Monday, October 02, 2006
My basic idea was that in the new digital and converging electronic communications ecosystem, the rationale(s) for providing universal access have been transformed. The weight is now not so much on internalising the network externalities and/or redistributional considerations, but should move towards creating and sustaining communication and information networks as a public good. In that sense, I argue that the debate on the concept of universal service should be readjusted and envisage access to content as an essential element of the scope of future universal service obligations. The latter is justified on freedom of expression and cultural diversity grounds as well.
The first one is a report on the future of the internet by the PEW Internet and American Life Project. This is the second such report and in essence a survey of the predictions of internet leaders, activists and analysts on how the internet wiill look (and act) like by 2020. A majority of the surveyed opinions agree that:
(i) A low-cost global network will be thriving and creating new opportunities in a “flattening” world.
(ii) Humans will remain in charge of technology, even as more activity is automated and “smart agents” proliferate. However, a significant 42% of the survey respondents were pessimistic about humans’ ability to control the technology in the future. This significant majority agreed that dangers and dependencies will grow beyond our ability to stay in charge of technology.
(iii) Virtual reality will be compelling enough to enhance worker productivity and also spawn new addiction problems.
(iv) Tech “refuseniks” will emerge as a cultural group characterized by their choice to live off the network. Some will do this as a benign way to limit information overload, while others will commit acts of violence and terror against technology-inspired change.
(v) People will wittingly and unwittingly disclose more about themselves, gaining some benefits in the process even as they lose some privacy.
(vi) English will be a universal language of global communications, but other languages will not be displaced. Indeed, many felt other languages such as Mandarin, would grow in prominence.
There was strong dispute about those futuristic scenarios among the survey respondents. Those who raised challenges believe that governments and corporations will not necessarily embrace policies that will allow the network to spread to under-served populations; that serious social inequalities will persist; and that “addiction” is an inappropriate notion to attach to people’s interest in virtual environments.
The experts and analysts also split evenly on a central question of whether the world will be a better place in 2020 due to the greater transparency of people and institutions afforded by the internet: 46% agreed that the benefits of greater transparency of organizations and individuals would outweigh the privacy costs and 49% disagreed.
/The whole report is available here/
The second key report was issued some time ago and is the result of the work of the Study Group of the International Law Commission and was finalised by Martti Koskenniemi of the University of Helsinki. The report is entitled "Fragmentation of International Law: Difficulties Arising from the Diversification and Expansion of International Law". In that sense, it (incl. the conclusions of the study group) provide an interesting framework for discussion of the topics of the NCCR "International Trade Regulation: From Fragmentation to Coherence" (to which I am happy to be a part of).
Various opinions have already been expressed about the report and its recommendations. Look at this excellent blog on international economic law and policy for some of these comments (thanks a lot, Egle).