Hi, my name is Nives DolÅ¡ak.
I found the first day to be very productive. A set of detailed and provocative formal presentations and excellent and stimulating discussion.
A very brief summary [30 minute club-good (for hotel guests)access to the Internet] after the first day of the symposium (as I understood our conversation):
Some aspects (as discussed below in my pre-symposium writing) of the Internet are indeed pure public goods, defined by non-rivalry and non-excludability in consumption. These include the information (knowledge, data, etc) accessed through/on the Internet as well as the "protocol" (or, as called below, the "agreement") that allows the usage of the "pipes" to be used for a number of uses (that are also not rival and non-excludable).
True, some aspects of the information are club-goods. Some information providers have decided to exclude some users from using this information (e.g., available only to subscribers). But this is not a nature of the good, it is the "institutional" (rule) decision of the information providers. We need to make the distinction between what is the characteristics of the good (say technological) and what is the "institutions", or outcome of someone's decision to offer a good as exludable or not (charge the price or not).
With these two aspects of the Internet, i.e., information provided (and content, and applications as I believe Patric called it), and the "protocol", I do not see a difference between the "positive" and the "normative" perspective, though I agree that these are two distinctly different perspectives. This does not negate the fact that some users are better able to use the information on the Internet than others.
Then, there are some aspects of the Internet (that, as I understand today, not everybody views as the Internet)that are not public goods in the above sense. These include the computer and the access point to the Internet. These, I would argue, are private goods (computer) and a common-pool resource (access point). Again, this is from the positive perspective. However, from a normative perspective, some may want to argue that for the above public good aspects of the Internet to be utilized, these either have to be subsidized or supplied through the government. Clearly, internet access available in public libraries does some of this.
I teach public policy with a special emphasis on environmental policy. My primary interest is governance of common pool resources â resources which are rival but non-excludable. These resource characteristics create incentives for âherdersâ to appropriate the resource first instead of exercising restraint and sustainably exploiting it. This is because they have no credible assurance that other âherdersâ would exercise restraint. Since all âherdersâ model each-otherâs behavior the same way, defection dominates cooperation. As a result, a social sub-optimum outcome takes place. The challenge is to create institutions (rule structures) that would provide credible assurance to âherdersâ that others would not exploit the resource if they were to exercise restraint. A computer lab in a university (or public library) can be viewed as a common-pool resource. The use of a computer is such a lab is a rival (if I use it, nobody else can at that point) and it is not excludableâevery student has the right to appropriate this resource. Given the access demand for this resource (especially during the exam times), how can rules be devised to ensure equitable access?
I am a political scientist by training, so I am interested in questions of who governs (makes rules, monitors compliance, and sanctions non-compliance) the resource, who decides on the rules to make the rules, who is allowed to appropriate the resource, and who pays for the provision or upkeep of the resource.
I have two broad questions for the symposium. First, if we view the Internet as an âagreementâ on how to connect the âendsâ, who gets to decide what this agreement is? Who gets to decide if this "commons" can be "enclosed" (Bollier, 2002), and if so, to what extent, by whom, and for how much? Who is included in this decision process? What happens to those who prefer the status quo over the change? What tools do they have to excercise their preferences? If they can block the change, do we then have two agreements with two parallel sub-systems? In a sense, I would like to identify actors involved in this agreement, their incentives, and their power.
If we, on the other hand, view the Internet not only as the âagreementâ on how to connect the âendsâ, but also include complementary goods required to access it, then the governance question becomes broader. A public good is defined as non-rivalrous, non-excludable good. But this definition assumes that everybody who wants the good has the means to access it. Think of sun light (popular thing in Seattle!). It takes nothing to access it. Now think of the information on the Internet. It takes two complementary resources to access it. It takes a computer and it takes Internet connectivity. (During the first day, I learned these are called "the infrastructure"). Neither of these are public goods, but private goods. It is accessibility of these two complementary goods (private goods) that restrict access to the Internet. It is these two private goods (with non-trivial price) that lead to digital/informational inequity. When we have the resources to equip public places with computers and connect them to the internet, which very few communities can do, then common-pool issues arise. In this case, we need to talk about usage rights. However, it is important to define the governance question regarding Internet to be broad enough to include governance of the complementary goods. Free access to the Internet is in some way an indirect subsidy to the connectivity providers and computer manufacturers. It is like building highways by tax dollars as a subsidy to automobile manufacturers. Hence, I would like us to critically investigate public policy implications of providing free access to the Internet.
I am looking forward to two days of stimulating and productive conversations.
home page: http://faculty.washington.edu/nives