January 30th, 2004

Architecture of the Internet

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Andrew Odlyzko, author of The many paradox of Broadband, published an equally thought-provoking article:

Pricing and architecture of the Internet: Historical perspectives from telecommunications and transportation

While engineers and technologist like myself have been arguing the need for “End-to-End” principle either on ideological or technical reasons, Andrew provides an economical perspective of why the “threats” to the “Stupid Network” are just noise.

The general conclusion then is that the historical record of the transportation industry does demostrate the importance and prevalence of disciminatory policies that are incompatible with the basic architecture of the current Internet. This probably accounts for much of the push to build new networks, or modify the current ones so as to provide more control for service providers over what customers do. However, the Internet is special, in its importance as an enabler for the rest of the economy, in its migration of costs and capabilities to the edges, in its primary value being in conectivity and low transaction latency, and in its pervasiveness and frequency of use. Hence, in spite of the strong push from the industry, there are good prospects that the open artchitecture of the Internet will survice.

I only read the article once and it is worthwhile to read it again, this time without
speed read. The historical case studies contains many gems (ya, i love reading technology history) and have already given me many thoughts.

For example, the section on “British Lighthouse history”

It is true that lighthouses were frequently constructed, operated and owned by private individuals. They were usually the result of a grant from the king, sometimes for a few decades, sometimes in perpetity. The grant entitled the holder to construct a lighthouse in a particular location and to collect compulsory fees from all ship entering nearby harbors…British lighthouse dues were fixed by royal charters. Lighthouse owner could not modify them unilaterally to maximize their profits.

The next time Verisign argues they should be allowed to innovate the DNS, I am going to tell them “You are a just a lighthouse!

ps: Did I mention that Andrew also advocate file over stream? Yea!!!

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