What IS Internet ? Sept. 3, 2015 version

map-of-the-internet((This is not The Internet [text stolen from René Magritte’s Pipe painting] , it shows the many thousands of links between AS addresses some years ago))


  1. Introduction

Since a few years politicians from many nation state governments have started to ask how (or even insist) we should Govern “The Internet“. They are nervous that it is at present outside their Control and voice this by blaming The Internet is a chaos and full of tools for bad people to do harm. And the politicians feel that The Internet is too much USA-Gov dominated, while its use is now worldwide with interests from many stakeholders.

To my surprise an enormous amount of energy is spend and hot air is steaming out of this formal and informal discussion in all possible directions without any consensus on what they are talking about. Just take a look at what you see after you google the search term ‘ Internet Governance ‘!!!  Maybe we, as technicians and engineers, forgot to define what internet is, because we assumed that it is very simple and everybody knows it : just a bunch of routers and datacom links, right?  The intention of this blog is to help clarify that to the muggles.

2. Definition

Here is the definition that Fred Goldstein gave that is the only correct and short one in my humble opinion (IMHO):

An internet is a voluntary agreement among network operators to exchange traffic for their mutual benefit.  (The Internet is a prototype internet.) That’s all — it’s an agreement.

It’s not a network, or a Thing of any kind.  Part of the agreement is to exchange routing information.  In order to reduce conflict, IANA assigns address blocks. Networks, however, advertise what address blocks they carry, and this is not normally checked against IANA. So IANA address block lists are there to advise in case of conflict. If however people stopped trusting them, they might look elsewhere, or (heaven forbid people give up Authority and think for themselves) make their own decisions on whom to trust.

Likewise with names: DNS is a distributed database. Users (or the DHCP servers they implicitly trust) point their resolvers at a name server, which points up the chain at others.  This is all voluntary — they don’t have to point to the ICANN roots, but do because those are the ones everyone uses, and using other roots, which exist, increases the chance of conflict.  But if the public lost trust in ICANN, they could move to another root. It is just a database of registries.

This is totally unlike the PSTN ((Public Switched Telephony Network)), whose name scheme (E.164 numbering) is laid out by  ((ITU)) treaty, and whose networks are in fact government-controlled.  An internet is voluntary; the PSTN is a public utility. Big difference.

(– quoted here with permission of  Fred R. Goldstein, Interisle Consulting Group, USA –) 

Yes, the mindsets of Netheads (computer communication engineers organized by peer group workshops of the ISOC- IETF )  and Bellheads (telecom operator officials with strong nation state governance) are different, they may be from different planets. Both have built collective intelligent structures with distributed authorities as if they are life forms.
3. The famous Doc Searls and David Weinberger  wrote something in 2003 that is consistent with this view of 2. , albeit it is somewhat longer. It was aimed specifically at trying to explain the Net to legislators and other non-technical policy makers:
=============beginning of partial copy ==============

“World of Ends”

What the Internet Is and
How to Stop Mistaking It
for Something Else.

by  Doc Searls and
David Weinberger

Last update: 3.10.03 (More typos fixed 1.29.08)

There are mistakes and there are mistakes.

Some mistakes we learn from. For example: Thinking that selling toys for pets on the Web is a great way to get rich. We’re not going to do that again.

Other mistakes we insist on making over and over. For example, thinking that:

  • …the Web, like television, is a way to hold eyeballs still while advertisers spray them with messages.
  • …the Net is something that telcos and cable companies should filter, control and otherwise “improve.”
  • … it’s a bad thing for users to communicate between different kinds of instant messaging systems on the Net.
  • …the Net suffers from a lack of regulation to protect industries that feel threatened by it.

When it comes to the Net, a lot of us suffer from Repetitive Mistake Syndrome. This is especially true for magazine and newspaper publishing, broadcasting, cable television, the record industry, the movie industry, and the telephone industry, to name just six.

Thanks to the enormous influence of those industries in Washington, Repetitive Mistake Syndrome also afflicts lawmakers, regulators and even the courts. Last year Internet radio, a promising new industry that threatened to give listeners choices far exceeding anything on the increasingly variety-less (and technologically stone-age) AM and FM bands, was shot in its cradle. Guns, ammo and the occasional “Yee-Haw!” were provided by the recording industry and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which embodies all the fears felt by Hollywood’s alpha dinosaurs when they lobbied the Act through Congress in 1998.

“The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it,” John Gilmore famously said. And it’s true. In the long run, Internet radio will succeed. Instant messaging systems will interoperate. Dumb companies will get smart or die. Stupid laws will be killed or replaced. But then, as John Maynard Keynes also famously said, “In the long run, we’re all dead.”

All we need to do is pay attention to what the Internet really is. It’s not hard. The Net isn’t rocket science. It isn’t even 6th grade science fair, when you get right down to it. We can end the tragedy of Repetitive Mistake Syndrome in our lifetimes — and save a few trillion dollars’ worth of dumb decisions — if we can just remember one simple fact: the Net is a world of ends. You’re at one end, and everybody and everything else are at the other ends.

Sure, that’s a feel-good statement about everyone having value on the Net, etc. But it’s also the basic rock-solid fact about the Net’s technical architecture. And the Internet’s value is founded in its technical architecture.

Fortunately, the true nature of the Internet isn’t hard to understand. In fact, just a fistful of statements stands between Repetitive Mistake Syndrome and Enlightenment…

The Nutshell
1. The Internet isn’t complicated
2. The Internet isn’t a thing. It’s an agreement.
3. The Internet is stupid.
4. Adding value to the Internet lowers its value.
5. All the Internet’s value grows on its edges.
6. Money moves to the suburbs.
7. The end of the world? Nah, the world of ends.
8. The Internet’s three virtues:
a. No one owns it
b. Everyone can use it
c. Anyone can improve it
9. If the Internet is so simple, why have so many been so boneheaded about it?
10. Some mistakes we can stop making already
======================== end of partial copy========================
The FULL TEXT of Doc and David can be read at http://worldofends.com
4. Craig Partridge had the following valuable addition:
 “The one key thing missing about this voluntary construct is *why* people
interconnect.  And the answer is that people wish to exchange information —
for commerce, for personal reasons, etc — and so connecting network A to
network B is desirable for both sides– as both A’s customers and B’s
customers benefit.This of course, along with the Internet’s voluntary structure, is what
scares governments… “

He is right: information exchanged P2P between interested people is essentially what the drivers behind “internet” network interconnection agreements are:  the network effects 2,3 and 4 I described in https://theconnectivist.wordpress.com/2015/03/25/np9-engines-for-the-new-power-the-four-network-effects/

These last three create value P2P between people instead of the first one which creates value from centra for advertisers, corporate brands and governments.
That is why internet is not watching TV and it will never become only a bunch of TV channels, which just like water tend to flow to the lowest possible cultural levels of humanity.
ir. Jaap van Till, TheConnectivist
PS. By the way, it may be interesting to know to the legislators, journalists and other non-techn decisionmakers from governments and business; that “internet” is not soft and defenseless and can be mistreated and misunderstood endlessly and in any way. Its collective intelligence may at some points decide that corrections and or sanctions are in order. The New Power is a force that can bypass, disobey or it will be used to disconnect if that is the only way.

About broodjejaap

See ABOUT on TheConnectivist.wordpress.com
This entry was posted in Civil Society, Future of Internet, Internet fractal, Internet Freedom, Internet Governance, Internet success, The Internet Fractal, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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