The Internet As An Ecosystem?

By TAP Staff Blogger

Posted on February 24, 2010

On January 31st & February 1st, 2010, Silicon Flatirons presented a conference on The Digital Broadband Migration: Examining the Internet's Ecosystem. The following provides an overview of the conference.

The 10th Annual Digital Broadband Migration Conference held by the Silicon Flatirons Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado, brought together thought leaders, industry executives, and key government officials involved in shaping policy in the telecommunications sector in order to examine whether the Internet should be viewed as an “ecosystem” of sorts. The Internet is a place where a wide variety of network providers, application developers, content creators and end users co-exist with one another in an often tense fashion; where sometimes it is peaceful with shared goals and mutual understanding but other times there is friction which can lead the various players to go to “war” with one another.

The conference attempted to articulate the nature of this “ecosystem” and bring forth some of its policy implications. The panels and discussion ranged widely from topics in regulation, to innovation policy, to intellectual property rights and enforcement, to amending the Telecommunications Act of 1996, to changes in business models for the content industry, all the way through the economic-theory underpinnings of merger challenges and enforcement at the Department of Justice.

While the panelists offered insights and suggestions for future policy, they also raised a host of fundamental questions. Is the Internet truly an “ecosystem”? What is the Internet—an end in and of itself, or merely the current tool bringing users a broadband-connected marketplace of products and ideas? Should it be viewed as a chaotic quick moving animal (see former FCC Chairman Michael Powell’s colorful description of the Internet as a “gyrating, undulating beast”) or should it be seen as a manageable “complex adaptive system” and what implications do these separate views have for public policy?

One question discussed at length in the conference, and of great importance in the digital age, is how to balance the intellectual property rights of content holders against new methods for content delivery and the necessity for new business models. Finally, in terms of governance, especially with the now rapid and ever increasing pace of technological development, are there new models of governance that are flexible enough, dynamic enough, and ultimately fast enough, to cope?

Video of the conference is available on the Silicon Flatirons' Digital Broadband Migration conference page.

Conference summary provided by Kaleb A. Sieh, Silicon Flatirons Research Fellow and 2009 graduate of the University of Colorado Law School.

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