The following text is copyright 1994 by Network World, permission is hearby given for reproduction, as long as attribution is given and this notice is included.
By: Scott Bradner
Every now and then someone comes along to tell us that the Internet-less future will be great. The prediction is usuallythat soon the telephone companies will get into the business of providing interconnection services and when that happens, all of the terrible problems we are now experiencing will become just a fading memory, like a bad dream in the early morning before waking to a glorious sunny day.
Usually the person with the vision is from a telephone company. As I remember, the president of AT&T said something like that in front o Congress last year. Sometimes however the prediction comes from a consultant or columnist. In this column I'm reacting to an op-ed article in this paper on May 16, 1994.
These predictions always start out with the assertion that the current Internet runs over a government-subsidized backbone which connects regional non-professional network service providers. I have heard the Internet called " a free good" where the efficiency of protocols and applications is not a concern since the users are playing with "free lunch money." The view is usually incredibly U.S.-centric with little or no mention made of the use of data networks in other countries. Somehow the impression one gets is that the Internet is some little, trouble plagued toy that a few fuzzy headed academicians use to send Email to each other and look for dirty pictures.
When I hear or read this type of description and prediction I kind of have to wonder if someone from a parallel universe popped in for a quick visit.
In the universe where I live, 10,000,000 to 20,000,000 people use an Internet comprised of over 30,000 networks spread over 78 countries and the interconnections between them. These interconnections are provided by a wide variety of companies and organizations, the vast majority of which are for-profit (or at least intended to be) and only a few are nonprofit. In the U.S., companies like Sprint Corporation, Performance Systems Incorporated, AlterNet, NEARNET, Advanced Networks and Systems, and WillTell have been offering Internet service for a number of years. All of these are professional, for-profit organizations. In addition, many non-U.S. companies offer Internet services in most corners of the world.
In the universe where I live, the U.S. Federally supported backbone runs in parallel with a number of commercial backbones and even some of the non-profit regionals have purchased commercial connectivity through these parallel backbones.
In the universe where I live, there ain't much in the way of a free ride. Companies and organizations must purchase their Internet connections from a service provider which must at least break even and in most cases, is trying to make a profit. Those who do connect generally do so using a link that is slower than they would like to be using because of the cost.
In the universe where I live, most of the regional Bell holding companies still see the National Information Infrastructure as a way to provide video on demand to countless couch potatoes. A few, Ameritech for example, are starting to see that there might be data in their future. With few exceptions, the telephone companies still see connectivity and a connection as the same thing. A connection is a bit pipe from point A to point B. Connectivity is the seamless integration of the local and global environments. Phone companies are often very good at connections but generally don't have a clue when it comes to connectivity. Connectivity assumes a service provider-based support structure that can help users when their email goes astray because of a mis-configured widget 2,000 miles away. This type of user support is not what I've been seeing from most of the phone companies in this universe, Sprint being the exception that proves the rule.
In the universe where I live, the Internet is the future. The Internet is growing into the ubiquitous connectivity service. In this universe we are building the future rather than waiting for someone else to hand us something they think might be what we want. (Generally determined without the processes of asking.)
Disclaimer: The above opinions are mine although Harvard lives in the same universe.