Sir Tim Berners-Lee on the Future of the Internet, 'Fake News,' and Why Net Neutrality Is So Important

Andrew Young — May 09, 2017

In an interview for Business Insider, Sir Tim Berners-Lee spoke with Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner about “on the future of the internet, fake news, net neutrality, and the rising tide of censorship in countries across the world.”

Sir Tim discussed net neutrality as part of a broader discussion about questions on the role of the free market and the impact of monopolies in the digital realm:

“I think the antitrust system is really important. The market works while there’s a mix of people, while there’s a mix of big players and small players all in the same market. The moment that mix is gone, then the market’s not functioning anymore…

I think one of the nice things about the digital world is the fact that the Internet was net neutral. The net was built as a neutral space without attitude. That’s why it has ‘permissionless’. That’s why I could build the WWW product on top of it.

So the markets for the websites, the markets for content, the wide markets for whatever you build on top of the Web have been independent of the market for connectivity.

So you could choose to get fiber at your house from a competing market without that affecting which movies you can watch tonight, so different from the American paid cable system, which the net replaced.

So net neutrality has been a really, really important part of these new markets, but you can’t join them together. You shouldn’t bundle together the content.”

Responding to a question about what the Web will look like 50 years from now, Sir Tim discussed the challenge of making the Web accessible to all:

“Well, we’re at an interesting time now. The World Wide Web has been increasing exponentially, but now it’s got to 50 percent of the world. It’s pretty amazing that this proportion of the world is using it at all.

We set up the Web Foundation a decade ago when the concern was that only 10% of t the world was using the Web. The challenge was the other 90%.   Now as we have got to 50% and people are getting online faster than ever, and soon the issues will change as they online world becomes the majority. Then different things become a concern when most of sub-Saharan Africa villages are online, when 3G, 4G, 5G cell towers will be ubiquitous.

People who can’t get online at that point will need a different sort of technology. There will be low earth orbit satellites, for example or something or balloons, but there has to be a new push to get them online. That push may have to be subsidized because those people will be in remote areas. But the problem will be that the discrimination against them will be much more intense because it’ll be so efficient for any company to assume their customers are online.”

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