Despite some cries that the publishing industry is at the precipice of financial doom, it’s hard to tell based on the proliferation of texts being published year after year. With such high volumes of new works being produced it can be incredibly difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff. Within scholarly circles it (sometimes) becomes readily apparent what books are above middling quality by turning to citation indices, but outside of such (often paywall protected) circles it can be more challenging to ascertain what texts are clearly worth reading and which are not.
While I can hardly claim to speak with the weight of scholarly indices, I do read (and rate) a prolific number of texts each year. In what follows, I offer a list of the ‘best’ books that I read through 2011. Some are thought-provoking, others were important in how I understood various facets of the policy process, and still others offer interesting tidbits of information that have until now been hidden in shadow. For each book I’ll identify it’s main aim and a few points about what made the book compelling enough to get onto my list. Texts are not arranged in any particular ranking order and all should be available through your preferred book seller.
There are ongoing concerns in Canada about the CRTC’s capacity to gauge and evaluate the quality of Internet service that Canadians receive. This was most recently brought to the fore when the CRTC announced that Canada ranked second to Japan in broadband access speeds. Such a stance is PR spin and, as noted by Peter Nowak, “[o]nly in the halcyon world of the CRTC, where the sky is purple and pigs can fly, could that claim possibly be true.” This head-in-the-sands approach to understanding the Canadian broadband environment, unfortunately, is similarly reflective in the lack of a federal digital strategy and absolutely inadequate funding for even the most basic governmental cyber-security.
To return the CRTC from the halcyon world it is presently stuck within, and establish firm empirical data to guide a digital economic strategy, the Government of Canada should establish a framework to audit ISPs’ infrastructure and network practices. Ideally this would result in an independent body that could examine the quality and speed of broadband throughout Canada. Their methodology and results would be publicly published and could assure all parties – businesses, citizens, and consumers – that they could trust or rely upon ISPs’ infrastructure. Importantly, having an independent body research and publish data concerning Canadian broadband would relieve companies and consumers from having to assume this role, freeing them to use the Internet for productive (rather than watchdog-related) purposes.
I want to very highly recommend Barbara van Schewick’s Internet Architecture and Innovation. Various authors, advocates, scholars, and businesses have spoken about the economic impacts of the Internet, but to date there hasn’t been a detailed economic accounting of what may happen if/when ISPs monitor and control the flow of data across their networks. van Schewick has filled this gap by examining “how changes in the Internet’s architecture (that is, its underlying technical structure) affect the economic environment for innovation” and evaluating “the impact of these changes from the perspective of public policy” (van Schewick 2010: 2).
Her book traces the economic consequences associated with changing the Internet’s structure from one enabling any innovator to design an application or share content online to a structure where ISPs must first authorize access to content and design key applications in house (e.g. P2P, email, etc). Barbara draws heavily from Internet history literatures and economic theory to buttress her position that a closed or highly controlled Internet not only constitutes a massive change in the original architecture of the ‘net, but that this change would be damaging to society’s economic, cultural, and political interests. She argues that an increasingly controlled Internet is the future that many ISPs prefer, and supports this conclusion with economic theory and the historical actions of American telecommunications corporations.
van Schewick begins by outlining two notions of the end-to-end principle undergirding the ‘net, a narrow and broad conception, and argues (successfully, in my mind) that ISPs and their interrogators often rely on different end-to-end understandings in making their respective arguments to the public, regulators, and each other.