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Date: Fri, 29 Jan 1999 00:01:33 -0500
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From: Micah Alpern <malpern@Princeton.EDU>
Subject: Re: Software Summary and Concerns about the future of the Net
Status: OR

Hi, my name is Micah Alpern and I work in a Cognitive Neuro-Imaging
lab in the Psychology Dept at Princeton University. I just finished
reading your Software Summit Summary and greatly enjoyed it. In an
interesting juxtaposition, I attended a meeting on campus today given
by the VP of CIT entitled "Toward Internet II". I wanted toss out
some of my own concerns about the final debate question you mentioned
in your summary, "Where do you see the Internet in 5 years?"

One of the movers and shakers in answering this question,
particularly in education is the Internet II working group
(http://www.internet2.edu/). In addition to increasing available
bandwith, another major portion of the Internet II initiative is the
establishment of what they call, "Assured Quality of Service". That
is the reservation and prioritization of packet switching. The
impetus for this development, says the Internet II group, is the
latency demands of real time data streaming (audio, video, etc).
However, the only way such a system would work (how to keep everyone
for labeling all their packets as highest priority) would be to
charge on a sliding scale for the better position in the cue. This
of course brings up all kinds of nasty problems for billing. The
speaker kicked around several different possibilities from the charge
being the responsibility of individual end users to the concept of
access to this resource being controlled at the department level
(remember Internet II is {currently at least} a strictly education
enterprise). The speaker made some interesting points, the most
important of which was the fact that the additional cost to the
university associated with 'superior service' could mean that
departments like physics, computer science, and molecular biology
would receive preferential access at the expensive of other
departments. He even went so far as to suggest that a fund may need
to be established so that faculty and students in the Humanities
could gain access to these superior services for select distance
learning and remote video conferences. This separation of important
"people/research" from all others is the first step in stratification
of the net and is antithetical to the very concept of the Internet
and the free flow of ideas.

When I first heard about this concept of prioritized data routing it
seemed fine (obviously someone's ftping important research data
should get higher priority than some freshman who's playing Quake in
his room) but it is a very slippery slope we are sliding down here.
The Internet II project is offering us sweets in one hand (Much more
bandwith) and a muzzle in the other (packet prioritization). When
(this is not a question of if, but when) Internet II technologies
transitions into the commercial Internet the poor and unfortunate
will be relegated to poorly paved secondary roads while the rich will
keep the "Information Superhighway" for themselves. To me this is
more of a impending threat to personal liberties than the closed
commercial software industry. It is the final death of the 60's
ideal which has lived with us up till IP4, all packets are equal
under the law and are not to be discriminated against based on race,
sex, point of origin, or point of departure. All I hope is that
those that make up the socially conscious portion of the Internet
community come to realize this impending danger before it's too late.


ps - I've only been rattling this idea around in my head for a while,
and perhaps I am missing something. I certainly would hate to be
against any technology that offers the possibility of increased
bandwith, but at least to my thinking so far, the social cost
associated may be too high. But perhaps, in our capitalist society,
this out come in unavoidable. :-(