The Internet vs. the Internet Dynamic: A Fast Path to Nowhere!
The thing we call the "Internet" is an artifact. The value of the Internet is in the dynamic that is akin to Moore's law for hardware. When we confuse the artifact with the Internet and ask more of the thing and confuse it with broadband we are in effect asking more of the past. The tragedy is that in asking for more "Internet" we lose it's soul.26-Sep-2007

The controversy over Net Neutrality is a symptom of a larger problem – the focus on getting more “Internet” as if it were a thing that carries the web over broadband pipes. What we can’t articulate is the importance of what I call “The Internet dynamic” that occurs when we create our own solutions by taking control at the edge. But today’s Internet is a prototype and demanding more of it leaves us with a desiccated husk by sacrificing this dynamic for more of the same rather than the opportunity to continue to innovate.

It’s not about neutrality vs. non-neutrality – it’s about the basic concept of what connectivity is. Is it about billing for predefined services and fast connections to providers’ services or is about the dynamic that has made factor of trillion improvements in capabilities so mundane we aren’t even aware of them while we continue to beg for a 10% reduction in price because we cannot comprehend abundance.

This diagram from http://koreacrunch.com/archive/broadband-effects is a dramatic reminder of the danger of missing the point of the Internet. The thing we call “The Internet” was created as an experimental prototype. The fact that it has worked so well is a testament to the power of the End-to-End constraint which precludes dependency upon carriers’ services. Thus we are each our own service providers creators and we are not forced to pay for services. Yet this diagram of “ubiquitous computing” is entirely about billing and baking-in the backward-looking assumptions.

The diagram is a carrier’s dream – everything revolves around the carrier as gatekeeper. Notice that there are no peer connections – everything goes through the center. This is similar to the model for Minitel in France in the 1980’s with all services going through the phone company’s network and billing engine.

But the Internet Dynamic is driven by solutions created entirely outside the network using commodity facilities. It has grown because we are able to take advantage of opportunities and thus don’t have to have fast pipes and thus we can take advantage of any path available.

Another manifestation of the insidiousness of telecom thinking is the whole issue of broadband speed. I’ve been experimenting with how fast my connection is and, no surprise, the speed varies greatly. I’ve had a 50Mbps/5Mbps connection via Verizon’s FiOS service. The actual speed varied from almost 50Mbps (in the “down” direction) to maybe a hundred kilobits depending on where in the world the other end of the connection is. I got nearly 50Mbps to Rochester Institute of Technology while getting only 10Mbps to a Time-Warner test site in the same city. Even that is far better than I get to other parts of the US where I’m lucky to get even one megabits per second let alone a billion!

I read that 1Gbps connections were going to be available in Hong Kong shortly after I had seen the Korean diagram. Something seemed off – I decided to see how fast my connection to Hong Kong was so I tried connecting to provider test sets and got well under 1Mbps from Hong Kong and less than a tenth of that to Hong Kong. What does 1Gbps mean? I already have gigabit speeds in my house. It’s easy to provide a 1Gbps connection. But is it really a high speed connection if I don’t get that speed between my home and other places on the Internet? It’s just a teaser speed and not real.

I’m sure that there are indeed fast paths such as the one I found between my home and RIT. But the carriers don’t control enough of the network to make promises. Yet they still make promises and have the nerve go charge us as if the promises were meaningful! They do attempt to use wheedle words. Verizon makes it clear they are promising nothing at all. Comcast advertises something called Powerboost, AKA “don’t ask, don’t tell” performance.

As I keep pointing out this rush for speed misses what is really important – connectivity and the opportunity to create what others’ can’t anticipate

The Korean focus on billability (it’s no surprise that they are so avid about cellular 3G services) and we fall for the sleight of hand that shifts our attention from connectivity to the façade of a high speed connection to nowhere.

When you are paying for a fast connection you’re not paying for the speed itself – you are paying the carrier for removing artificial barriers both inherent in the architecture of their delivery systems and barriers that are the nothing more than arbitrary policy decisions.

As long as we ask for more broadband and think of the Internet as the Web channel, we are going to stay impoverished racing as fast as we can – and getting nowhere.