Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

Why the man who coined the phrase 'net neutrality' feared Apple

January 15, 2014: 10:56 AM ET

Tim Wu told the New York Times in 2010 that Apple was a threat to the Internet.

Wu. Photo: Wikicommons

Wu in 2007. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

FORTUNE -- With "net neutrality" back in the headlines after Tuesday's federal appeals court ruling, I thought I'd check in with Tim Wu, the Columbia law professor who coined the phrase.

When asked by the New York Times' Nick Binton what forces threatened the Internet in 2010, Wu famously singled out Apple (AAPL):

"I know the Internet was designed to resist integration, designed to resist centralized control," We said, "and that design defeated firms like AOL and Time Warner. But firms today, like Apple, make it unclear if the Internet is something lasting or just another cycle."

What exactly did he mean by that?

"I think the answer to this relies on reading The Master Switch," Wu told me, referring to his 2010 history of modern communications that suggested information technologies tend to move from open systems to closed. "Basically the question is whether vertical integration and consolidation will be where the Internet goes."

Wu also talked to the Times about Steve Jobs, who was still alive at the time of the interview:

"Steve Jobs has the charisma, vision and instincts of every great information emperor," he said in November 2010. "The man who helped create the personal computer 40 years ago is probably the leading candidate to help exterminate it."

What did Wu mean by that? Did he think Jobs could exterminate the Internet? That seems unlikely. Exterminate the personal computer? Coming eight months after the iPad was released, that seems almost prescient.

"I meant the personal computer," Wu says. "Via the iPad and iOS, and a move to what you might call something more like an appliance model of computing, or I guess you could call it a terminal model."

LINK: One on One: Tim Wu, Author of 'The Master Switch'

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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