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Not your father's Oldsmobile

by Scott Bradner

According to a University of Texas study sponsored by Cisco, the Internet ($301 billion per year) is now almost as big as the U.S. auto industry ($350 billion per year). It is growing like crazy and has already reached a size where its health is quite important to the overall economic health of the U.S. And all this without a commensurate impact on global warming.

The study ( contains many data points and factoids including the vital fact (or assertion) that there are seven new Internet users every second. In all it is a study well worth looking at. But I wonder what this means for the 'Net -- could it be too big to ignore?

Ever since the beginning, the Internet has had the good type of government help. Governments, including the U.S., Canada and others, have provided funds to support the basic research that led to datagram networks, the TCP/IP protocols, routing protocols and many of the basic Internet applications, as well as funding proof-of-concept networks including the ARPANET and NSFnet. This support was vital to get us to where we are now in the Internet biz.

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 started hearing from people in the U.S. government wanting to help the Internet community understand the importance of the Internet. They 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 we all know it has been government oversight that has made the phone system so reliable (and so innovative at the same time).

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 too much government help than can be healthy for the 'Net. Government help usually comes with government regulations and reporting requirements. Generally regulations that have been worked out in a political rather than a technical arena. (Note that I would like to see some regulations, ones that protect privacy, so 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 that 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 they used to close the first round of VC funding.

disclaimer: There is concrete at Harvard but its mostly hidden by brick and the above is my fear of help.