Winter 2016

The Contingent Internet

David D. Clark

The Internet is so omnipresent and pervasive that its form may seem an inevitability. It is hard to imagine a “different” Internet, but the character of the Internet as we experience it today is, in fact, contingent on key decisions made in the past by its designers, those who have invested in it, and those who have regulated it. With different choices, we might have a very different Internet today. This paper uses past choices made during the emergence of the early Internet as a lens to look toward its future, which is equally contingent on decisions being made today: by industry, by governments, by users, and by the research community. This paper identifies some of those key choices, and discusses alternative futures for the Internet, including how open, how diverse, how funded, and how protective of the rights of its users it may be.

DAVID D. CLARK, a Fellow of the American Academy since 2002, is Senior Research Scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. He has been involved in the design of the Internet since the mid-1970s and is a member of the Internet Hall of Fame. His recent policy publications include a chapter in Trust, Computing, and Society (ed. Richard H. R. Harper, 2014), and articles in the journals Telecommunications Policy and Journal of Information Policy.

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