Who Rules the Net?
Vinton G. Cerf
The title of the book poses an interesting question, but makes the assumption that the Internet is “ruled” in the classical sense of the word. Contributors to this volume provide a range of viewpoints in response, some of which I find compelling and others with which I might disagree. Thus my writing reflects not necessarily endorsement or disagreement with anyone in particular but rather an abiding interest in and commitment to the health and continued growth of the Internet.
There are rules. Some of them are mechanical in the sense that the architecture of the Internet and the protocols that define its function determine the way in which it operates and the way in which applications like e-mail are or can be supported. Others are a consequence of policies set in a variety of venues and jurisdictions and informed or motivated by a variety of constituencies. Some rules may even be said to be set by the personal preferences and behaviors of Internet users, almost independent of outside forces. The ensemble of rule sets does not form a consistent or even coherent whole and there are notable conflicts, especially as local jurisdictions seek to enforce local rules on a system that is patently global (and soon, interplanetary!) in scope.
There are several aspects of Internet technology that strongly influence the kinds of policy issues that the system seems to engender. For example, the Internet Protocol (IP) essentially decouples applications from underlying transmission support. This has a profound impact on the nature of telecommunication regulation and bears further exploration here. The IP is largely insensitive to the underlying transport mechanisms and is agnostic with regard to an alphabet soup of transmission and switching services over which it is capable of operating: ATM, Frame Relay, SONET, DWDM, DSL, T1, OC3OC192, X.25, Ethernet, 802.11a/b/g, 3G/4G, GPRS, satellite links, HF, VHF, UHF, EHF, and so on. This decoupling effect extends to