Chapter 26: The evolution of the Internet: a socioeconomic account
The US Internet emerged more or less sui generis amidst the technological advances that sparked a revolution in the field of communications. In contrast to the old conception of the communication infrastructure as a regulated natural monopoly, these rapid advances allowed for its unbundling and modularization, thereby giving rise to a radically new paradigm, one that called for deregulation and greater market competition. And just as in the case of the Internet itself, each new phase of its development, and the policy puzzles each posed, arose de novo. As a result, although the technological architecture of the Internet has remained much the same in terms of its modularity, openness, and generativity, each phase of the Internet’s evolution can be differentiated based on aspects such as its political economy, the economic motivations and incentives fostering its development, and the socioeconomic organization of the Internet space. This chapter frames four historical periods (AT & T’s rise and fall, ARPANET and the emergence of TCP/IP, NSFNET, and the Internet as a marketplace) in the context of organizational fields. This contrast of contexts challenges general theories by identifying features associated with each case, and by examining how these features differentially impact socio-economic processes.
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