The Last Mile

What else should IT executives keep an eye on?

Cerf: One of the most important things CIOs should be asking themselves is, Are we ready for IP version 6?

And if we're not, why not, and what can we do to fix that? The reason that's so important is that the Internet cannot continue to grow effectively without the new address space. There are efforts going on to implement that, but it's absolutely critical that our business sector, the private sector, be prepared for operation of both IPv6 and IPv4. The Internet service providers need to start offering that service. Not very many of them are; they're claiming they don't see a market for it. The answer is: We're going to run out of v4 address space somewhere around 2011, and that's not very long from now in terms of preparing a fully operational IPv6 system running concurrently with IPv4. So please pay attention to that.

We've spoken before about exaggerated claims that the Internet is ready to choke on traffic volume, especially video traffic. Those claims obscure real problems at the edge of the network, the so-called last mile.

Cerf: There is substantial capacity--potential, anyway--in the core of the Net. The edges are at issue, and part of the reason is that there too few competitors providing service. In the United States, the idea that the Internet is choking at the edge of the Net might have some validity. Our delivery capacities are far less than what other countries and other Internet providers have been able to achieve.

This raises big questions. What kind of network environment, what kind of information environment, are we providing the general population and the business community in the United States? If the answer is a weaker, less-effective one than in other places in the world, is that going to disable us in some way? Is it going to retard our ability to be competitive?

It worries me that we are not showing the kind of capacity and economics that other places are. We have to guard against an argument that says, I can provide these kinds of capacities and capabilities only if you remove from me any responsibility for fairness or any responsibility for openness. That has been a thematic argument that many of the broadband providers have made over the course of the last decade. The consequence now is that we don't have very effective broadband services.

I no longer believe that intermodal competition is going to be a solution to the problem. That had been the thematic argument in the FCC for quite some time, that if they just relax all regulatory strictures, lots of people would jump in to offer broadband service. So we need other kinds of mechanisms for maintaining fair access to these resources, especially for value-added providers. We need to think more about the Internet infrastructure provision, maybe even go so far as to reconsider decisions that segregate basic and enhanced access, and common carriage requirements for people providing basic service.

If the objective is widespread broadband access to Internet service, then it's time we stepped back and ask ourselves, How do we achieve that? Because we don't seem to be moving down a path that's effective.

You helped launch the Internet for Everyone group, which aims to close the digital divide.

Cerf: Having access to information can make you a lot more competitive, and so from a national point of view, having a well-informed population is valuable. Unless the rest of the world is as enabled as we are, it doesn't represent a market for the things we can do with this online environment. So we care a lot about erasing the digital divide for the purely selfish reason of increasing our economic benefit. Of course, we hope, that it also increases economic benefit for everyone else.

But I also believe that cooperation and sharing of information is by far the most powerful tool we've got. So, when people speak about competitiveness, I cringe a little bit, because part of the value of the Internet is its openness and ability to share information.

This article was originally published on 09-25-2008
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