Re: Tim Berners-Lee worries?

James O'Keefe (
Fri, 30 Aug 1996 10:31:11 -0400

DIRTY SECRET. The Internet is beginning to suffer from a lack of manners
as well. One dirty little secret is that most phone calls and
videoconferences ram their way past data transmissions by using a bully
of a communications method called User Datagram Protocol, or UDP. Unlike
the more polite Transmission Control Protocol, TCP, which drops back when
it detects congestion, UDP continues at full speed, elbowing ahead of TCP
traffic. Yet UDP customers aren't paying anything extra for their fast
lane. What's to stop it from being abused? ``It's really basically
altruism and peer pressure and people knowing each other,'' says Jeffrey
K. MacKie-Mason, an associate professor of economics, information, and
public policy at the University of Michigan.

Excuse me? UDP bullying TCP? If a network gets too congested, the
routers drop packets. It doesn't matter if they are TCP or UDP. If
the program using UDP wants to make sure it gets its packet there it
implements flow control and reliability at a higher protocol level.
TCP makes sure your packets get where they should.

Altruism is hardly a workable ethic for an Internet that has become
huge, impersonal, and profit-minded. The Net's deficiencies are
reflected in the lives of people like Rick Cunnington, a mechanical
engineer from Chandler, Ariz. After discovering the Internet, he says,
``I jumped into it with both feet,'' using it to plan a vacation,
exchange E-mail, and weigh investments. But when he researched the
purchase of a water softener, all he got was product puffery. And he
spent five hours over three days searching for historical stock data.
Finally, he got off the Information Superhighway, into his car, and onto
Interstate 10, down to the Phoenix public library. There, he spent less
than an hour getting the information from microfilm. Cunnington's
advice about cruising the Net: ``Take your sleeping bag.'' isn't all that it is cracked up to be. What a
discovery. :-)

CLEARER PATH. Internet skeptics--or perhaps realists--are redirecting
their money away from the Net and toward private ``intranets,'' where
they see a clearer path to profitability. These internal networks work
like the Internet and can communicate with it but are built for a
company's own employees, big customers, and suppliers. Intranets aid
collaboration by pulling together data on incompatible computers. Zona
Research Inc. in Redwood City, Calif., predicts that in 1999, spending
on host computers and software for intranets will exceed Internet
spending by 6 to 1 (chart).

Why am I not surprised. Maybe because a company that wants to setup
every computer with TCP/IP needs to build an intranet first. Such a
company generally needs an intranet before it can get on the internet.


The Internet, in contrast, suffers from topsy-turvy financial incentives
because of its legacy as a government-subsidized enterprise. Big
Internet service providers such as MCI Communications Corp. and Sprint
Corp. have long accepted traffic from many of the smaller ones without
demanding payment. But that practice has become onerous. So they're
raising standards for admission to the club of ``peers'' that exchange
traffic for free. All others must pay.

That change will spill over to the way carriers charge their customers.
If one carrier is charged by others for sending them lots of, say, video
signals, it will turn around and raise the fees for that kind of
traffic. Such usage-based payment will discourage capacity-hogging
traffic that doesn't make economic sense. And it will raise money for
investment to support other services that do make sense--phone calling,

Well yes, maybe, but with a lag time of several months to get the bill
and get everyone to adjust their behavior.

The next step is to get the phone companies and cable-TV operators to
invest more. Today, says Roger S. Siboni, national managing partner of
KPMG Peat Marwick, the carriers that provide Internet infrastructure
``are fearful that they'll be segmented out of the value
proposition--they'll be reduced to a commodity while others will add

If phone companies don't hold back the Internet, standards wars might.
Net technologies will take hold. Trouble is, no one really runs the
Internet. ``The framework that people cooperated in before is
collapsing, and a new framework has to emerge,'' says Robert G.
Moskowitz, a technical support specialist for Chrysler Corp., a big
Internet user.

Hmmm... perhaps the UN could step in. :-)