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40th Anniversary of the Internet Raises Questions About New Barriers To Its Growth

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I wonder if Len Kleinrock has a Blog? His team at UCLA began tests 40 years ago that resulted in the internet.

It all began with a comic book! At the age of 6, Leonard Kleinrock was reading a Superman comic at his apartment in Manhattan, when, in the centerfold, he found plans for building a crystal radio. To do so, he needed his father’s used razor blade, a piece of pencil lead, an empty toilet paper roll, and some wire, all of which he had no trouble obtaining. In addition, he needed an earphone which he promptly appropriated from a public telephone booth. The one remaining part was something called a "variable capacitor". For this, he convinced his mother to take him on the subway down to Canal Street, the center for radio electronics. Upon arrival to one of the shops, he boldly walked up to the clerk and proudly asked to purchase a variable capacitor, whereupon the clerk replied with, "what size do you want?". This blew his cover, and he confessed that he not only had no idea what size, but he also had no idea what the part was for in the first place. After explaining why he wanted one, the clerk sold him just what he needed. Kleinrock built the crystal radio and was totally hooked when "free" music came through the earphones – no batteries, no power, all free! An engineer was born.

Social networking didn’t exist. Kos was Markos Moulitsas Zúñiga and not even a kid. The founder of the most politically powerful progressive Blog in the country was not born. Daily to Kos meant afternoon naps and toys, not The Daily Kos. Porn was Playboy. There were only a few on-line unlike the Billion today. Or should I say tonight. It is 8 PM in Honolulu as I write this for posting on Kleinrock’s Internet.

Artificial barriers threaten the growth of the Internet:

Spam

Hackers

Security Firewalls.

Authoritarian regimes

Corporate CEO’s

Phone Wars

"There is more freedom for the typical Internet user to play, to communicate, to shop — more opportunities than ever before," said Jonathan Zittrain, a law professor and co-founder of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. "On the worrisome side, there are some longer-term trends that are making it much more possible (for information) to be controlled."

Few were paying attention in 1969, when Kleinrock’s lab at the University of California, Los Angeles, Stanford Research Institute, UC Santa Barbara and the University of Utah started the whole thing. E-mail and the TCP/IP communications protocols arrived in the 1970’s , allowing many networks to connect thus forming the Internet. In the 1980’s an addressing system with suffixes like ".com" and ".org" created the architecture of what we have to day.

British physicist, Tim Berners-Lee, invented the Web, a subset of the Internet that makes it easier to link resources across disparate locations. Meanwhile, service providers like America Online connected millions of people for the first time.

Th Internet was not in full view of the corporations and political organizations that are now threatened by its use by the people. The Internet grew free from regulatory and commercial constraints that might discourage or even prohibit experimentation.

"For most of the Internet’s history, no one had heard of it," Zittrain said. "That gave it time to prove itself functionally and to kind of take root."

The U.S. government funded much development of the Internet for military applications.

The invention of the Web in 1990 by Berners-Lee, working at a European physics lab, was not hampered by security firewalls that today treat unknown types of Internet traffic as suspect.

Even the free flow of pornography led to innovations in Internet credit card payments, online video and other technologies used in the mainstream today.

"Allow that open access, and a thousand flowers bloom," said Kleinrock, a UCLA professor since 1963. "One thing about the Internet you can predict is you will be surprised by applications you did not expect."

That idealism is eroding.

Look at Apple and Google go at it and you can see that barriers are being thrown up to our use of the Internet.

Mobile devices that connect to the Internet, like the iPhone, restricts the software that can run on it. Only applications Apple has blessed are allowed.

Apple recently blocked the Google Voice communications application, saying it overrides the iPhone’s built-in interface. Skeptics, however, suggest the move thwarts Google’s potentially competing phone services.

On desktop computers, some Internet access providers have erected barriers to curb bandwidth-gobbling file-sharing services used by their subscribers. Comcast Corp. got rebuked by Federal Communications Commission last year for blocking or delaying some forms of file-sharing; Comcast ultimately agreed to stop that.

Consumer advocates call for the government to require "net neutrality". That means that a service provider could not favor certain forms of data traffic over others, a return to the principles that drove the network Kleinrock and his colleagues began building 40 years ago.

Service providers also discourage consumers’ unfettered use of the Internet with caps on monthly data usage. They will greatly lower access and impose charges for use that now is free. The porn and sex industry on the Internet is already there. But it could be in any area where corportaions can make money off of our use of the Internet or politicians and corporations want to shut down our public access to the conversation that Christine Yi describes in The Groundswell.

"You are less likely to try things out," said Vint Cerf, Google’s chief Internet evangelist and one of the Internet’s founding fathers. "No one wants a surprise bill at the end of the month."

Dave Farber, a former chief technologist at the Federal Communications Commission, said systems are far more powerful when software developers and consumers alike can simply try things out.

Farber has unlocked an older iPhone using a warrantee-voiding technique known as jail-breaking, allowing the phone to run software that Apple hasn’t approved. By doing that, he could watch video before Apple supported it in the most recent version of the iPhone, and he changed the screen display when the phone is idle to give him a summary of appointments and e-mails.

While Apple insists its reviews are necessary to protect children and consumer privacy and to avoid degrading phone performance, other phone developers are trying to preserve the type of openness found on desktop computers. Google’s Android system, for instance, allows anyone to write and distribute software without permission.

Yet even on the desktop, other barriers get in the way.

Looking at the new innovators:

Steve Crocker, an Internet pioneer who now heads the startup Shinkuro Inc., said his company has had a tough time building technology that helps people in different companies collaborate because of security firewalls that are ubiquitous on the Internet. Simply put, firewalls are designed to block incoming connections, making direct interactions between users challenging, if not impossible.

Already, there is evidence of controls at workplaces and service providers slowing the uptake of file-sharing and collaboration tools. Video could be next if consumers shun higher-quality and longer clips for fear of incurring extra bandwidth fees. Likewise, startups may never get a chance to reach users if mobile gatekeepers won’t allow them.

If such barriers keep innovations from the hands of consumers, we may never know what else we may be missing along the way.

___

Anick Jesdanun, deputy technology editor at The Associated Press, has been writing about the Internet since its 30th anniversary in 1999, and most of this Blog come from the AP article

As Internet Turns 40, Barriers Threaten Its Growth

Mr. Jesdanun can be reached at njesdanun(at)ap.org.