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Internet Architecture and Innovation (MIT Press) Paperback – August 17, 2012
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This is an important piece of policy work and anyone who cares about the Internet ought to give it a read.(Fred Wilson A VC blog)
... Internet Architecture and Innovation is an important work: it supplies a key piece of the broadband puzzle in its consideration of broadband transport as a necessary input for other businesses…van Schewick's fundamental premise rings true: only neutral networks promote competition and innovation.(ars technica)
This is a tour de force on the topic of the end-to-end principle in the design of the Internet.(Daniel E. Atkins, W.K. Kellogg Professor of Community Information, Professor of Information and EECS, and Associate Vice-President for Research Cyberinfrastructure, University of Michigan)
This is an important book, one which for the first time ties together the many emerging threads that link the economic, technical, architectural, legal, and social frameworks of the birth and evolution of the Internet.(David P. Reed, MIT Media Laboratory)
This isn't a flash in the pan piece. This book will be an evergreen in a wide range of academic and policy contexts more than an introduction to how technology and policy should be analyzed, it is, in my view, the very best example of that analysis.(Lawrence Lessig, author of Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace)
About the Author
Barbara van Schewick is Associate Professor of Law and Helen L. Crocker Faculty Schoar at Stanford Law School, Director of Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society, and Associate Professor (by courtesy) of Electrical Engineering in Stanford University's Department of Electrical Engineering.
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I have written a review of this book on my blog ([...]) and on the Huffington Post.
As I say there, this book is one of the very few books in the field of Internet policy that is in the same league as Larry Lessig's Code: And Other Laws of Cyberspace, Version 2.0, in 2000, and Yochai Benkler's The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, in 2006, in terms of its originality, depth, and importance to Internet policy and other disciplines. I expect the book to affect how people think about the Internet; about the interactions between law and technical architectures in all areas of law; about entrepreneurship in general. I also think her insights on innovation economics, which strike me as far more persuasive than lawyers' usual assumptions, should influence "law and economics" thinking for the better.
Books this good don't come along every day--or even every year-and I'm already late to the praise-party. Harvard Law professor Larry Lessig (the trail-blazing cyberlaw champion) recommended it in the New York Times this week; Susan Crawford (a law professor who served as a top White House advisor) recommended it in an op-ed in Salon/GigaOm yesterday; Brad Burnham, the venture capitalist who was featured earlier this week in the NYT's Room for Debate, also posted an endorsing review on his blog. MIT engineering professor David Reed (one of the key architects of the IP protocol, inventor of the UDP protocol) praises it on the book jacket.
It is not easy material--the Internet's technologies and how innovation actually evolves--but she writes for a general audience, not a technologist or lawyer, and you will learn a lot from, and be challenged by, the ideas in this book.
Her book traces economic impacts associated with changing the Internet's structure from one enabling any innovator to design an application or share content online to a structure where ISPs must first authorize access to content and design key applications (e.g. P2P, email, etc) in house. Barbara draws heavily from Internet history literatures and economic theory to buttress her position that a closed or highly controlled Internet not only constitutes a massive change in the architecture of the 'net, but that this change would be damaging to society's economic, cultural, and political interests. She argues that an increasingly controlled Internet is the future that many ISPs prefer, and supports this conclusion with economic theory and the historical actions of American telecommunications corporations.
van Schewick begins by outlining two notions of the end-to-end principle undergirding the 'net, a narrow and broad conception, and argues (successfully, in my mind) that ISPs and their interrogators often rely on different end-to-end understandings in making their respective arguments to the public, regulators, and each other. This reliance on differing notions of end-to-end have led the defenders of these differing shades of the end-to-end principle to speak past one another. Further, divergent understandings of the end-to-end architectural discussion has created, and continues to create, rifts between engineers, between those who were (and remain) central to the development of the 'net more generally, and between those publishing technically informed economic writings about the Internet.
After differentiating between the narrow and broad approaches to end-to-end, van Schewick identifies the impacts of different Internet architectures on the costs of innovation, the resulting organizational makeup of innovating parties, and the effects architecture has on the competition of complementary goods (e.g. VoIP, filesharing, email, etc as opposed to the actual hardware composing the Internet). After laying this groundwork, van Schewick works through how deviations from the 'broad' end-to-end argument affect innovation and the consequences of centralized versus decentralized application development and content distribution. The book concludes with an analysis of the public versus private interests in network architectures, with the author asserting that citizens and their public representatives must understand the impacts of architecture on the Internet's future. ISPs are attempting to better control and monetize their networks, and these attempts may undermine the possibilities of innovation while sacrificing the long-term evolution of the 'net so that companies can realize short-term profits. Such sacrifices must be critically interrogated by a public that is increasingly relying on digital communications in all facets of life and business.
This is a heavy read, a read made heavier if you haven't spent some time reading economic theory, elements of the network neutrality debates of the past decade, and a little on the evolution of American telecommunications in the past two decades. This said, the author generally does a terrific job in walking the reader through every facet of her argument, using examples and sidenotes to expand and clarify more troublesome sections of the book (especially as it relates to economic theory and approaches to innovation). I highly recommend this book - it's worth every penny that it will cost you. It also includes an extensive set of citations and reference list (about 160 pages worth) that will be helpful for any subsequent research or reading beyond the text itself.
If I have a criticism of the book it's that it tends to be very American-centric. While the principles contained in the book remain general enough that readers can lay the theoretical model she traces upon the telecommunications landscape of non-US states, this is a bit of work that non-American readers will have to do when examining their own telecommunications landscape through her lens. This may somewhat limit the book's immediate guidance to policy makers, policy analysts, economists, Internet governance scholars, and concerned/interested citizens more generally, but not so much that any of these readers should stay away.
I have a suspicion that this book will become one of the centrepieces for Internet governance literatures in coming years, and likely to be as influential Benkler's The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom with regards to the economics of the Internet. If issues around Internet governance, innovation, and control are your cup of tea then consider this book an absolute must buy.