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Underwhelming, So Far

By: Scott Bradner

As I've mentioned in past columns, there has been an awful lot of hype about the Internet of recent. It has even reached the point when the NBC Nightly News can announce its email address on the air ( without having to explain what they mean by "the Internet". But in reality the network itself is still puny.

Now, I don't mean puny in reach. There is no continent on earth where there is not at least one interactive Internet connection (McMurdo base in Antarctica came on-line the year before last.) and the networks in the former Soviet Union states have now been integrated into the rest of the Internet. Nor is it puny in growth rate, the number of connections has been almost doubling each year for quite a while now. The January 1994 estimate is that there are 2.2 million computers (up from 1.3 million in January 1993) and as many as twenty million users having the capability for actual direct Internet access. Thus the Internet sure is not puny in extent of access.

But the Internet is puny compared to what it can and will be. There are currently a few more than 20,000 network addresses known to the core of the Internet. This represents a growth of 149% from a year ago, but doesn't amount to a hill of beans compared to its potential. Putting aside for now the idea of Internet access from the home for telecommuting, school work or even email to the guy you went to high school with, and just looking at the kinds of businesses where some type of Internet access could be useful, the potential is a bit overwhelming.

There are over 80,000 businesses in the general Boston area (my source is not all that rigorous; a quick calculation based on counting the entries on a page of the NYNEX Business to Business Directory, multiplying by the number of pages and subtracting a fudge factor of about 25% to account for multiple listings etc.). NEARnet, one of the Internet service providers in the same area is getting close to having 300 customers. The rest of the Internet providers in this area might have half as many, meaning that, at most, there are about 500 of the 80,000 businesses connected. (I don't expect that many of the existing 500 connections are for home use; that is still too expensive.) That works out to 0.6%.

Not all businesses by a long shot would have a recognizable need for Internet access today, but it surely is more than 0.6%. So there is a lot of room left under the growth curve.

Now, when you start to consider the number of homes in the same area which have computers and are also wired for cable TV, the potential for this data network stuff does get to be a bit staggering.

Maybe that is why a company like MCI is spending (according to an advertising trade magazine) five million dollars to show us a little New Zealand girl, dressed in black and posed in stark environments, trying to explain just what data networking means to the football playoff audience. (It did come across a bit vague didn't it? Or was it just me?)

Disclaimer: (from Stephen Northcutt) These are my opinions! Harvard has traditions, NOT opinions