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The middle of a revolution
By Scott Bradner
The Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB) of the National Research Council is in the process of releasing its latest report on the present and future of data networking. This new volume, the fourth in a series, finally admits that the Internet is both the present and the future.
The first book in the series, "Toward a National Research Network", published in 1988 pushed for government funding of Internet research although at that time the Internet was a limited network connecting educational, research and government sites. Six years later the second volume. "Realizing the Information Future: The Internet and Beyond", (on-line at http://books.nap.edu/catalog/4755.html) described an Internet moving beyond its research heritage and explored the potential impacts. The next volume came only two years later in 1996. "Unpredictable Certainty: Information Infrastructure Through 2000" (http://books.nap.edu/catalog/5130.html) saw the Internet as the precursor of a national, and at some point global, information infrastructure. The new volume, "The Internet's Coming of Age" (http://books.nap.edu/catalog/9823.html), has figured out that, at least for now, what comes after the Internet is the Internet.
This is a somewhat lightweight book, tending a bit towards paranoia rather than Pollyanna but it provides a very good overview of the Internet of today, and provides some well thought out warnings of where the government could help too much.
CSTB reports, such as the ones in this series, are the products committees whose members are carefully chosen to represent the various interested constituencies and thus tend not to be all that bold in their recommendations and this volume is no exception. It does go further than the previous books in the series and actually has some specific recommendations. The committee says they focused on a number of specific areas: the Internet's design; its scaleability and reliability; connections between its parts; its conflict with the traditional telecommunications world; and its social policy issues.
They warn against the potential of network-based devices such as firewalls and network address translators (NATs) to inhibit the creation of new Internet applications and paint the picture of the current inter-Internet service provider connections with a worried mind. They worry quite a bit that governments will try to apply existing telecommunications regulations to the Internet rather than "reconsidering old rationales for regulation."
They say that the principal conclusion of their study is that "the Internet is fundamentally healthy" and any problems they found are best addressed by evolutionary changes in the Internet. They did not find a reason to start over.
The report says that we are currently in the middle of the Internet revolution. I'm not sure we are that far along but do agree with the committee that the view from here is, at best, foggy and that too much government help will more likely run us aground than steer a true course.
disclaimer: Parts of Harvard seem to be fog generators but the above navigation is mine alone.