by Brian Robinson on Mar 01, 2010 at 9:03 AM

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