Internet Architecture and Innovation

Article Source: Cambridge: MIT Press, 2010
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This book analyzes the architecture of the internet, how it fosters innovation, and what that suggests for the future.


Policy Relevance:

Current changes being made to the underlying structure of the internet threaten to remove the incentive to innovate new applications. Governmental regulation is necessary to direct the evolution of the internet in order to ensure continued innovation.


Key Takeaways:
  • The internet’s architecture is the underlying structure and principles that were put into place when the internet was first conceived and created. This underlying structure affected the internet’s success, and will direct its path into the future.
  • The original architecture of the internet, designed with the intent of allowing sharing between systems, fostered innovation in applications. This pressure to innovate benefited both the development of the internet and its users.
  • Currently, structural changes are occurring that are modifying the underlying architecture of the internet. These changes may threaten to remove the innovative nature of the internet by reducing the amount and quality of application innovation.
  • The loss of application innovation comes with a direct cost to users, limiting the internet’s contribution to economic growth and its usefulness to users.
  • Network providers benefit from the loss of application innovation, as it allows them to control the evolution of the internet. Governmental intervention is needed to change the way that internet architecture is currently being modified.
  • The connection between the underlying structure of a system and that system’s potential for innovation applies beyond the internet. The same principles apply to business and society in general.



Barbara van Schewick

About Barbara van Schewick

Barbara van Schewick is the M. Elizabeth Magill Professor of Law at Stanford Law School, Director of Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, and Professor by courtesy of Electrical Engineering in Stanford University’s Department of Electrical Engineering. Her research focuses on the economic, regulatory, and strategic implications of communication networks. In particular, she explores how changes in the architecture of computer networks affect the economic environment for innovation and competition on the Internet, and how the law should react to these changes.

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