Imagining the Internet Project
  Responses in reaction to the following provocative future scenario were assembled from a select group of internet stakeholders in the 2006 Pew Internet & American Life/Elon University Predictions Survey. The survey allowed respondents to select from the choices "agree" or "disagree" or to leave the scenario unanswered. Respondents were encouraged to provide a written elaboration to explain their answers; they did not always do so, but those who did provided richly detailed predictive material. Some respondents chose to identify themselves with each answer; many did not. We share some - not all - of the responses here. Workplaces of respondents whose reactions are shared below are attributed here only for the purpose of indicating a level of internet expertise; the statements reflect personal viewpoints and do not represent their companies', universities', or government agencies' policies or positions. Some answers have been edited to share more respondents' replies. This is a selection of the many carefully considered responses to the following scenario.  

descriptionScenario One: A global, low-cost network thrives...
By 2020, worldwide network interoperability will be perfected, allowing smooth data flow, authentication and billing; mobile wireless communications will be available to anyone anywhere on the globe at an extremely low cost.

Compiled reactions from the 742 respondents:
56% agreed
43% disagreed
1% did not respond

Below are select responses from anonymous survey participants. To read reactions from participants who agreed to be identified with their statements, please click here.

This has to happen; otherwise all the predictions fall short.

We will see portability take on new and more flexible dimensions, as technology and usability become increasingly an extension of our selves.

It's taken 40 years to get to this point, and things are still a mess. This is a holy grail.

Networks will be everywhere, but interoperability will not.

If the model of uniform utilities is followed, telecom will be as behind as ever. The major factor - all countries need to unite in one platform for telecom - the U.S. and Japan with "special needs" platforms will drain the efforts of the rest.

This will happen over the telcos' dead bodies. Literally.

Companies are greedy; it won't be worth it to them to make it truly global.

Such a system will be available for the "haves" in the world, maybe 1.5 billion people. But poverty, terror and government conflicts will limit the range of the network.

New technology brings new bugs and compatibility issues will not be resolved prior to the Second Coming.

Growing national, political and religious divisions will reinforce silos of thought and action.

It won't be perfect. There will be bumps along the way, and the system may become overloaded at times.

I don't trust the so-called captains of industry who have proven to be driven only by greed.

Agree - this is assuming U.S. telecomm companies don't get their way in double-charging for pipeline use.

A solar flare will have totally disrupted communications.

While networks will continue to expand and become more reliable, the inevitable spectres of government control and private sector incompatibilities will keep prices artificially inflated.

A global high-speed network will be established and the interfaces to that network will be more natural than current technology allows.

It's really an even-money bet whether the net will be more open or less. There is a good chance that telcos and other carriers will have control of access and transport. There is a better than even chance that the net will be filtered and fire-walled by government for most users worldwide.

The network will not be the obstacle.

The Internet will fragment into several networks operating independently.

Unless Bill Gates is planning on funding this, I don't see it happening by 2020.

Steps already being taken within the industry clearly indicate their preference for widening the digital/economic divide rather than allowing ITCs to become a tool for democratizing the world and reducing social inequities.

The world is leaving the U.S. in the wake.

The trend is toward an open and low-cost network. But there is the real threat of corporate control coming from major telecommunications resources.

Companies will still disagree on standards for competitive reasons - and there will be insufficient reason to lower cost significantly

Wireless communications will be available to anyone anywhere on the globe, but I don't think the cost will be extremely low. While the prices for hardware seem to fall as technology improves, the service part - just establishing and maintaining the connection doesn't. My internet connection is faster, but $10 per month more expensive than it was 5 years ago. I have DirecTV and the bill just went up $6 per month with no change in service. Why would I expect these service charges to drop dramatically in the next few years? So while the communications technology will be available to anyone anywhere, I still expect there will be a huge number of people who will find it unattainably expensive to take advantage of.

Controls will get stronger and stronger, dataflows will be hacked, interrupted, and managed by big giants (political, commercial). Wireless will be available to many but the same countries and regions who are left out right now will not have access. Even though availability will be ubiquitous this still doesn't mean uptake will be.

There will still be pricing issues for speed - the faster you want to go, the more you"ll have to pay for it. In addition, extra services, applications, etc., will be premium services offered on top of the basic costs of the network access.

The U.S. will be a sort of data ghetto, with slower speeds, heavy government surveillance and restrictions, and disconnected networks (sort of the like the present-day U.S. banking system, which is not connected to the global system).

Commercial interests are increasingly taking control of the means of transport, walling off the Internet for the purpose of making a profit.

There will still be lots of technical glitches to work out. And there are many people (and places) where computers will not be affordable. Even if school kids have computers, they can graduate and then not have access to computers.

Some areas will have excellent networks while others will not. Unfortunately, I am concerned that if the Telcos have their way, the U.S. will be in the "have not" category on this one.

Market forces will encourage specialization and differentiation of solutions, preventing a unified network.

Technology will advance to the point where mobile communications will be ubiquitous and low-cost, but "perfect" interoperability will probably still be a challenge due to conflicting standards.

Even if costs to the consumer do not increase, costs to those who have to deal with technological waste will continue to grow as they have been.

Given how balky, incompetent and short-sighted American telcos are - and how much influence they've bought in Washington - I suspect that Americans will not enjoy ready access to low-cost wireless technologies for quite some time. The rest of the world will develop them without us, often with the aid of American companies who are having their cake and eating it too.

The financial cost might be low, but the cost of losing freedom because of Big Brotherization of our daily lives might turn out to be high if the trend of closing the openness of the net continues.

The technology will be so seamless that you won't even think of it as technology.

Companies will always attempt to keep the cost of services as high as possible to maximize profits. The difficulty that many have experienced with poorly designed, flawed resources and websites will be unlikely to be rectified even by this date.

What we think of today as the nirvana of network interoperability will have changed dramatically by the time 2020 comes. And new issues that we have not dreamed of will afflict such a system & cause it to be less than our perfect vision of the future, today.

This theory indirectly makes the claim that the digital divide will be bridged within 15 years. Such a claim seems ridiculous given that its been over 100 years that we've had the plumbing technology and there are still areas of the U.S. and other industrialized nations that have "plumbing divides."

Far too general and far too utopian. Companies don't necessarily want smooth data flow, they want to maximize profits, slowing down others' data (tiering) may be seen as beneficial (well, it is currently seen that way). There are constant security problems, ranging from Windows viruses to identity theft to personal information theft.

National governments will keep this from happening for a variety of reasons - censorship, fear of cultural imperialism, and corruption among them. There will be an underground, black-market network as described, and it will largely be used with mobile devices communicating through satellite or other wireless technologies.

Perhaps the technology will exist, but entrenched business interests and governments will team to thwart the network from reaching the promise that technology enables.

The fear of terrorism and the use of the Internet as the means by which they communicate, pornography and the lack of respect extended to individuals speaking something other than English have the potential for splintering the Internet.

Much of this will be supported by advertising, for free or almost-free networks. These lower cost networks won't provide the full range of functionality and features that can be found for more expensive versions of the network. Additionally, private networks will flourish as people wish to create "safe" areas for data and people, without access to the wider network. However, even with this worldwide network, some areas will have faster/slower access. There will still be differentials in poorer parts of the world as to who can access and use the technology.

Unless we can get the world's cellular providers bypassed, there is never going to be "cheap" wide-area wireless Internet access.

National telecoms will prevent this by nation-by-nation regulations.

The developing world will not have ubiquitous Internet access at reasonable data rates by then.

This is all possible, but it will take much longer to happen.

Peer-to-peer wifi meshes will be the ordinary connection to the Internet - better yet: there will be no "access" as every node will be part of the Internet

I don't believe that rich/poor gap issues will be resolved, and remote places will not have access.

Everyone with any brains will no longer be tethered to an office but will roam freely from country to country, conducting business effortlessly over the Web.

Technology is human.

The digital divide is if anything becoming more entrenched, and especially exacerbated around axes of GENDER in developing countries. No sign that this is being taken seriously by policy makers, or being addressed on any major scale

The utopian vision is never achieved. There is always a further innovation, which creates additional disruptions and adjustments, which yields further benefits and costs.

The differentials within societies will mean that, although mwc will, in theory, be available to everyone, the billing procedures will be likely to exclude people. What we may see, however, is the development of "pay as you go" systems as used in the UK for cell phones, with the market keeping costs down for commercial services.

Corporate control of the internet will destroy its promise, leading to balkanized networks and devices that cannot interoperate with devices from other manufacturers.

After nearly 100 years of telecommunication, we still do not have global, low-cost voice network. The evidence suggests that global haves will continue to have more and more and global have-nots may have some incremental increases.

I expect variations in connectivity, bandwidth and cost between countries, resulting from differences in economic power, education and regulatory regimes.

E-commerce will have at least one great crash. It'll be the equivalent of Black Friday and finally bring regulation to the Internet.

Two processes will take place at the same time, increase in networks with higher efficiency for some participants and no or restricted access for others.

There will still be too many players (service providers, content providers, network vendors, etc.) for the network to be both global and smooth, even in 15 years. There will probably be pockets that might be, but where you have uniformity (i.e., fewer vendors in the mix or even just one) the price for the service will probably be higher due to less competition.

The statement is a bit too optimistic, but on the whole, I expect steady improvement in networks over the next 15 years.

The expansion of a global network will be hampered by territory disputes between public groups (NGOs, governmental organizations, quasi-governmental organizations, community networks, etc.) and for-profit organizations over market shares.

There'll still be bugs, hacking, etc.

A global low-cost network will exist but will be pushed aside by commercial eyeball grabbers and spam/phish/... concerns.

Even by 2020, there will not be good adoption in 3rd world countries.

People want more and quicker access to information important to them, whether it's personal or professional and business now sees and understands this interaction. Look at how cable channels and their adjunct websites offer similar video programming and with some, the ability to transfer it to portable devices.

Wireless communication will be available anywhere on the globe - that's already nearly true - but I do wonder whether "extremely low cost" will be the case as long as there"s a profit to be made.

The honest above-board providers will survive and the greedy, self-serving providers will dry up. Perhaps I'm too optimistic here, but I think there will be a major shake out of bad seeds.

Firstly, developments are driven by profit and profits are not everywhere to be made. Secondly, issues like lack of electricity or literacy do have their consequences.

This is possible. However, it is incumbent on us to identify methods to ensure confidentiality and protect against hackers and others intent on doing harm to networks and e-communication channels. In other words, along with this global, low-cost network come new problems and issues that must be addressed and resolved in order to insure a seamless data flow, etc.

A number of politico-economic factors and policy outcomes are necessary for the realization of such a network. Recently, Vodaphone Germany has released its plan to disable access to its network from Voice Over Internet Protocol telephony, one of the most promising emerging technologies in terms of low-cost, networked communications. This example challenges the notion that we are inevitably and seamlessly transitioning in to a global network society and demonstrates that if such an end is truly a political goal, political means and policy interventions are necessary for its attainment.

I agree with this statement - as long as "mobile wireless communications" is meant to encompass unlicensed spectrum (WiFi). I do not think that 3G networks will interoperate well with the rest of the Internet, but then again, I don't expect that most users will care.

I think we'll be a long way toward this vision, but it won't be perfect.

Communications companies will continue to keep the cost of net access just out of reach for the lower class in order to maximize profits, subsidize free or lower cost access for the poor, and fund research.

Interoperability will be good but not perfect; authentication will not be worked out yet; mobile wireless will indeed be in most places.

There are still many parts of the world that don't have electricity.

By 15 years from now the US will have caught up with the rest of the world, and most of the planet will have wireless connections.

I largely believe this to be true, but I am skeptical that wireless will be "extremely low cost."

I agree on the whole but there will still be areas of the globe that lag behind due to developmental problems. Cost is also relative to your social-economic standing.

While I believe a global low-cost network will thrive, I think extended geographic or temporal bubbles with very limited network connectivity will continue.

Authentication and privacy will be the BIG issues.

Yes. It's a simple projection of looking how far we have come in just a few short years.

Although technology that provides clean drinking water has been available for many years, it is not currently available to everyone everywhere. Sadly, I don't see why the world would suddenly become fair in 14 years.

Individuals will likely still be required to pay additional for access to content and for higher-quality network connections.

Poor parts of least-developed countries will still find it costly to connect to the worldwide network.

The global situation is moving in that way. China, Korea, Taiwan, India are producing low cost technology tools. They are developing a lot.

Technically, we will have achieved this. Socially, I am not as optimistic that we have enabled the network to flow across the barriers created by politics, socio-economics and the weaknesses of human beings.

IP and the Internet have enabled the data networks the independence from the access network horizontalizing the networks. In addition, the horizontalization has taken away many old control points and value points from the network adding cost to the network usage.

The Internet's largest corporate beneficiaries will continue to retain enough power to influence to keep the Internet relatively secure for communication and commerce. In general, however, we must conclude that it will never be 100% safe - and not even "mostly safe" for extended periods of time. We will also conclude - if we haven't already - that many of the threats serve as inspiration for entrepreneurial development as privacy and security tools become a wellspring of new product ideas and innovation.

Low-cost wireless communications, yes, but I don't believe in global authentication and billing happening by then. 15 years is not enough for the governments to get this done.

Increasingly, the tools that allow us to mine more information and leverage this information into discriminatory decisions and partitions will partially reverse the original effect of the Internet which was to open up communication. Technical interoperability will exist however the corporate and governmental interests will intervene to partition the Internet by proxies, filtering mechanisms, and even personal firewalls to regulate information flows.

Nothing we do ever gets "perfected." Technology always marches on; people always have new ideas and want to try new things. Therefore, I cannot agree whatever network we'll be using in 2020 will be "perfect."

Maybe not "extremely" low cost, but affordable enough to be ubiquitous.

Big Business will encroach upon the "free" aspects of the web, particularly wireless, and will continue charging for access to information. Further, more information will become password protected as organisations seek to achieve registration lists and control over their content.

Yes, but content will be dominated by companies not by individual users. Commercial speech will masquerade as personal speech.

Yes, a global low cost network will thrive, but so too will half the world's population be left behind. Just like today, roughly half the world's population have never made a phone call despite years of progress, many will be left behind in the digital world as well. On the one hand, everyone will probably be able to use some kind of networking, but there will still be haves and have-nots in relation to speed and access to particular content.

This may be true for developed countries, but not for the rest of the world - which is the overwhelming majority.

All hardware and connectivity costs are falling. Proprietary software costs are rising but there are good free alternatives. Also, new technologies will push the costs of current technology down

The network will indeed be truly global by 2020 or even earlier. However, there are serious challenges in making it available to everybody at a cost that they consider as "low."

I am skeptical about interoperable authentication and billing on a global scale, unless the privacy issues can be resolved. It will depend also on how this is done, whether it is centralized (and there is the risk of governments accessing this info) or decentralized and works similar to global credit card use/ATM use around.

The connection in the Pacific Islands will be still challenging. There are barely any satellite coverage at the moment, and the islands are very disperse and remote. Undersea cable are too expensive, satellite beam covering the Pacific Islands for high bandwidth are not economically viable due to lack of population density.

It's a good goal, and likely to be achieved regionally, but not attainable worldwide.

Only anonymity permits freedom, which means no authentication and no individual billing.

The technology is there to accomplish these tasks. We need consensus that there is a sufficient problem to be able to move on these.

Nothing is ever perfected. It will be great by our standards. By the standards of 2020 it will still have many flaws.

At best, 15% of the world population now has access to the Internet. In 15 years time this will no doubt have risen, but at the same time should realize that computer cannot overcome the "social divide". Technology can assist certain tendencies, but let"s not overestimate its power.

In some ways we're already there, but in some ways we are not. There is likely to be such network interop in a technical sense, but it is up to regulators, politicians and engineers to permit deployment on a local scale.

Given politics and government restrictions to free flow of information, it is hard to believe that this will happen on a global basis. What will happen is that interoperability will increase in the developed markets, and to a lesser degree will improve in developing markets.

This is much to be desired, but I do not think that neither the technical issues nor the political issues will have been resolved to the point that this will be a reality.

Commercial interests seem determined to fragment the internet, and to block integration of other nets like mobile wireless.

Techniques for authentication and billing will be relatively easy to implement and ubiquitous - but I do not agree that anyone will have access. We will still be dealing with various kinds of "digital divides" in this time frame.

If the analogy for worldwide network interoperability is other types of "utilities" then the "anyone anywhere" statement is a bit of a pipedream. Electricity and running water are still challenges in some parts of the world. If those basic utilities can be so slow in being available because of technical, ecological or geo-political issues, there is no reason to think that network interoperability will be any less challenged.

It will definitely not be extremely low cost. There are substantial investments necessary to make this possible and companies will want to get that back. It will take until later than 2020 to get that done. For higher education and research it will be the case. Not for other sectors I'm afraid.

We are not focusing nearly enough research and development on the "real" issues. The U.S. is stuck with paying the world's bill for super computing and no matter how much we talk about Shared Cyberinfrastructure it has been hijacked in the wrong direction. These aren't even the right answers to real problems.

2020 is a bit too optimistic. The problems to be overcome in parts of Africa, particularly, will take longer.

2020 is a long ways off and much can happen (negatively as well as positively) to direct whether this thesis is correct. But there is much evidence to suggest that decreased cost of deploying and owning telecomm infrastructure will further encourage local build-out. It is hard to imagine that current inaccessibility in remote, developing regions of the world will still remain in 2020.

Density of use is critical to efficient deployment of wireless communications; in areas with very low density of use, wireless communication will remain difficult to access through 2020. As a thought exercise, imagine attempting to support all of the water-covered areas of the Earth with mobile communications; this is possible only with specialized satellite gear, which is not interoperable with the commodity equipment available for areas with dense usage.

The universality of these facilities is wishful thinking. Half of the people on earth still have no electricity after 80 years or more. The evolution of costs to end-users is unpredictable, and low cost is a function of income. Millions of people will still have 1$ a day or less for income.

I do not foresee neither political will to harmonize law and it enforcement (e.g. privacy, democracy rights) nor commitment of the main players (including governments, but not only) to set up and maintain the "international trustworthiness chain," and needed e.g. for the unambiguous verification of the identity (personal or corporative).

If one third of the world population will be online by 2020 we should be lucky.

There will still be places on the globe where mobile wireless will not be accessible to everyone, just as radio today is not necessarily available to many people living at subsistence level.

Too many nation-states will think it best to control or limit access, and too much money can be made by hoarding data and information.


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