Humanity is facing some pretty scary possible futures. Income inequality could lead to a permanent state of poverty for the vast majority of people. Resource depletion, coupled with inadequate investment in alternative energy sources, could lead to reduced availability of technology. Climate change could increase the frequency of highly destructive natural disasters (okay, this one isn't speculative).
Whatever the future brings, will we at least be able to complain about it online?
I'd like to know what the plausible scenarios are for maintaining, losing, or adapting the internet in the face of future tragedies, including but not limited to:
- Widespread poverty and lack of civil infrastructure upkeep
- Drastically higher energy prices, possible degradation of public electric grids
- Increases in severe weather and natural disasters, especially floods and hurricanes
For this question I'm not interested in scenarios where governments or private carriers deliberately shut down or restrict internet, just in our technological and economic ability to keep it running.
I'm also interested in what "downgrades" we might experience as either transitional or permanent states. For example:
- A reversal in current penetration trends, where only the wealthy will have reliable internet access?
- Widespread data access, but lower bandwidth / higher latency?
- Fewer, more centralized access points?
- Or the opposite, highly connected local networks but unreliable communication between regions?
Update: I thought 4 might be a possibility because at close range, people can connect via an ad-hoc mesh network distributed across lots of devices, even if each device is old or unreliable. This might be possible even if there are no longer the centralized resources required to maintain long-range fiber or satellite links. Or perhaps the poor will mostly be on local mesh networks and, as Brythan suggested, occasionally pay long-distance charges to use the worldwide network maintained by the very rich.