Earlier this year, American legal scholar Tim Wu published a sobering book: The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires. In it, he surveyed the history of the great communications technologies of the 20th century – the telephone, movies, broadcast radio and TV. And in the story of each of these technologies, Wu discerned a pattern – […] whether telephony, radio, television or film.”
Each of these technologies, Wu argued, started out as gloriously creative, anarchic and uncontrolled. But in the end each was “captured” by corporate power, usually aided and abetted by the state. And the process in each case was the same: a charismatic entrepreneur arrived with a better consumer proposition – for example, a unified system and the guarantee of a dial tone in telephony; or a steady flow of good-quality movies created by a vertically integrated studio system in the case of movies – that enabled a corporation or a cartel to attain control of the industry. The big question, Wu asked, is whether this will happen to the net.