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Tragedy of the Commons: Snowden’s Reformation and the Balkanization of the Internet

By: Matthew Funk

Introduction: In 1517, Martin Luther put into motion events that would uproot the hegemony of the Catholic Church in Western religion. His Ninety-Five Theses would be the basis for an enormous upheaval of the sacred status quo, and challenge centuries of religious ordering. His “protest” of the practices of the Catholic Church would be disseminated with the power of the printing press, the pinnacle of information technology at the time, and lead to a great fork in the history of Christianity. Protestantism, with unique movements springing up throughout Europe, would ultimately separate from the oversight of the Catholic Church and create a new religious paradigm.

No different in principle, but perhaps in scale, has been the upheaval caused by the confessions of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. His “leak of [National Security] [A]gency documents has set off a . . . debate over the proper limits of government surveillance.” These leaks have “opened an unprecedented window on the details of surveillance by the NSA, including its compilation of logs of virtually all telephone companies in the United States and its collection of e-mails of foreigners from the major American Internet companies.” This, in turn, has rippled into raucous calls for a new Reformation—one of Internet, not religious, sovereignty and sensibilities. Such calls implicate the principles undergirding the purposes, governance, and even geography of the Internet. And while the calls may not lead to a catastrophic schism on the scale of Christianity’s division in the 16th century, they are certainly loud enough not only to question policy choices regarding the defining information technology of the new millennium thus far, but also to challenge the traditional dynamics of sovereignty-retention in the face of a global online commons.

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Can You Hear Me Now? Spectrum is Shaping the Telecommunication Industry in an Increasingly Connected America

By: James Zino

The way in which Americans communicate has changed rapidly over the past decade, and the cellular phone has been at the forefront of this revolution, reaching levels of market maturation faster than any mainstream technology since the television. What started as a tool to place calls while on the go has evolved into a device with the processing power of a small computer, where millions of people call, text, tweet, video chat, and stream hours of content every day right from the palm of their hands. While there is no doubt that consumer technology has made incredible strides since the first iPhone ushered in a new product market in 2007 with estimated opening day sales of up to 1 million units, what has changed even more is the invisible infrastructure that allows consumers to be wirelessly connected from even the most remote parts of the country.

Although most Americans are familiar with the country’s “Big Four” national cellular providers, (Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile), what actually enables these companies to provide wireless internet and cellular service is less well-known. This capability comes from certain bands of the electromagnetic spectrum, which have become an increasingly indispensable commodity for network providers as demand for cellular service surges. Control and licensing of radio spectrum is controlled by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). While the NTIA handles the use of spectrum for federal government purposes, the FCC administers spectrum regulation and licensing for all other uses, including state, local, and commercial functions.

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