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A role for technologists in Internet

By Scott Bradner

Network World, 8/3/98

I t's been five and a half years since I started writing this column. For
the first two years, I used many columns to defend the Internet as real
and claimed that it would grow in importance in the future.

In one column I wrote, "In the universe where I live, the Internet is
the future. The Internet is growing into the ubiquitous connectivity
service. In this universe, we are building the future rather than waiting
for someone else to hand us something they think might be what we
want. (Generally determined without the process of asking.)"

This is not meant to be an 'I told you so' column but rather one of
amazement and more than a little bit of trepidation.

I just got back from Geneva, where I attended the Internet Society's
annual meeting and a subsequent meeting called the "International
Forum on the [U.S. Government's] White Paper". The forum is
working toward a consensus on how to deal with the U.S.' intention
to withdraw from funding some of the basic infrastructure operations
for the Internet as announced in a white paper.

The forum had people from around the world discussing the
implications of a potential power vacuum left behind as the U.S.
government withdraws from the scene. The results are still
intermediate because this was one of a series of meetings with the last
one scheduled for Singapore in the middle of August.

But what was impressive about the meeting was the fact that it was
not just a room full of Internet geeks.

Speakers included a top advisor to President Clinton and a minister
for the European Commission, and participants were from all areas of
business, education and government. If anything, the Internet geek
community was under-represented.

I've looked back on the columns I've written in these past five years
and have thought back to the many conversations I've had during the
same period. It is clear that the Internet technical community, which I
like to think myself part of, missed the boat in really understanding
how much control of this network was going to slip out of our hands.

Most of our predictions about the inevitable success of the Internet in
the face of governmental regulations have come true. We knew we
were going to be successful but failed to adequately appreciate how
much the result would look like honey to the regulatory bears and

It is not going to get easier in the future to minimize the effect of
governmental "help." The Internet now plays a role in the economic
health of the industrialized world that few observers could have
imagined even a few years ago.

The outcome of this series of meetings will help determine if there will
be a role for the technically cluefull in Internet management, as the
white paper recommends, or not, as some of the businessmen and
politicians would rather.

Wish us well.

Disclaimer: Harvard has no position on Internet governance (it's too
new), even though some Harvard people do.