The Internet is Not Telecom!
We tend to treat the Internet as another communications network. It isn't -- it's the idea that we can create solutions independent of the telecom services14-May-2007

This is a version of my March 2007 VON Column

In my last column, I encouraged you to look past the mystery of telecom and understand that there is no magic. The Internet is really just an expression of a simple idea–the end-to-end principle– the idea that we can create our own solutions instead of depending upon a solution provider.

Instead of thinking of the Internet as just another way to make a phone call, we must look at it afresh as something in its own right. Instead of thinking of VoIP as being just like a phone call, think of it as establishing a relationship between end points. Unlike a traditional phone call, the network itself knows nothing about the call. There is no reality to the connection itself. There isn’t a meter running, and there can’t be. In a traditional phone call, the network maintains the relationship, and as soon as it loses track, such as when you hang up, the call is terminated, and you must “dial” again. The terminology is quaintly retro. Even when you use a keypad, you dial a call and you end it by going “on-hook.”

In my last column, I encouraged you to look past the mystery of telecom and understand that there is no magic. The Internet is really just an expression of a simple idea–the end-to-end principle– the idea that we can create our own solutions instead of depending upon a solution provider.

Instead of thinking of the Internet as just another way to make a phone call, we must look at it afresh as something in its own right. Instead of thinking of VoIP as being just like a phone call, think of it as establishing a relationship between end points. Unlike a traditional phone call, the network itself knows nothing about the call. There is no reality to the connection itself. There isn’t a meter running, and there can’t be. In a traditional phone call, the network maintains the relationship, and as soon as it loses track, such as when you hang up, the call is terminated, and you must “dial” again. The terminology is quaintly retro. Even when you use a keypad, you dial a call and you end it by going “on-hook.”

In one of my first columns, I referred to VoIP telephony providers as offering faux telephony. The fact that they happen to use an IP transport is incidental but doesn’t change the nature of the service. If you want to place a second call, you have to pay for an additional “line” just like you pay for phone wires. Yet a phone call is nothing more than a pair of end points and the ability to send packets. We can have any number of such relationships without consuming any network resources, except when we’re actually talking.

Why are we paying for phone calls at all? Why don’t we pay for e-mail?

It’s understandable that we look at the Internet in terms of the services we can buy. That’s they way telecom works. It’s exciting because we have so many choices. We can use the Internet for voice, to watch videos, to shop at Web sites, and to blog, blog, blog.

If a little Internet is so good, imagine what we can do with a lot. How come we, in the United States, don’t have 100 megabits per second like those in Seoul, Korea, Hong Kong, etc.? But as I warned in the past, we need to be careful what we ask for. In February, I attended an FTC (U.S. Federal Trade Commission) Workshop on Broadband Connectivity Competition. The first panelists gave an explanation of how the Internet works, and what they said was technically correct yet missed the point of the Internet. It seems to be defined by a set of protocols just like any other telecom service.

No wonder we’re mired in the morass of telecom policy. We find ourselves trying to get some “neutral” treatment even though we can’t agree on what that means. We ask for more broadband in hopes that we’ll get some portion of the capacity to use to connect to the Internet out there.

We can’t get to the Internet by fixing telecom. The FCC was created in 1934 as a way to provide telephony and other communications services by assuring a viable telecommunications industry. And today it has continued stewarding the industry, but today that places it at odds with the users. The empowered user is a threat because the more we can do ourselves, the less we need the industry. The basic idea of funding the infrastructure by selling services is inherently flawed.

We should just focus on the Internet. If the Internet is about our ability to create our own solutions outside the network using whatever paths are available, then we should pay attention and apply this lesson instead of asking for more “Internet.” The Internet is not a thing. What we’re really talking about is our ability to make connections–connectivity. The relationships are defined in terms of the end points and not the particular paths or wires.

Our home networks demonstrate the importance of ownership. We create our own networking solutions using the wires in our homes, and now they run at a gigabit with no usage charge. If we own our local facilities like we own the roads, we can expect the same dynamic. This is a positive agenda–connectivity from the edge. It doesn’t really matter what the telecom industry does if it doesn’t have the ability to prevent us from solving our own problems. Why beg for neutrality when we can seize the opportunity?