[e2e] It's all my fault

Tom Vest tvest at pch.net
Fri May 18 02:29:50 PDT 2007

On May 17, 2007, at 9:56 PM, John Day wrote:

> At 18:33 -0400 2007/05/17, Tom Vest wrote:
>> On May 17, 2007, at 4:58 PM, Vadim Antonov wrote:
>>> On Thu, 17 May 2007, Greg Skinner wrote:
>>>> DARPA-funded research provided computing resources upon which  
>>>> email,
>>>> USENET, Unix, etc. were extended and popularized.
>>> DARPA didn't create those resources from the thin air. They took  
>>> it from
>>> somebody first. Your statement is an example of "What is seen and  
>>> what is
>>> not seen" fallacy.
>>> --vadim
>> Okay, what is seen:
>> The universe of telecom facilities was owned and operated through  
>> the vehicle of adjacent, non-overlapping territorial monopolies  
>> for at least 4-5 decades leading up to the 1970s -- either as the  
>> result of a market outcome (e.g., in the US), or of subsequent  
>> movers observing how things played out in the earliest telecom  
>> markets (e.g., in the US). That said, the raw inputs required for  
>> the Internet to emerge (telecom facilities, technology, clever  
>> people, etc.) were widely distributed throughout the world in the  
>> 1970s and 1980s. The same laws of physics that permitted T-carrier  
>> technology and 4ESS switches to work in the United States from  
>> 1975 on also applied everywhere else on Earth.
>> In the US alone, the advent of of the latter technologies was  
>> accompanied by regulatory changes (60 FCC 2D / 1976, which  
>> compelled the incumbent territorial facilities monopoly owner to  
>> sell T-1
> I would dispute this.  The technologies were not developed in the  
> US alone.  The US may have been the one place where quite by  
> accident there was an organization willing provide a place for it  
> and grossly overprovision the technology so that its flaws were not  
> immediately apparent.  The US may have also had sufficient domestic  
> facilities for the technology to reach a critical mass.  But all  
> the smart people were not in the US.

Actually that's exactly what I said: telecom facilities, technology,  
and clever people were in abundance in many places. I guess I should  
have separated these into two lists -- things that are presumably  
uniform globally (distribution of smarts, laws of physics / "how  
things work") and things that are not uniformly distributed but were  
available in many places (dense telecom facilities).

I didn't say anything (nor intend to make any specific point) about  
where T-carrier or 4ESS technologies, or any other particular  
technologies, were invented.

>> circuits to 3rd parties even when those parties intended to use  
>> them for commercial purposes) which made it possible for someone  
>> other than an incumbent facilities owner to provision telecom  
>> "infrastructure", manage it independently, and use it for any  
>> purpose that they saw fit. In the US alone, the incumbent  
>> facilities owner's efforts to squelch the "invidious bypass" that  
>> this new technology made possible (i.e., the Consumer  
>> Communications Reform Act of 1978, aka "the Bell Bill") were quashed.
> Be careful here.  This is a pretty sugar coated version of what  
> happened.  None of this would have happened if ARPA, NPL, and IRIA  
> had not proven that the technology worked by 1972 and there was  
> another way to do networks.  This lead every major phone company to  
> show that they could do it too.  So that by 1977, there were  
> several commercial packet networks in the world.

I agree with you entirely about demonstrating demand -- but because I  
agree with you I wonder why the success of R&E / university based  
network experiments in (other) places didn't lead to an explosion of  
demand (and hence supply) in all associated host countries/markets.  
In some places -- I use the US as an example only because I believe  
it was "first", not "only" -- the demonstration was followed by some  
critical changes in telecom rules, changes which permitted non-PSTNs  
to play a big role in Internet growth and dynamism going forward. In  
many other places, when the Internet was ready to "outgrow the  
campus" it was largely reabsorbed into the PSTN service platform.

I agree with you entirely about the existence of a few small  
commercial packet network companies, esp. *after* 1976 -- but because  
I agree with you (repeat the above) ... in the US non-PSTNs came to  
lead Internet development precisely because the rule changes made a  
big difference. Had the kind of rules changes exemplified by the 1976  
(contingently, US) law not happened, and commercial packet network  
operators been forced to inefficiently self-provision facilities for  
every point-to-point network segment necessary to reach every  
customer, rather than efficiently leveraging existing capital stock  
and rising excess capacity created by advances in multiplexing  
technologies -- well, the Internet would have been a very different  
thing. Thanks to the magic of longitudinal comparison, we can get  
some idea of what kind of thing it might have been by looking at  
those countries where such rules were never implemented. Generally  
speaking, if you count things like number of Internet users, PCs,  
domains (the last being are a good indicator of demand, not supply),  
it's not a very flattering comparison.

> Had they been left to their own devices the phone companies would  
> never have built a packet network.  When they were they still would  
> not have built one friendly to computers.  That was forced on them  
> by the computer companies.
> The computer companies saw this as a way to go after market that  
> the phone companies were ill suited to pursue and the phone  
> companies very quickly saw that the organization that was being  
> adopted relegated them to a commodity business.
>> Eventually -- sometimes many years later -- other regulatory  
>> jurisdictions followed a similar path, and the Internet started  
>> growing in those places as well. Eventually -- generally decades  
>> later -- in places where such changes never occur(red), some green  
>> field bypass telecom facilities (e.g., wireless) began to provide  
>> (at the moment, grossly inferior) options similar to those created  
>> by the aforementioned regulatory interventions. In the mean time,  
>> much of the Internet service that was available in the  
>> "unreconstructed" parts of the word arrived in the form of "  
>> service imports", i.e., services provided by offshore operators  
>> based in one of the infrastructure-friendly jurisdictions.
>> Something else that is seen:
>> Empirical evidence supporting the story above is visible in the  
>> global distribution of autonomous systems (using the country code  
>> and/or org fields to localize each to a particular country). Since  
>> ASes are tools for managing multihoming, and multihoming is only  
>> technically possible where telecom facilities are overlapping, or  
>> fungible (i.e., available in fractional bits and pieces as  
>> "infrastructure" that can be managed independently from the  
>> facilities provider), and available on commercially reasonable  
>> terms, this distribution makes perfect technical sense. Places  
>> with more ASes generally have more Internet users, devices etc.,  
>> all things (population, GDP, geography, number of years providing  
>> Internet service, etc.) remaining equal.
>> What is unseen?
> I am afraid that you have fallen into a trap that historians are  
> quite familiar with. Looking at the events and seeing the sequence  
> as almost foreordained as if it was a very deterministic sequence  
> that could not have turned out any other way.  I am afraid that a  
> closer reading of the events will reveal that much of it is quite  
> accidental.  And the inflection points sometimes hinge on very  
> small seemingly unimportant events.  What you see is more the  
> result of a random walk than the deux ex machina of history.

Again, you completely misread me; we are in complete agreement. This  
is not a Whig History of Internet Development. Nowhere did I say (nor  
do I believe) that things turned out the way they did because  
omniscient US regulators clearly foresaw the results of the rule  
changes that they (coincidentally, contingently) happened to try  
first in 1976, and then again in 1984. I *am* saying that those kind  
of rule changes -- the ones that make it possible for many different  
kinds of people, institutions, commercial ventures, etc. to play with  
the critical inputs necessary to assemble IP networks -- which just  
happened to get tried quite early in the US -- ended up making a huge  
difference in how things turned out in this particular run of  
history. I am saying that the "Tussle in Cyberspace" that has done so  
much to drive innovation didn't get started until, and isn't really  
relevant except when/where the "Tussle in Tele-space" resulted in a  
particular set of outcomes. I assert that empirical patterns backing  
these claims up are observable in the evolving contents of the  
routing table, at least over the last decade for which we have  
archived routing tables.

I was afraid that the repetition of "US" in my first post was going  
to elicit a visceral response like this. I apologize for not leading  
originally with caveats about radical contingency, the undeniable  
contributions made by universities outside the US made, the  
subsequent contributions made by some PSTNs, some computer vendors, etc.


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