The Internet in 2025: Everybody's On, But How Open Is The Access?

By Steve Anderson July 07, 2014

The Internet, as it's known today, is still a comparatively recent invention. While there are an increasing number of young people out there who can't remember a life before the Web, there are still plenty of folks out there who can remember precisely that. But looking forward to the Web's future seems to be a bit on the dark side, as a new report from the Pew Research Center suggests that the Internet as we know it today may be a very different place by the time 2025 dawns.

First, the good news: people are getting online at faster rates than ever, and by 2025—according to Webby awards founder and filmmaker Tiffany Shlain—every human being on the planet will be online. Things like Google's Project Loon are likely to be a help on this front. What's more, the Pew Research Center study, which took on the opinions of better than 1400 computer experts and “Internet visionaries”, suggested that a majority believed that the future's answer to the Web would be more open, with 65 percent believing just that against 35 percent taking the pessimistic view that the Internet would be less open.

Now, the bad news; The experts from that Pew Research Center study see some very dangerous trends developing that may well pose a darker future for the Web as a whole. Carriers, according to Project VRM director Doc Searls, operating out of Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, are pushing toward a future in which the Internet is defined in much the same way that television is. Here, users are offered access to a select number of content sources and pay for said access monthly. Mike Roberts, member of the Internet Hall of Fame, summed it up by saying that the ultimate challenge was to prevent the Web from being “...just a corporate entertainment delivery system.” Net neutrality plays a big part in these projections, with the more pessimistic wondering what will stop companies from offering “fast lanes” to certain breeds of content willing to pay and “slow lanes” for the vast mob of everyone else. Beyond that, the government plays a large part in the future of the Web, with increasing censorship and monitoring coming into play, particularly under the guises of “improving public safety” or “preventing terrorism.”

Yet perhaps the greatest bit of good news comes from one of the biggest names in the Internet: Vint Cerf, who co-invented many of the necessary protocols that made the Internet: by 2025, Cerf believes, governments and corporations will understand the importance of adaptability, and in turn make the Internet more open and accessible than it is even today.

Just which side will prevail remains to be seen, though the “less open” side has a lot going for it in the form of powerful interests devoted to seeing such an event happen. The “more open” side, meanwhile, has a lot of people working on its behalf, and as we've seen before, the power of the crowd is something not to be underestimated. There's long-term value in an open Internet, but long-term value often comes at the cost of short-term investment and accompanying loss of opportunity; an investment that won't pay off for 20 years requires that investment to be tied up for that length of time. Still, we may well see a Web that is, one way or another, much different than the one we see now.

Contributing TechZone360 Writer

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