“Yoo‘s book is a concise overview of how Internet architecture has evolved and a principled discussion of the public policies that should govern the Net going forward. For those who monitor ongoing developments in cyberlaw and digital economics, Yoo’s book is essential reading.
Yoo makes two straight-forward arguments in his new book. First, the Internet is changing. In Part 1 of the book, Yoo offers a layman-friendly overview of the changing dynamics of Internet architecture and engineering. He documents the evolving nature of Internet standards, traffic management and congestion policies, spam and security control efforts, and peering and pricing policies. He also discusses the rise of peer-to-peer applications, the growth of mobile broadband, the emergence of the app store economy, and what the explosion of online video consumption means for ongoing bandwidth management efforts. Those are the supply-side issues. Yoo also outlines the implications of changes in the demand-side of the equation, such as changing user demographics and rapidly evolving demands from consumers. He notes that these new demand-side realities of Internet usage are resulting in changes to network management and engineering, further reinforcing changes already underway on the supply-side.
Yoo’s second point in the book flows logically from the first: as the Internet continues to evolve in such a highly dynamic fashion, public policy must as well. Yoo is particularly worried about calls to lock in standards, protocols, and policies from what he regards as a bygone era of Internet engineering, architecture, and policy. “The dramatic shift in Internet usage suggests that its founding architectural principles form the mid-1990s may no longer be appropriate today,” he argues. (p. 4) “[T]he optimal network architecture is unlikely to be static. Instead, it is likely to be dynamic over time, changing with the shifts in end-user demands,” he says. (p. 7) Thus, “the static, one-size-fits-all approach that dominates the current debate misses the mark.” (p. 7)
Yoo makes a particular powerful case for flexible network pricing policies. His outstanding chapter on “The Growing Complexity of Internet Pricing” offers an excellent overview of the changing dynamics of pricing in this arena and explains why experimentation with different pricing methods and business models must be allowed to continue. Getting pricing right is essential, Yoo notes, if we hope to ensure ongoing investment in new networks and services. He also notes how foolish it is to expect the government to come in and save the day thought massive infrastructure investment to cover the hundreds of billions of dollars needed to continue to build-out high-speed services.
Throughout the second half of his book, Yoo explains why it would be a disaster for consumers and high-tech innovation if policymakers limited pricing flexibility and experimentation with new business models and technological standards. He argues that public policy should generally seek to avoid ex ante forms of preemptive, prophylactic Internet regulation and instead rely on an ex post approach when and if things go wrong. Essentially, he wants policymakers to embrace “techno-agnosticism” toward ongoing debates over standards, protocols, business models, pricing methods, and so on. Lawmakers should not be preemptively tilting the balance in one direction or the other or, worse yet, restricting experimentation that can help us find superior solutions.
And even under that model of retrospective review, Yoo makes it clear throughout the book that there should be a very high bar established before any regulation is pursued. This is particularly true because of the First Amendment values at stake when the government attempts to regulate speech platforms. In Chapter 9 of the book, Yoo walks the reader through all the relevant case law on this front and makes it clear how “the Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that the editorial discretion exercised by intermediaries serves important free speech values.” (p. 120). Yoo also makes the case that a certain degree of intermediation helps serve consumer needs by helping them more easily find the content and services they desire. Law should not seek to constrain that and, under current Supreme Court First Amendment jurisprudence, it probably cannot.
I strongly encourage everyone to pick up a copy of Christopher Yoo’s “Dynamic Internet.” It strikes just the right balance for Net governance and public policy in the information age. It all comes down to flexibility and freedom. If the Internet and all modern digital technologies are to thrive, we must reject the central planner’s mindset that dominated the analog era and forever bury all the static thinking it entailed.”