The reason I visited 21 countries in six months, embarking on a technical voyage of discovery, can be traced back to an encounter I had with a platoon of bureaucrats. In June, 1991, I struck a deal with the Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), coordinators of the very formal process which eventually results in standards such as the Blue Book: 19,000 pages of international recommendations which define the operation of data networks, telephone systems, and other aspects of communication.
The deal was that the ITU would give me a copy of the standards in the antiquated online format they used for text processing and that I would convert the standards into something the rest of us could deal with and publish the standards on the global Internet. Instead of charging obscene amounts of money for this information, the standards would be available to anybody at no charge.
Organizations, rhetoric notwithstanding, don’t work for such lofty goals as the dissemination of knowledge. The real reason for this breakthrough in standards distribution was that the ITU couldn’t figure out how to convert their own data from the proprietary box they had built around themselves. My offer to do the conversion seemed an easy way out of a job they had estimated at U.S. $3.2 million. In return for converting the data and giving them a copy, I could publish on this Internet thing, this academic toy.
The ITU gave me half the data they promised and conveniently lost half the documentation to their Byzantine (both in age and in complexity) formatting system. Then, after a mere 90 days, the ITU abruptly canceled distribution on the Internet. The academic toy, to the bureaucracy’s horror, turned out to have over seven million people. They were shocked to see hundreds of thousands of ITU documents being accessed by thousands of people in dozens of countries.
Despite their abrupt cancellation of the project, the ITU still demanded a report. They wanted a certified bureaucracy document they could input into their process, analyzing possible scenarios and deliberating impacts.
This is that report.
At first glance, this report looks like it would get the bureaucratic seal of approval. It is thick, for example. However, this book is something different than the bureaucrats might expect. My research methods were unorthodox: I spent most of my time talking to people.
In fact, I talked to lots of people. In three trips around the world, I talked to people on the front lines: people who make computers, people who create networks, and people who use them. To explain to the bureaucracies facts that are painfully obvious to the rest of us, I had to leave the confines of meeting rooms and fancy hotels and go into the research laboratories, network operating centers, and bars and restaurants where real work happens.
This report is thus a travel book, a book of exploration in the tradition of classic writers ranging from Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton, author of over 50 books and master of 29 languages, to Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, author of careful documentaries about political campaigns and police conventions.
Instead of exploring the Nile or Las Vegas, I looked at the emerging Global Village. This isn’t a comprehensive atlas, nor is it a definitive history. Exploring the Internet really is a technical travelogue, a narrative description of the people and networks I encountered during my travels. In my visits, I saw something the ITU and the rest of the standards bureaucracy seem to have missed. The Internet is here and it is not an academic toy.
While I saw many people, I should add that even in three circumnavigations, I couldn’t see everybody. This is one walk through the forest, and there are many trails one can take. This book is a selective look at some of the people, laboratories, and institutions that help illustrate the diversity and the scope of the Internet.
This voyage would not have been possible without the support of Interop Company which helped finance my travel expenses. Be aware, though, that this book is mine, not theirs. There are many opinions which are not shared by Interop Company and it is a great credit to Interop Company that they felt it important to finance this kind of work.
This book would not have been possible without the help of the hundreds of people I talked to and particularly those who opened their laboratories, homes, and CPUs to me. The hospitality I encountered was truly gratifying and I am thankful for the time given to me by the people you will read about throughout this book.
This book owes a great deal to logistics, and I want to thank the Boulder office of United Airlines for their infinite patience. Infinite patience is an understatement when it comes to David Brandin, Stephanie Faul, Mary Franz, Ole Jacobsen, Martin Lucas, and Yvette Ozer, the editors who worked on this book, and it is to them that I give the biggest thanks.