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The International Internet

By: Scott Bradner

In the last column I talked a bit about the scale of the Internet and noted in passing that there are now 78 countries with direct Internet connections. I'm now off to look firsthand at this international aspect of the growing Internet. By the time this column is printed I'll be at the Internet Society (ISOC) annual meeting and conference being held in Prague in the Czech Republic.

I'll be joining around a thousand other network people from, according to the preregistration figures, over 60 countries. Many of these countries will be represented by only one or two people, but the breadth of coverage is impressive. Over three quarters of the connected countries will be represented and there will be people from a number of soon to be connected countries. This will be a truly international meeting with less than a quarter of the attendees from the U.S.

The Internet Society holds a workshop the week before its annual meetings. This workshop is designed to provide a foundation of basic networking knowledge and experience to those people who will be building the national data networks in their own countries. The students are then expected to help with the evolution of their local and national data networking. Students for the workshop are selected from a large pool of applicants and all of their expenses for the workshop and for the conference are covered.

In many countries data networking is a fresh idea. Peter Ford in a presentation at a recent Information Infrastructure Forum put on by the Harvard Kennedy School Center for Science and International Affairs described four stages in the evolution of national data networking.

In the first stage, the major inter-organizational data networks are dedicated to specific scientific endeavors. In the U.S., this stage was pre-NSFnet when the ARPANET and the High Energy Physics Network (HEPnet) were the prime examples of our national data networks. In the second stage the restrictions on the use of the data networks are relaxed and some become general research and education networks. The growth of the NSFnet characterized this stage in the U.S. The third stage sees the growth of commercial data networks. We are well into this stage now in the U.S. with many companies offering Internet connectivity as part, or all of, their normal course of business. The final stage in the evolution of data networks according to Mr. Ford is the common availability of a Public Internet. At this stage internetworking is as pervasive as the phone system and is no longer seen as something special.

Just as the phone service in the U.S. is now provided by a large number of vendors, big and small, public and private, so will the Public Internet.

In most of the world, data networking is in stage one or stage two. It is also complicated by the fact that in most countries the phone system, currently the basic connective tissue for a data infrastructure, is run by a single public telephone company or PTT. These types of organizations are notoriously slow to understand and adopt new technology. It is hoped that the ISOC workshop will give a technology injection into these systems and help move things along the evolutionary track.

There is one more bit of fall out from the actions of those self-anointed defenders of the right to abuse the Internet by posting advertisements to usenet newsgroups without regard to the topic of the newsgroup. In Prague, the ISOC board will start discussions on a code of conduct statement for Internet operators and users. Not that any such document would stop the likes of those lawyers from their self-appointed rounds.

I do know a number of good lawyers (in all senses of the word good) but the actions of these two do keep bringing to mind bad jokes. After my last column on this topic Don Esry sent me a few hundred lawyer jokes. Here is one of them. First person: Why did you switch from rats to lawyers for your biology experiments? Second person: First we found that lawyers are far more plentiful, second, the lab assistants don't get so attached to them, and thirdly there are some things even a rat won't do.

Disclaimer: I'm an ISOC board member and will be teaching at the workshop; Harvard has no connection with either activity.