A Practical Navigator for the Internet Economy


In addition to clearly stating a no commercial use policy for the vBNS for the first time, Steve Wolff explained his belief that the survival of the Internet would be enhanced by co-opting the telcos in such a way that by being invited into the Internet they would become assimilated into its culture. He concluded that with their economic and marketing muscle they could bring the Internet more cost effectively to more people more quickly than could the smaller providers. We disagree saying that we believe that he and the NSF are blinded by a high tech, high cost industrial age policy that fails to comprehend how effectively small ISPs can function.

On the question of commercial use of the vBNS, he maintained that his earlier intention had never been to promise commercial use to the winner. Asked about not answering bidders questions on commercial use in June of last year, he said that he felt to have done so might have affected what technology they bid and emphasized that he did not want to influence that in any way. He explained the reasons for the NAP's existence as beng the only certain way for the NSF to guarantee interconnectivity for its clients in the absence of a central backbone. The NSF's new connections program to the vBNS looks as though it will promote the growth of T-3 and perhaps even higher speed links among the regionals. Wolff also stated that as long as metered pricing by the amount of data sent or received wasnot the only choice, he did not view it as negative.

We gave Wolff over 3 pages of very tough questions via the net the night beforethe interview. He side stepped a couple but under the circumstances we feel that his answers were generally forth coming and quite useful. We do have a better idea of where he and his agency are coming from. We actually suggested that we'd try private approaches with questions in the future, if he'd provide some answers via ordinary email. We were disappointed that he did not answer a couple of simple follow-up questions we sent, but in view of his taking a day out of his schedule to meet with us we suppose we should cut him a break. We sent him the text of the entire article, which he acknowledged as being in general quite accurate - saying that he'd like to smooth out a word here and there if he could have found the time.


We republish Joe Stroup's announcementof Net 99 and Steve Wolff's reply about involving the large phone companies.


We examine by means of internal Ameritech memos and interviews with various sources Ameritech's plans for AADSnet - complete top to bottom Internet service in Ameritech's five state area. Because Congress has not yet lifted inter-lata restrictions on Ameritech, users of the service will have to pay a fee to other ISPs for cross lata carraige. The combination of the two fees is likely to be high enough as to make Ameritech's service quite expensive. However if Congress lifts the inter lata restrictions, Ameritech could have a significant cost advantage.


We republish Dave Hughes article on the Atlanta BBSCON - comple with a large photo of Hughes "in bed with IBM". ("Bed" was Hughes in the IBM OS-2 Booth promoting OS-2 as better than UNIX for powerful and inexpensive "Internet in a suitcase" systems.)


Working from the MERIT Aug 15 Transition memo and from source interviews we identify ATM inter operability problems plaguing the opening of the NAPs. Impacted by serveral missed dates (especially a delay from August 11 to Sept 22 in getting ANS connected at the Sprint NAP, MERIT admits that the scheduled transition of all the regionals to new ISPs and the NAPs by October 31 no longer appears to be attainable. Furthermore, with the vBNS cooperative Agreement unsigned as off Aug. 15, the six month period in which MCI has promised to achieve stability and make possible an NSFnet shut down by April 30 could become endangered. NSF will have to be incredibly lucky to avoid a third extension of the current MERIT cooperative agreement. We publish block diagrams of the American Internet pre and post transition.


Part One examines the ideas of George Gilder on spread spectrum and digital radios. Gilder claims thistechnology is powerful enough to change the way we license the airwaves. Allowing users to mauever like ships at sea to avoid inteference rather than exclusively relying on licensed blocks of beachfront property.

We examine Seybold's assertion that contrary to Gilder there is still a spectrum shortage. We conclude that the"truth' is some where between the two positins and that spread spectrum technologies can be relied upon for Internet access. We do some research at the FCC moreover and findthat before the big owners of spectrum blocks and the security agencies moved in that the FCC was prepared to give vastly more freedom to the use of spread spectrm technology. We conclude part one with an exaimination of CDPD and digital cellular systems.


Installment three of the Russian Internet Special Report offers interviews with a series of users. Bill Fick and Olga Galkina of Irex describe their assistance to universities and libraries. we also visit Sun Micro Systems sales office, REDLab at Moscow university, and Sasha Galitsky at Zelenograd. Installment 4 in November.

Preface to the Wolf Interview

In a nearly four hour one-on-one August 15 interview with the COOK Report at the University of Pennsylvannia Steve Wolff announced a significant reversal of NSF policy on commercial use of the the vBNS. Wolff had stated in com-priv on December 29, 1993 that in the "new NSFNET solicitation (NSF 93 - 52) (1) shared use of the vBNS by its provider is explicitly allowed . . ." Wolff was also qouted by Ellen Messmer in Network World on February 21, 1994 as saying "there will be no prohibition of commercial traffic on the vBNS," and "MCI will get valuable experience selling this type of service to their clientele." On August 15, 1994 he told the COOK Report: "The vBNS will not have commercial use. There will be a mesh of PVCs among all five supercomputer centers and MCI doesn't have any right unilaterally to place traffic on those PVCs." We applaud the change of direction on Wolff's part which, as far as we can tell, he announced to us for the first time. When we asked him whether this was not a significant reversal and cited these two assertions, he said that he had meant on December 29 only to assert the Boucher ammendment as giving the NSF grounds to make the NAPs AUP free and added that he felt his statement to us was consistent with what he had told Messmer in February. When we asked him by private email after the meeting whether he had publicly stated the no commercial use policy before, he did not reply. We asked a number of other sources via email and telephone whether they had heard any prior policy statement that commercial use would be disallowed. While none said that they had, some said that they were not surprised because the ATM technology involved would make it easy to segment the super computer center use from the rest of MCI's network.

All in all we believe that Wolff has laid to rest the earlier and misguided policy of granting the provider of a government paid for backbone commercial use of governmnet paid for facilities. He also disavowed what we believe was his earlier contention that he had Congressional authority via the Boucher ammendment to continue to do so. We protested to GAO the vBNS award to MCI on the very grounds that such grants of commercial use by government officials exceded their legitimate authority. While de jure the GAO turned us down, de facto the NSF seems to be now prepared to implement the more responsible policy that we had sought. We congratulate them for their decision. We had been crtical of NSF precisely because it had seemed to us that they refused to learn from the 1990 -1992 ANS controversies. It seems now that learning is taking place. For this we are glad.

As a result of questions asked about his co-opting the telcos statement we carried away from the meeting a better appreciation of how Steve Wolff views the Internet and his role therein.

He said: "Might telcos become dominant? Of course there is such a danger. Be careful when you begin to dance with the elephants. But remember if they employ illegal means of increasing market share, we have laws against anti-competitive behavior. I doubt that they would do something questionable and walk away unchallenged.

On the other hand if we draw them in now we have a chance of influencing them. Until they understand the desire for communication between users that motivated the CB radio fad and the internet style and provide, it they cannot do anything that will put the internet out of usiness. But if the telcos do understand it, their can use their muscle get it to more people more cheaply. While they are doing this they will also develop a common ground to discuss what these services should be."

It seems to us that he allows the big industry, high tech, high bandwidth, high cost view of the Internet to dominate his policy making process. To some the HPCC view of the Internet seems to dictate an approach that only our largest corporations with their economic muscle can handle. We distrust this point of view for two reasons. One - it ignores low cost lower tech ways that are extremely cost effective in their ability to act on a broad scale as enabling technologies both for the provision of internet service and the uses that ordinary citizens can make of it. Two - by potentially putting the internet and NII into the hands of a few giant corporations, it may well smother the diversity that makes the net so useful to such a broad range of people.

To sum up Wolff made it very clear that he has an academic and research consituency to serve and that when you get right down to the nitty gritty the NAPs are there to see that this community maintains its connectivity in the absence of a single NSF funded backbone. If this shapes the entire net in such a way that some of its grass roots users question, there is not much that Wolff, given his constituency, can be expected to do about it. All of which from our editorial point of view calls into question the appropriateness of having NSF design the architecture of the Internet for the rest of us. But as Wolff correctly pointed out, without major lobbying in Congress nothing is likely to happen that will shift this current direction.