The millennials are the first generation that grew up in a world defined by the Internet. What the car was to a teen in the Fifties — a chance to see the world, explore, and connect with friends — the Internet is to the post-industrial age millennial. Today’s Internet is so widespread that many take for granted the fact that they can stream Netflix, hail an Uber, or chat with friends and family across the globe. The Internet and all these benefits emerged through a burst of innovation and entrepreneurship that transformed our daily lives. Yet as the Internet matures, it is becoming the target of special interests and overzealous regulators seeking to control the bounty that the Internet provides.
Few millennials are aware of the battles underway and the increasing threats to Internet freedom. The digital world is under assault on a number of fronts: through regulation, through legislation, and through special interests hoping to shape the Internet’s future to their advantage. FCC Chairman Wheeler’s Open Internet Order has spawned a new era that puts Internet regulation front and center on the agency’s agenda. At the same time, legislators have taken a keen interest in the Internet, with bills addressing a wide range of issues, from taxes to surveillance, from free speech to online gambling. And industry giants are in pitched battles over issues such as the struggle between digital streaming and the fight against online piracy. More often than not, these struggles over the Internet’s future all lead to a more regulated Internet, and that is not necessarily good news for consumers.
This is a far cry from the creative surge that made the Internet possible. Ever since going commercial in 1995, the Internet has been a world of permissionless innovation, a world where innovators and entrepreneurs were free to take risks and create new ways of doing things. This is the world of disruptive competition that brought us Amazon, eBay, Facebook, and Spotify. More of our lives moved online and new ways of doing business expanded consumer choice while connecting the world. The smallest business now had a global market and millennials were introduced to a world they could customize to their liking.
This is a far cry from today’s Internet. The world of permissionless innovation is fast becoming a world of mother-may-I innovation. From law enforcement seeking access to all private communications to demands that YouTube impose tougher sanctions on alleged infringers of copyright, the Internet is becoming a harsher place. Even writing a review criticizing a local restaurant can land you in hot water as more and more companies have turned to lawsuits to stop poor reviews on sites like Yelp.