Professor Brett Frischmann gave a presentation at the Stanford Law School entitled, 'An Economic Theory of Infrastructure' today. His theory is to say that if a resource can be defined as an infrastructural resource, then it should be protected and promoted as a public commons - either by the government, or by the government incentivising others to protect and promote it.
This is really interesting - it delves deeper into the rationale of what Lessig and Benkler talk about when they say that the Internet should be seen as a public commons, available to all. What is most interesting is if you apply Frischmann's 3 criteria to the Internet as an international, rather than national commons:
1. 'The resource is (or may be) consumed nonrivalrously,'
2. 'Social demand for the resource is driven primarily by downstream producers that require the resource as an input, and'
3. 'The range of goods and services produced downstream varies across the spectrum of private goods, public goods and/or nonmarket goods'.
As far as I can see, one can only view the Internet as an international resource - since its value is attained primarily through its global nature. There are certainly some applications of the Internet that exclude particular markets, but the 'range of goods and services produced downstream' would be negatively affected if emerging markets - or any markets for that matter - were left out of the equation. I'm interested to read more about Frischmann's argument as he maps out the applications of this theory - especially as it is applied more concretely to the global environmental movement that has had some success in viewing the environment - any environment - as a global rather than national public commons.
This argument could be applied to the 'Digital Solidarity Fund' proposed by Senegal at the World Summit on the Information Society which has been 'put on hold until '"a thorough review" of existing and possible funding mechanisms is completed before the end of 2004'. As Frischmann seems to suggest, the market alone will not be able to regulate the Internet's infrastructure commons. Governments, or at least government incentives, need to come into play if the infrastructure is to be equally available to all.
I suppose the question is really how far governments need to go in terms of facilitating access to this infrastructure. The history of the environmental movement shows how it was only when the environment globally came to be seen as a sufficiently valuable resource to protect that governments united and donated time and resources towards solving the major problems facing the sustainability of the resource. What the free (as in freedom) Internet movement now needs to do is to show the extent of problems that will be exaccerbated in the future if the Internet's high social value is not facilitated in the present. As Frischmann says, 'letting the market regulate a commons resource not only squelches innovation (as Lessig argues); it also squelches all higher social value applications along the line - applications that serve as the 'nonrivalrous inputs into the production of a wide variance of non-market goods'.