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Richard Bennett: The Internet was designed for change

By 25 September 2009 One Comment

I’m at the ITIF event that George Ou mentioned.  Richard Bennett will be unveiling his new report, “Designed for Change: End-to-End Arguments, Internet Innovation, and the Net Neutrality Debate“.  He is joined by William Lehr, Christopher Yoo and John Day.

A new report by ITIF Research Fellow Richard Bennett reviews the historical development of the Internet architecture and finds that contrary to such claims, an extraordinarily high degree of intelligence is embedded in the network core. Indeed, the fact that the Internet was originally built to serve the needs of the network research community but has grown into a global platform of commerce and communications was only made possible by continuous and innovative Internet engineering.

Live-blogging Richard Bennett‘s speech (these are paraphrases of their comments, not direct quotes):

  • Chairman’s Genachowski’s recent speech was basically correct at a very general level.  Engineers don’t deal with generalities; they deal with specifics.  Some of the claims made in the net neutrality debate are not consistent with how the networks actually work.
  • The people who have seized on end-to-end have taken a principle based on change and unintentionally turned it into a principle hostile to change.
  • Policy makers tend to cite things that the actual engineers don’t really consider very significant. This leads to misunderstandings about how the internet actually works.
  • End-to-end is a good principle, but it does not actually imply that there is not intelligence within the network.
  • There are design problems in the internet that have been deferred because Moore’s Law allowed us to neglect them, but they’re going to have to be addressed.

Follow up comments from other experts.

John Day:

  • Richard Bennett is right about the internet being designed ad hoc.  It has worked, but it has allowed flaws to persist and those will need to be addressed.
  • It’s not that end-to-end is wrong.  It just misses the point. There is no “end”.  There’s no such thing as a “dumb network”.  The “dumb network” is a myth.  End-to-end allows only a flat network, raising barriers to solutions that scale.
  • As a result of the embedded flaws, Internet architecture has a lot more in common with DOS than with Linux.
  • Net neutrality regulation is there to save the dogma of end-to-end.

Christopher Yoo:

  • Network design questions are fundamentally about engineering and that is about solving particular problems in context.
  • Bennett’s paper shows the flaws with simplistic visions of end-to-end and the importance of preserving room for innovation.
  • Engineers who developed the internet believed end-to-end was not sufficient and we would need intelligence in the network.
  • One actual network policy: Never route through Iraq if the packet originates at the Pentagon.

William Lehr:

  • Richard was a bit unfair to the 1981 paper by MIT engineers. (Bennett had called it more of a polemic by engineers)
  • These network issues are multi-disciplinary, and require input from a lot of fields that don’t often know how to talk to each other.
  • There is a great deal of debate about where intelligence should primarily reside – at the edges or in the network – but it’s a false choice.  It’s contextual.
  • The debate over who has the right to change or control functionality is important.
  • I was surprised that Julius Genachowski gave his speech when he did.  I hope he was trying to say that we need to have a more serious evaluation of net neutrality, not that we’re just going to impose it.  That would break things and harm the prospects of positive net neutrality.

Dave Farber: (Farber is speaking video webcam/Skype. Ironically, they’re having trouble with an audio connection. If only there was a technologist in the room!)

  • Sorry for this exhibition of the fact that, after 50 years, we still don’t have our act together.  (ha!)
  • The development of the internet was more about trying to make it work, not trying to make it secure or ideal. The internet was built with the assumption of a “nice community”.  As it has grown, it has encountered more malicious participants.
  • I’m not a believer that the market is always right, but after being around Washington, DC for many years, I’m semi-convinced that I’d rather try the marketplace than the regulatory environment.

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