[e2e] ATT and monopolies

David P. Reed dpreed at reed.com
Mon May 21 09:13:15 PDT 2007

Dave Eckhardt wrote:
> While the actual path we took to get here involved the government
> making a monopoly and then splitting it up, it is by no means
> obvious either that only this path would have got us here or
> that all future networks need to follow that path.  Somehow we
> have competing Ethernet vendors without (as far as I'm aware)
> government regulation.
One can, at any time, create a non-interoperable network.   Corporations 
do it all the time - they create a boundary at their corporate edge and 
block transit, entry, and exit of packets.

That is not the Internet.   It's a private network based on the IP 
protocol stack.  Things get muddier if there is limited 
interconnection.   Then, the Internet would be best defined as the 
bounded system of endpoints that can each originate packets to each 
other that *will* be delivered with best efforts.   It's hard to draw 
that boundary, but it exists.

Given this view, I don't think government regulations played a 
significant role in the growth of the Internet.   We have had lots of 
private networks, many larger than the Internet.   I know, for example, 
that Microsoft built a large x.25 based network in 1985 to provide 
non-Internet dialup information services for Windows.   It was called 
MSN, and was designed to compete with the large private AOL network.

What the Internet had going for it was *scalability* and 
*interoperability*.   Metcalfe's Law and Reed's Law and other "laws".   
Those created connectivity options that scaled faster than private 
networks could.   Economists calle these "network externalites"  or 
"increasing returns to scale".

Gov't regulation *could* have killed the Internet's scalability.   Easy 
ways would be to make interconnection of networks a point of control 
that was taxed or monitored (e.g. if trans-border connectivity were 
viewed as a point for US Customs do inspect or if CALEA were implemented 
at peering points).

But lacking that, AOL and MSN just could not compete with the 
scalability of the Internet.

That has nothing to do with competition to supply IP software stacks in 
operating systems, or competition among Ethernet hardware vendors.

However, increasing returns to scale is not Destiny.   The Internet was 
not destined to become the sole network.   But all the members of the 
Internet (people who can communicate with anyone else on it) would be 
nuts to choose a lesser network unless they suffer badly enough to 
outweigh the collective benefits.

Individualist hermits don't get this, I guess.   If you want to be left 
alone, and don't depend on anyone else, there are no returns to scale 
for you at any scale.   Grow your own bits in the backyard, make your 
own computers from sand, invent your own science from scratch.   If the 
walls are high enough, perhaps you can survive without connectivity.

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