Who really knows how the internet works? Bueller? Part 3

There is a major disconnect that exists right now about the use, state and function of the information highway. Many leading internet policy experts simply don’t understand how the internet works on a physical level. They don’t know how the networks connect, worse yet, they don’t seem to care.

That’s one of the reasons that journalist Andrew Blum decided to go on his quest to find where the internet is housed. In part three of our interview with Blum, he told Chris Dorobek that the disconnect between how the internet actually works and the policies being created around it, is staggering.

“I covered the Broadband Stimulus Bill in early 2009 for Wired Magazine. At that time, I thought Verizon and Comcast were the internet. As a journalist you couldn’t get either of them to say much. They didn’t talk about how the internet worked at all,” said Blum. “Then, I went to the kickoff meeting at the Department of Commerce. There were at least 300 people in the room, all of whom owned pieces of internet. All of them except the really big owners were more than happy to open the doors and talk about their piece of the internet,” said Blum.

What doesn’t the policy community understand about the internet?

“One of the things that continues to be striking to me is that the internet that I saw, the internet that is very much reliant on this relatively small group of people, who trust each other, knew each other and who were eminently competent to make the internet what it is today, was very different than the internet I heard talked about in the policy community.

  • “The best example, is the talk about the fast lane. All I see are fast lanes. All I see is this effort to Peer Network, to create a denser mesh, to get my traffic from your network as directly as possible, in buildings like the one here in Ashburn.”

“What I began to realize is that the internet that is being discussed in the policy community is very much the internet of 6, 8 or 10 years ago. Things have changed and things have evolved in the past decade and the policy hasn’t caught up,” said Blum.

Peer into your crystal ball:

“I do think there will be a major disruption in consumer ISP’s over the next 10 years. Too much is at stake. We demand too much of the network. We have too few of options. Somebody will find a way to do a Starbucks for the internet. Sell us what we thought we were happy with for a dollar, sell it to us for 3 dollars. We will like it. We will stand in line for it. It might have some politics to it. It might say, part of what you are paying for in this new ISP is our assurance and our transparency about how we are tracking you, how we are filtering or not filtering information. So what you end up with is an organic internet. An internet where you are more aware of where it comes from,” said Blum.

The internet is run by a network of people? Do you have a favorite person in the book?

“Simon Cooper from Tata Communications, no longer works there now. But it was Cooper who introduced me and explained so much about underseas cables. He had a really incredible expansive geographic way of looking at the world. He sees the world in 5,000 mile links. Then he builds 5,000 mile long cables to join those links. That’s a very unusual perspective,” said Blum.

Who makes up this group?

“It is a bit of a traveling circus. The same people who may be in Ashburn Virginia one day, will be in Frankfurt the next. Those social ties are absolutely crucial to the operating of the whole thing,” said Blum.

Blum and Dorobek’s discussion was part of FCW’s “what’s now and what’s next” series.

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