In his chapter "Who Shall Control Cyberspace?" James Beniger raised interesting questions and makes rather accurate suppositions about the future of cyberspace. What's most interesting, though is that for Mr. Beniger, there are two classes of people in cyberpace: Those who use it for a social end and those who use it for some other (read as nefarious) end. It would seem that Beniger has no love for people who use the Web to traffic in "less than legal" activities. However, he recognizes that protecting free expression on the Web can not be one sided. It has to have universal applicability in under to mean something. Ultimately, Beniger wants cyberspace to be free of a dominating hand, though he believes that the responsibility of cyberspace "governance" will fall to the powers that be already at large.
Beniger's piece made me think about the recent actions of Comcast. It was recently discovered by the Associated Press that Comcast has been selectively blocking its users access to certain sites, the largest blocked site being BitTorrent and its associated Web sites. Here's the full story. The general consensus from other news sources, and user comments, is that Comcast shouldn't have the power to selectively limit where someone can go on the Web. While in this instance the focus falls on a site primarily used for illegal file sharing, it has much broader ramifications. Namely, what if Comcast doesn't like the Web site you're looking at that's perfectly legal? If the site disparages Comcast, or perhaps the powers that be at Comcast have a moral belief against a certain site? As far as anyone knows, there's nothing stopping this from happening. It raises serious questions about what an ISP is and isn't allowed to do.
There really are no easy answers on how to regulate the internet. And there really are no clear answers on who controls the internet.
John Barlow would probably say that since the providers are only giving you the hardware accessibility to the internet, and that the Web sites aren't located anywhere physical, no one has the right to govern where you go on the Web. Not even your local, regional or state government. For a more in depth look at it, check out Barlow's A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.
And for a look at how Canadians are dealing with similar issues, take a look here.
Title taken from lyrics from the Zager & Evans song "In the Year 2525."