Getting off the plane in Denver, I found myself in the middle of a minor blizzard. I collected my bags and fought my way through the snow to find the shuttle bus back to Boulder.
On the bus, I struck up a conversation with the clean-cut young man sitting next to me.
“What do you do?” I asked with some apprehension.
“I install custom industrial equipment,” he replied.
Well, I thought to myself, that’s not too bad. In Boulder, I hesitate to ask that question because more often than not the person is a professional aromatherapist, an astrologer, or a trance-channeler for mythical beings.
“What kind of equipment?” I asked.
“Large-scale bean sprout growing machines,” he replied.
The Boulder version of heavy industry. At least he didn’t work for Wholebrain Technology, the prototypical Boulder boutique, a business establishment specializing in “light and sound technology for mind expansion and brain development.”
The next four weeks were spent reading mail, paying bills, and sorting out hotel reservations in 43 cities. About half-way through my stay at home, I came home from the travel agent to find a fax from Pekka Tarjanne of the ITU.
The letter congratulated me for the wonderful work I had done and terminated the Bruno experiment as of December 31, 1991, a mere 90 days after it went operational.
The letter disingenously said that although the experiment was terminated, “measures are in progress for a similar service to be made available under ITU auspices.”
I had talked in Geneva to Robert Shaw, the technical staff member working on an Electronic Document Handling System. His vision, still very much in the conceptual stage, was to put a PC with X.400 software on the ITU network and offer only working documents to a tightly controlled group of people.
The letter from Tarjanne also insisted that I somehow convey to “all those who are operating info-servers with copies of the ITU standards that it’s authorization for distribution of this material ceases after December 1991.”
Kind of like publishing a newspaper and then asking people to return the copies. Even worse, many of the 21 sites around the world had invested money in upgrading their equipment to handle the ITU standards. A 90 day experiment was a farce. Pekka Tarjanne, despite his good intentions, had finally been beaten down by the bureaucracy.
I tried to find out what had happened from Tony Rutkowski. He had been called in (but only after the letter was dispatched to me), sat down at a table, and read the letter. He had protested vainly that once the cat is out of the bag, there is not much you can do, but his arguments fell on the unwilling ears of a bureaucracy threatened by any sign of innovation.
Meanwhile, I sent out notes to the Internet community, informing them of the ITU’s decision. Even if the ITU had not kept its commitment, we didn’t want to expose any of the other sites to an unwitting legal liability.
Of course, chances were highly unlikely that the ITU would sue anybody. A strong legal argument could be made that by allowing uncontrolled dissemination of its standards, the ITU had given up any claim to a copyright it might have once had.
One problem with undoing distribution on the Internet was that I had no idea where all the copies were. Just to make sure that I reached all the servers, I dashed off a piece for Communications Week, letting Tarjanne’s office know that I was performing this service for him.