It's not your father's Oldsmobile

By Scott Bradner
Network World, 06/21/99

According to a University of Texas study sponsored by Cisco, the Internet industry is now almost as big as the U.S. auto industry. The study shows that the Internet industry generates $301 billion per year in revenue, while the U.S. auto industry accounts for $350 billion in revenue per year.

The Internet business is growing like crazy and has already reached a size at which its health is quite important to the overall U.S. economic health. And all this without a commensurate impact on global warming.

The study (at contains many data points and factoids, including the assertion that there are seven new Internet users every second. In all, this is a study well worth reviewing. But I wonder what the study's findings mean for the 'Net - could the 'Net be too big to ignore?

Ever since the beginning, the Internet has had the good type of government help. Governments, including those from the U.S., Canada and other nations, have provided funds to support the basic research that has led to datagram networks, the TCP/IP protocols, routing protocols and many of the basic Internet applications. Governments have also funded proof-of-concept networks, including the ARPANET and NSFnet. This support has been vital in getting us to where we are now in the Internet business.

But there is another type of government help that is not quite so helpful. ("I'm from the government, and I'm here to help.") I've already begun to hear from people in the U.S. government who want to help the Internet community understand the importance of the Internet. These people point out that with the convergence of the Internet and telephone networks, the Internet needs to be as reliable as the phone system has been. And, they point out, we all know it has been government oversight that has made the phone
system so reliable and innovative.

I'm almost sad to see this report in spite of how well it proves the views of some of us that this Internet thing was going to be big - we were Internet before Internet was cool. But I'm afraid the report will attract too much attention, and we will get more government help than is healthy for the 'Net.

Government help usually comes with government regulations and reporting requirements. Generally, such regulations have been worked out in a political rather than a technical arena.

(Note: I would like to see some regulations, such as ones that protect privacy. I'm not blindly against all government intervention.)

On the other hand, there is an upside. This report will keep the venture capitalists throwing money at just about anyone who knows how to spell TCP/IP or Internet. Some of these new companies actually have some good stuff coming along - some of them even have something more concrete than the set of slides used to close their first round of venture funding.

Disclaimer: There is concrete at Harvard, but it's mostly hidden by brick. The above is my fear of help.