Networked Publics and the iPhone

I’ve been delighted by the reception that the Infrastructural City has received. The entire press run sold out in 3 1/2 months. A less expensive paperback edition is on the boat from Europe and we hope that it’ll be in bookstores by the start of fall semester.*

Still, I’ve been a bit surprised that the Infrastructural City has overshadowed Networked Publics. And, since the latter is in the bookstores now, maybe its a good time to take a look? Networked Publics, which we produced as a research project at the Annenberg Center for Communication is composed of four chapters—place, culture, politics, and infrastructure—as well as an introduction by Mizuko Ito and my conclusion which lays the foundation for further work  on network culture. The book content is complimented by a Web site that we developed during the Networked Publics research year. You can visit it at

Just as the issues we brought up in the Infrastructural City have proved topical this year, so have the issues in Networked Publics. This week, I’m struck by the importance of the chapter on Infrastructure written by François Bar, Walter Baer, Shahram Ghandeharizadeh, and Fernando Ordonez. The authors raised the question of network neutrality as a major infrastructural challenge and indeed, even with all the diversion about OMA-designed windmills and Zaha Hadid-designed sewers, I have to agree. The question at stake in network neutrality is whether we legislate networks to be open so that they allow any applications to be run over them. Or will we let Internet Service Providers make that decision for us? When we were drafting Networked Publics, this discussion took place around the provision of broadband cable, dsl, and fiber. Today, however, the debate has reached wireless or rather, the iPhone.

Congress is currently discussing whether carrier lock in of phones (read: the iPhone) is desirable on a national level (is there anyone out there who likes AT&T?) while the Copyright Office is examining whether it should be legal to jailbreak devices like iPhones to circumvent the monopoly that Apple holds on the distribution of iPhone applications. In the meantime, after Google submitted an application to allow for the use of its new Google Voice technology on the iPhone, Apple not only rejected the application but retroactively banned third-party applications that gave Google Voice users an interface to the iPhone. Now its worth mentioning that all Google Voice does is let you forward calls to your iPhone or dial out via the Google Voice interface. You still talk over AT&T’s wireless network, although if you are dialing long distance you avoid their astronomical fees and you can also bypass AT&T’s maniacal SMS charges, although without the background notification that normal SMS messages deliver.   

Concerned that Apple’s actions were capricious and damaging to free trade, the FCC just sent letters to Apple and AT&T. You can read about these here. The stakes are high. If Apple wins any of these battles, and I certainly hope they do not, it will be a disappointing blow to network neutrality and to future innovation, particularly on the iPhone. 

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