The (un)Economic Internet

July 23rd, 2007 by kc

IEEE published this announcement of a new series of papers related to Internet economics in its may issue:
MAY – JUNE 2007 1089-7801/07/$25.00 c 2007 IEEE Published by the IEEE Computer Society 53 Internet Economics Track Editors: Scott Bradner – kc claffy – kc claffy and Sascha D. Meinrath Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis Scott O. Bradner Harvard University

The (un)Economic Internet?

The Internet Economics track will address how economic and policy issues relate to the emergence of the Internet as critical infrastructure. Here, the authors provide a historical overview of internetworking, identifying key transitions that have contributed to the Internet’s development and penetration. Its core architecture wasn’t designed to serve as critical communications infrastructure for society; rather, the infrastructure developed far beyond the expectations of the original funding agencies, architects, developers, and early users. The incongruence between the Internet’s underlying architecture and society’s current use and expectations of it means we can no longer study Internet technology in isolation from the political and economic context in which it is deployed.

This article kicks off IC‘s new series on policy, regulatory, and business-model issues relating to the Internet and its economic viability. These articles will explore a range of topics shaping both today’s Internet and the discourse in legislatures and deliberative bodies at the local, state, national, and international levels in pursuit of enlightened stewardship of the Internet in the future.

Mindful of Internet connectivity’s fundamental import for advanced as well as emerging economies and its day-to- day irrelevance for the unconnected vast majority of human beings, pieces for this series will cover technology as well as political, economic, social, and historical issues relevant to IC’s international readership. In this inaugural article, we provide a historical overview of internetworking and identify topics that need further exploration – topics we particularly encourage authors to cover in future articles in this series.

A History of Internet (un)Economics

The modern Internet began as a relatively restricted US government-funded research network. One of the most revolutionary incarnations of this network, the early ARPANET, was limited in scope – at its peak, it provided data connectivity for roughly 100 universities and government research sites. In the decades since, a few key transitions have been critical in radically transforming this communications medium. One of the most important of these critical junctures occurred in 1983, when the ARPANET switched from the Network Control Program (NCP) to the (now ubiquitous) Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol (TCP/IP). This switch helped change the ARPANET’s basic architectural concept from a single specialized infrastructure built and operated by a single organization to the “network of networks” we know today. Dave Clark discusses this architectural shift in his 1988 Computer Communications Review paper, “The Design Philosophy of the DARPA Internet Protocols.” He wrote that the top-level goal for TCP/IP was “to develop an effective technique for multiplexed utilization of existing interconnected networks.”

During this same period, network developers chose to support data connectivity across multiple diverse networks using gateways (now called routers) as the network-interconnection points. Preceding communications networks, such as the telephone system, used circuit switching, allocating an exclusive path or circuit with a predefined capacity across the network for the duration of its use, regardless of whether it efficiently used the circuit capacity. Breaking with traditional circuitswitching network design, early internetworking focused on packet switching as the core transport mechanism, facilitating far more economically as well as technically efficient multiplexing of existing networking resources. In packet-switching networks, nonexclusive access to circuits is normative (although companies still sometimes buy dedicated lines to run the packet traffic over); thus, no specific capacity is granted for specific applications or users. Instead, data is commingled with packet delivery occurring on a “best effort” basis. Each carrier is expected to do its best to ensure that packets get delivered to their designated recipients, but no guarantee exists that a particular user will be able to achieve any particular end-to-end capacity. In packet-switching networks, capacity is more probability-based than statically guaranteed. Internet data transport’s best-effort nature has caused growing tension in regulatory and traditional telephony circles. Likewise, as the Internet becomes an increasingly critical communications infrastructure for business, education, democratic discourse, and civil society in general, the need to systematically analyze core functionality and potential problem areas becomes progressively more important.

Early developers couldn’t have foreseen the level to which the Internet and private networks using Internet technologies have displaced other telecommunications infrastructures. It wasn’t until the mid 1990s that visionaries such as Hans- Werner Braun started warning protocol developers that they needed to view the future Internet as a global telecommunications system that would support essentially all computer-mediated communications. This view was eerily prescient, yet core Internet protocols haven’t evolved to meet increasing demands and are essentially the same as they were in the late 1980s.

A growing number of researchers are convinced that without significant improvements and upgrades, the Internet might be facing serious challenges that could undermine its future viability. Features such as network-based security, detailed accounting, and reliable quality-of-service (QoS) control mechanisms are all under exploration to help alleviate perceived problems. In response to these concerns, the International Telecommunication Union-Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) Next Generation Networks study group (NGN; is working to define a very different set of protocols that would include these and other features.

Security: Not the Network’s Job

Various people have offered explanations regarding the lack of security protocols in the Internet’s initial design. Clark’s seminal paper doesn’t mention security, nor does the protocol specification for IP. Because the network itself doesn’t contain security support, the onus has fallen to those who manage individual computers connected to the Internet, to network operators to protect Internet-connected hosts and servers, and to ISP operators to protect their routers and other infrastructure services. Services such as user or end-system authentication, data-integrity verification, and encryption weren’t built into the core Internet protocols, so they’re now layered on an infrastructure that isn’t intrinsically secure. Currently, few existing studies examine the potential economic rationale for this current and continuing state of affairs and the ramifications for the infrastructure’s efficiency, performance, and sustainability.

QoS:Too Easy to Go Without

The original IP packet header included a type of service field to be used as “an indication of the abstract parameters of the quality of service desired.” This field, later updated by Differentiated Services, can define priority or special handling of some traffic in some enterprise networks and within some ISP networks, but it’s never seen significant deployment as a way to provide QoS across the public Internet. Thus, the QoS a user gets from the Internet is typically the result of ISP design and provisioning decisions rather than any differential handling of different traffic types. Thus far, “throwing bandwidth at the problem” has proven to be a far more cost-effective method for achieving good quality than introducing QoS controls.

Yet, what happens if conditions change so that overprovisioning is no longer a panacea? The dayto- day quality most users experience from their broadband Internet service is good enough, for example, to enable voice-over-IP (VoIP) services such as Skype and Vonage, which compete favorably with plain old telephone services. However, the projected explosive growth of video and other high-bandwidth applications might increase congestion on parts of the current infrastructure to the point that special QoS mechanisms could be required to maintain usable performance of even the most basic services.

To read the rest of the paper, “The (un)Economic Internet” view:

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