on December 20, 2011
When we read about Internet policy it tends to be about policy in the West. This has the unfortunate result of distorting how we understand Internet policies and deployment strategies, conflating what worked for 'us' with what will work for 'them'. Farivar's book looks at what happens when 'the Internet collides, head-on, with history unfamiliar to most Americans' (15). He performs a comparative analysis, looking at South Korea, Senegal, Estonia, and Iran, and offers revealing insights about Internet-related policies in each nation-state. From South Korea, we learn how high levels of Internet activity can be tied to the government's strong investiture in digital initiatives to secure the nation's economic future, as well as the relationship between high levels of literacy, low costs of Internet access, and innovative services and problems. In Senegal, Farivar outlines the problems stemming from episodic third-party investment in Internet access combined with low levels of literacy. Programs are not written in commonly spoken languages and, combined with problems of employment and low economic activity, as well as poor regulation of the national telecom monopoly, traditional Internet uptake has been poor. Turning to Estonia, we see that (similar to South Korea) high levels of literacy are a boon to Internet adoption, as were the high levels of R&D investment by the former-USSR. Ultimately, however, a few key actors have pushed Internet adoption and Farivar concludes that, in essence, 'the Internet has been able to flourish in Estonia because the nation's independence coincided with the arrival of the disruptive technology of the Internet' (146). From Iran, we see that the Internet is adopted because of high literacy, but that actual uses of the communications medium are hampered by the nation's political conditions. While Western governance experts talk about the 'single Internet' of today, Farivar argues that the singular Internet simply does not exist: filters, divergent languages, and local politics create unique Internet cultures throughout the world.