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Network Working Group                                           M. Kapor
Request for Comments: 1259                Electronic Frontier Foundation
                                                          September 1991

                        Building The Open Road:
          The NREN As Test-Bed For The National Public Network

Status of this Memo

   This memo provides information for the Internet community.  It does
   not specify an Internet standard.  Distribution of this memo is
   unlimited.

Introduction

   A debate has begun about the future of America's communications
   infrastructure.  At stake is the future of the web of information
   links organically evolving from computer and telephone systems.  By
   the end of the next decade, these links will connect nearly all homes
   and businesses in the U.S.  They will serve as the main channels for
   commerce, learning, education, and entertainment in our society.  The
   new information infrastructure will not be created in a single step:
   neither by a massive infusion of public funds, nor with the private
   capital of a few tycoons, such as those who built the railroads.
   Rather the national, public broadband digital network will emerge
   from the "convergence" of the public telephone network, the cable
   television distribution system, and other networks such as the
   Internet.

   The United States Congress is now taking a critical step toward what
   I call the National Public Network, with its authorization of the
   National Research and Education Network (NREN, pronounced "en-ren").
   Not only will the NREN meet the computer and communication needs of
   scientists, researchers, and educators, but also, if properly
   implemented, it could demonstrate how a broadband network can be used
   in the future.  As policy makers debate the role of the public
   telephone and other existing information networks in the nation's
   information infrastructure, the NREN can serve as a working test-bed
   for new technologies, applications, and governing policies that will
   ultimately shape the larger national network.  Congress has indicated
   its intention that the NREN

      would provide American researchers and educators with the computer
      and information resources they need, while demonstrating how
      advanced computer, high speed networks, and electronic databases
      can improve the national information infrastructure for use by all

      Americans. (1)

   As currently envisioned, the NREN

      would connect more than one million people at more than one
      thousand colleges, universities, laboratories, and hospitals
      throughout the country, giving them access to computing power and
      information -- resources unavailable anywhere today -- and making
      possible the rapid proliferation of a truly nationwide, ubiquitous
      network... (2)

   The combined demand of these users would develop innovative new
   services and further stimulate demand for existing network
   applications.  Library information services, for example, have
   already grown dramatically on the NREN's predecessor, the Internet,
   because the

      enhanced connectivity permits scholars and researchers to
      communicate in new and different ways.... Clearly, to be
      successful, effective, and of use to the academic and research
      communities, the NREN must be designed to nurture and accommodate
      both the current as will as future yet unknown uses of valuable
      information resources. (3)

   So as the NREN implementation process progresses, it is vital that
   the opportunities to stimulate innovative new information
   technologies be kept in mind, along with the specific needs of the
   mission agencies which will come to depend on the network.

   Far from evolving into the whole of the National Public Network
   itself, the NREN is best thought of as a prototype for the NPN, which
   will emerge over time from the phone system, cable television, and
   many computer networks.  But the NREN is a growth site which, unlike
   privately controlled systems, can be consciously shaped to meet
   public needs.  For a wide variety of services, some of which might
   not be commercially viable at the outset, the NREN can

      provide selective access that proves feasibility and leads to the
      creation of a commercial infrastructure that can support universal
      services.... If we fully focus on ...[current] goals and work our
      way through a multitude of technical and operational issues in the
      process, then the success of the NREN will fully support its
      extension to broader uses in the years to follow. (4)

   In order to function as an effective test-bed, one that promotes
   broad access to a range of innovative, developing services, the NREN
   must be built so that it is easy for developers to offer new kinds of
   applications, and is accessible to a diversity of users.  For

   example, to encourage the development of creative, advanced library
   services, it must be easy for libraries to open their data bases to
   users all across the network.  And if these library services are to
   flourish through the NREN, then the services must be available to
   researchers and students all over the country, through a variety of
   channels.  Though the NREN itself is intended to meet the
   supercomputing and networking needs of the government-financed
   research community, Congress has wisely recognized that it can also
   function as a channel for delivery of a wide range of privately-
   developed information services.  To

      encourage use of the Network by commercial information service
      providers, where technically feasible, the Network shall have
      accounting mechanisms which allow, where appropriate, users or
      groups of users to be charged for their usage of copyrighted
      materials over the Network. (5)

   Congress can create an environment that stimulates information
   entrepreneurship by mandating that the NREN rely on open technical
   standards whose specifications are not controlled by any private
   parties and which are freely available for all to use.  Such non-
   proprietary standards will ensure that different parts of the network
   built and operated by independent parties, will all work together
   properly.  By employing widely-used, non-proprietary standards the
   NREN will make it easy for new information providers to offer their
   wares on the network.  The market will snowball: as more services are
   offered, more users will be attracted, who will increase overall
   demand.  The NREN will also be a test-bed for development and
   experimentation with new networking standards that facilitate even
   broader, more efficient interconnection than now possible on the
   Internet.  But throughout the stages of the NREN, all concerned
   should be sure that these functionalities are fostered.

   The NREN design and construction process is complex and will have
   significant effects on future communications infrastructure design:

      Building the NREN has frequently been described as akin to
      building a house, with various layers of the network architecture
      compared to parts of the house.  In an expanded view of this
      analogy, planning the NII [national information infrastructure] is
      like designing a large, urban city.

      The NREN is a big new subdivision on the edge of the metropolis,
      reserved for researchers and educators.  It is going to be built
      first and is going to look lonely out there in the middle of the
      pasture for a while.  But the city will grow up around it in time,
      and as construction proceeds, the misadventures encountered in the
      NREN subdivision will not have to be repeated in others.  And

      there will be many house designs, not just those the NREN families
      are comfortable with.... The lessons we learn today in building
      the NREN will be used tomorrow in building the NII. (6)

   The coming implementation and design of the NREN offers us a critical
   opportunity to shape a small but important part of the National
   Public Network.

VISIONS

   At its best, the National Public Network would be the source of
   immense social benefits.  As a means of increasing social
   cohesiveness, while retaining the diversity that is an American
   strength, the network could help revitalize this country's business
   and culture.  As Senator Gore has said, the new national network that
   is emerging is one of the "smokestack industries of the information
   age." (7)  It will increase the amount of individual participation in
   common enterprise and politics.  It could also galvanize a new set of
   relationships -- business and personal -- between Americans and the
   rest of the world.

   The names and particular visions of the emerging information
   infrastructure vary from one observer to another. (8)  Senator Gore
   calls it the "National Information Superhighway."  Prof. Michael
   Dertouzos imagines a "National Information Infrastructure [which] ...
   would be a common resource of computer-communications services, as
   easy to use and as important as the telephone network, the electric
   power grid, and the interstate highways." (9)  I call it the National
   Public Network (NPN), in recognition of the vital role information
   technology has come to play in public life and all that it has to
   offer, if designed with the public good in mind.

   To what uses can we reasonably expect people to use a National Public
   Network?  We don't know.  Indeed, we probably can't know -- the users
   of the network will surprise us.  That's exactly what happened in the
   early days of the personal computer industry, when the first
   spreadsheet program, VisiCalc, spurred sales of the Apple II
   computer.  Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak did not design
   the spreadsheet; they did not even conceive of it.  They created a
   platform which allowed someone else to bring the spreadsheet into
   being, and all the parties profited as a result, including the users.

   Based on today's systems, however, we can make a few educated guesses
   about the National Public Network.  We know that, like the telephone,
   it will serve both business and recreation needs, as well as offering
   crucial community services.  Messaging will be popular: time and time
   again, from the ARPAnet to Prodigy, people have surprised network
   planners with their eagerness to exchange mail.  "Mail" will not just

   mean voice and text, but also pictures and video -- no doubt with
   many new variations.  One might imagine two people poring over a
   manuscript from opposite ends of the country, marking it up
   simultaneously and seeing each others' markings appear on the screen.

   We know from past demand on the Internet and commercial personal
   computer networks that the network will be used for electronic
   assembly -- virtual town halls, village greens, and coffee houses,
   again taking place not just through shared text (as in today's
   computer networks), but with multi-media transmissions, including
   images, voice, and video.  Unlike the telephone, this network will
   also be a publications medium, distributing electronic newsletters,
   video clips, and interpreted reports. (10)

   We can speculate but cannot be sure about novel uses of the network.
   An information marketplace will include electronic invoicing,
   billing, listing, brokering, advertising, comparison-shopping, and
   matchmaking of various kinds.  "Video on demand" will not just mean
   ordering current movies, as if they were spooling down from the local
   videotape store, but opening floodgates to vast new amounts of
   independent work, with high quality thanks to plummeting prices of
   professional-quality desktop video editors.  Customers will grow used
   to dialing up two-minute demos of homemade videos before ordering the
   full program and storing it on their own blank tape.

   There will be other important uses of the network as a simulation
   medium for experiences which are impossible to obtain in the mundane
   world.  If scientists want to explore the surface of a molecule,
   they'll do it in simulated form, using wrap-around three-dimensional
   animated graphics that create a convincing illusion of being in a
   physical place.  This visualization of objects from molecules to
   galaxies is already becoming an extraordinarily powerful scientific
   tool.  Networks will amplify this power to the point that these
   simulation tools take their place as fundamental scientific apparatus
   alongside microscopes and telescopes.  Less exotically, a consumer or
   student might walk around the inside of a working internal combustion
   engine -- without getting burned.

   Perhaps the most significant change the National Public Network will
   afford us is a new mode of building communities -- as the telephone,
   radio, and television did.  People often think of electronic
   "communities" as far-flung communities of interest between followers
   of a particular discipline.  But we are learning, through examples
   like the PEN system in Santa Monica and the Old Colorado City system
   in Colorado Springs, that digital media can serve as a local nexus,
   an evanescent meeting-ground, that adds levels of texture to
   relationships between people in a particular locale.  As Jerry Berman
   of the ACLU Information Technology Project has said:

      Computer and communications technologies are transforming speech
      into electronic formats and shifting the locus of the marketplace
      of ideas from traditional public places to the new electronic
      public forums established over telephone, cable, and related
      electronic communications networks. (11)

   To both local and long-distance communities, accessible digital
   communications will be increasingly important; by the end of this
   decade, the "body politic," the "body social," and the "body
   commercial" of this country will depend on a nervous system of
   fiber-optic lines and computer switches.

   But whatever details of the vision and names gives to the final
   product, a network that is responsive to a wide spectrum of human
   needs will not evolve by default.  Just as it is necessary for an
   architect to know how to make a home suitable for human habitation,
   it is necessary to consider how humans will actually use the network
   in order to design it.

   In that spirit, I offer a set of recommendations for the evolution of
   the National Public Network.  I first encountered many of the
   fundamental ideas underlying these proposals in the computer
   networking community.  Some of these recommendations address
   immediate concerns; others are more long-term.  There is a focus on
   the role of public access and commercial experiments in the NREN,
   which complement its research and education mission.  The
   recommendations are organized here according to the main needs which
   they will serve: first ensuring that the design and use of the
   network remains open to diversity, second, safeguarding the freedom
   of users.  The ultimate goal is to develop a habitable, usable and
   sustainable system -- a nation of electronic neighborhoods that
   people will feel comfortable living within.

I.  Encourage Competition Among Carriers

   In the context of the NREN, act now to create a level and competitive
   playing field for private network carriers, (whether for-profit or
   not-for-profit) to compete.  Do not give a monopoly to any carrier.
   The growing network must be a site where competitive energy produces
   innovation for the public benefit, not the refuge of monopolists.

   The post-divestiture phone system offers us a valuable lesson: a
   telecommunications network can be managed effectively by separate
   companies -- even including bitter opponents like AT&T and MCI -- as
   long as they can connect equitably and seamlessly from the user's
   standpoint.  The deregulated telecommunications system may not work
   perfectly and may produce too much litigation, but it does work.  We

   should never go back to any monopoly arrangement like the pre-
   divestiture AT&T which held back market-driven innovation in
   telecommunications for half a century.  Given the interconnection
   technology now available, we should never again have to accept the
   argument that we have to sacrifice interoperability for efficiency,
   reliability, or easy-of-use.

   Similarly, the NREN, and later the National Public Network, must be
   allowed to grow without being dominated by any single company.
   Contracting requirements in the current legislation advance this
   goal.

      The Network shall be established in a manner which fosters and
      maintains competition within the telecommunications industry and
      promotes the development of interconnected high-speed data
      networks by the private sector. (12)

   Absent a truly competitive environment, a dominant carrier might use
   its privileged access to stifle competitors unfairly: "Use our local
   service to connect to our undersea international links, without the
   $3 surcharge we tack on for other carriers." The greatest danger is
   "balkanization" -- in which the net is broken up into islands, each
   developing separately, without enough interconnecting bridges to
   satisfy users' desires for universal connectivity.  Strong
   interoperability requirements and adherence to standards must be
   built into the design of the NREN from the outset. (13)

   After 1992, private companies will manage an ever-greater share of
   the NREN cables and switches.  The NSF should use both carrot and
   stick to encourage as much interconnection as possible.  For example,
   the NSF could make funding to NREN backbone carriers contingent on
   participation in an internetwork exchange agreement that would serve
   as a framework for a standards-based environment.  As the NREN is
   implemented, some formal affirmation of fair access is needed --
   ideally by an "Internet Exchange Association" formed to settle common
   rules and standards.  (Their efforts, if strong enough, could
   forestall a costly, wasteful crazy-quilt of new regulations from the
   FCC and 50 State Public Utilities Commissions.) This association
   should decide upon a "basket" of standard services -- including
   messaging, directories, international connections, access to
   information providers, billing, and probably more -- that are
   guaranteed for universal interconnection.  The Commercial Internet
   Exchange (CIX) formed in 1991 by three commercial inter-networking
   carriers represents a substantive, initial move in this direction.

II.  Create an Open Platform for Innovation

   Encourage information entrepreneurship through an open architecture
   (non-proprietary) platform, with low barriers to entry for
   information providers.

   The most valuable contribution of the computer industry in the past
   generation is not a machine, but an idea -- the principle of open
   architecture.  Typically, a hardware company (an Apple or IBM, for
   instance) neither designs its own applications software nor requires
   licenses of its application vendors.  Both practices were the norm in
   the mainframe era of computing.  Instead, in the personal computer
   market, the hardware company creates a "platform" -- a common set of
   specifications, published openly so that other, often smaller,
   independent firms can develop their own products (like the
   spreadsheet program) to work with it.  In this way, the host company
   takes advantage of the smaller companies' ingenuity and creativity.

   Even interfaces rigidly controlled by a single manufacturer, like the
   Macintosh, embrace the platform concept.  Two years ago, when Apple
   began planning the System 7 release of its Macintosh operating
   system, one of its first steps was to invite comment from software
   companies like Macromind, Aldus, Silicon Beach, and T/Maker.  In
   substantive, sometimes very argumentative sessions, Apple revealed
   the capabilities it planned to these independents, who knew their
   customers and needs much better than Apple.  One multi-media company,
   after arguing that Apple should take a different technical turn,
   actually found itself doing the work in a joint project.  The most
   useful job of Apple's famous "evangelists" is not selling the Mac
   specs, but listening to outsiders, and helping Apple itself stay
   flexible enough to work with independent innovators effectively.

   In the design of the NREN, information entrepreneurship can best be
   promoted by building with open standards, and by making the network
   attractive to as many service providers and developers as possible.
   The standards adopted must meet the needs of a broad range of users,
   not just narrow needs of the mission agencies that are responsible
   for overseeing the early stages of the NREN.  Positive efforts should
   be made to encourage the development of experimental commercial
   services of all kinds without requiring the negotiation of any
   bureaucratic procedures.

   In the early stages of development of an industry, low barriers to
   entry stimulate competition.  They enable a very large initial set of
   products for consumers to choose from.  Out of these the market will
   learn to ignore almost all in order to standardize on a few, such as
   a Lotus 1-2-3.  The winners will be widely emulated in the next
   generation of products, which will in turn generate a more refined

   form of marketplace feedback.  In this fashion, early chaos evolves
   quickly a set of high-demand products and product categories.

   This process of market-mediated innovation is best catalyzed by
   creating an environment in which it is inexpensive and easy for
   entrepreneurs to develop products.  The greater the number of
   independent enterprises, each of which puts at voluntary risk the
   intellectual and economic capital of risk-takers, is the best way to
   find out what the market really wants.  The businesses which succeed
   in this are the ones which will prosper.

   It is worthwhile to note that not a single major PC software company
   today dates from the mainframe era.  Yesterday's garage shop is
   today's billion-dollar enterprise.  Policies for the NPN should
   therefore not only accommodate existing information industry
   interests, but anticipate and promote the next generate of
   entrepreneurs.

   The diverse needs of these many users will create demand for
   thousands of information proprietors on the net, just as there are
   thousands of producers of personal computer software today and
   thousands of publishers of books and magazines.  It should be as easy
   to provide an information service as to order a business telephone.
   Large and small information providers will probably coexist as they
   do in book publishing, where the players range from multi-billion-
   dollar international conglomerates to firms whose head office is a
   kitchen table.  They can coexist because everyone has access to
   production and distribution facilities -- printing presses,
   typography, and the U.S.  mails and delivery services -- on a non-
   discriminatory basis.  In fact, the sub-commercial print publications
   are an ecological breeding ground, through which mainstream authors
   and editors rise.  No one can guarantee when an application as useful
   as the spreadsheet will emerge for the NPN (as it did for personal
   computers), but open architecture is the best way for it to happen
   and let it spread when it does.

   The PC revolution was brought about without direct public support.
   Entrepreneurs risked their investors' capital for the sake of
   opportunity.  Some succeeded, but many others lost their entire
   investment.  This is the way of the marketplace.  We should take a
   much more cautious attitude about the commitment of public monies.
   In the absence of proven demand for new applications, government
   should not be spending billions of dollars on the creation of
   broadband networks.  Neither should telephone companies be allowed to
   pass on the costs of the NPN in a way which would raise the rates for
   ordinary voice telephone service.

   Instead, we should position the NREN to show there is a market for

   network applications.  The commercial experiments just beginning on
   the Internet provides one source of innovation.  Deployment of a
   national ISDN platform in the next few years represents another
   relatively inexpensive seed bed.  As such experiments demonstrate
   more of a proven demand for public network services, it should be
   possible for the private sector to make the investments to build the
   broadband NPN using experience from the NREN.

   At the same time as the NREN is being debated and developed,
   telephone companies continue to push at the limits imposed on them by
   the "Modification of Final Judgment" (MFJ) of divestiture, the 1982
   anti-trust agreement which split up the Bell system. (14)  Under
   pressure from the D.C. Court of Appeals, Judge Greene recently lifted
   the information services restrictions on the BOCs -- despite the
   competitive tension between the telephone companies, cable TV
   carriers, and newspapers.  Thus, in the next year or so, Congress may
   well be forced to define a new set of rules for regulated
   telecommunications. (15)  Like the AT&T divestiture decision, this
   would represent a fundamental shift in national policy with enormous
   and unpredictable consequences.

   Many consumer and industry groups are concerned that as the MFJ
   restrictions are lifted, the RBOCs will come to dominate the design
   of the emerging National Public Network, shaping it more to
   accommodate their business goals than the public interest.  The
   Communications Policy Forum, a coalition of public interest and
   industry groups, has recently begun to consider what kinds of
   safeguards will be needed to maintain a competitive information
   services market that allows RBOC participation.  The role that the
   RBOCs come to play in the nation's telecommunications infrastructure
   is, of course, an issue that must be carefully considered on its own.
   But in this context, the NREN represents a critical opportunity to
   create a model for what a public network has to offer, free from
   commercial pressures.

   With all of the uncertainty that surrounds the RBOCs entry into the
   information services market, we should use the NREN to learn how to
   develop a network environment where competitive entry is easy enough
   that the RBOCs opportunity to engage in anti-competitive behavior
   would be minimized.  There is evidence that the RBOCs are resisting
   attempts to transform the public telephone system into a truly open
   public network (16) notwithstanding the FCCs stated intention do
   implement Open Network Architecture. (17)  But since the NREN
   standards and procedures can be designed away from the dominance of
   the RBOCs, a fully open network design is within reach.  In this
   sense the NREN can be a test-bed for "safeguards" against market
   abuse just as it is a test ground for new technical standards and
   innovative network applications.

   An open platform network model carrier from the NREN to the National
   Public Network would actually make some MFJ restrictions less
   necessary.  Phone companies were originally prohibited from being
   information providers because their bottleneck control over the local
   exchange hubs gives them an unfair advantage.  But on a network in
   which the local switch is open to information providers -- because
   the platform itself is so rich and well-designed -- creativity and
   quality triumph over monopoly power.  Instead of restricting
   information providers, the National Public Network developers should
   encourage the entry of as many new parties as possible. Just as
   personal computer companies started in garages and attics, so will
   tomorrow's information entrepreneurs, if we give them a chance.
   Their prototypes today, small computer networks, electronic
   newsletters, and chat lines, are among the most vibrant and
   imaginative "publishers" in the world.

III.  Encourage Pricing for Universal Access

   Everyone agrees in the abstract with universal service -- the idea
   that any individual who wishes should be able to connect to a
   National Public Network. But that's only a platitude unless
   accompanied by an inclusive pricing plan.

   The importance of extending universal access to information and
   communication resources has been widely recognized:

      In light of the possibilities for new service offerings by the
      21st century, as well as the growing importance of
      telecommunications and information services to US economic and
      social development, limiting our concept of universal service to
      the narrow provision of basic voice telephone service no longer
      services the public interest.  Added to universal basic telephone
      service should be the broader concept of universal opportunity to
      access these new technologies and applications. (18)

   The problem of disparate access to information resources has been
   recognized in other telecommunications arenas as well.  Congressman
   Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Chairman of the Subcommittee of
   Telecommunications and Finance of the House Energy and Commerce
   Committee warns that:

      [i]nformation services are beginning to proliferate.  The
      challenge before us is how to make them available swiftly to the
      largest number of Americans at costs which don't divide the
      society into information haves and havenots and in a manner which
      does not compromise our adherence to the long-cherished principles
      of diversity, competition and common carriage. (19)

   To address this problem in the long-term, there is legislation now
   pending which would broaden the guarantee of universal phone service
   to universal access to advanced telecommunications services.  Senator
   Burns has proposed that the universal service guarantee statement in
   the Communications Act of 1934 should be amended to include access to

      a nation-wide, advanced, interactive, interoperable, broadband
      communications system available to all people, businesses,
      services, organizations, and households..." (20)

   In the near term, the NREN can serve as a laboratory for testing a
   variety of pricing and access schemes in order to determine how best
   to bring basic network services to large numbers of users.  The NREN
   platform should facilitate the offering of fee-based services for
   individuals.

   Cable TV is one good model: joining a service requires an investment
   of $100 for a TV set, which 99% of households already own, about $50
   for a cable hookup, and perhaps $15 per month in basic service.
   Anything beyond that, like premium movie channels or pay-per-events
   is available at extra cost. Similarly, a carrier providing connection
   to the mature National Public Network might charge a one-time startup
   fee and then a low fixed monthly rate for access to basic services,
   which would include a voice telephone capability.

   Because regulators are concerned about any telephone service that
   might cause the price of basic voice service to rise, they are
   unwilling to approve new services which don't immediately recover
   their own costs.  They are concerned that any deficit will be passed
   on to consumers in the form of higher charges for standard services.
   As a result, telephone companies tend to be very conservative in
   estimating the demand for new services.  Prices for new services turn
   out to be much higher than what would be required for universal
   digital service.  This is a kind of catch-22, in which lower prices
   won't be set until demand goes up, but demand will never go up if
   prices aren't low enough.

   Open architecture could help phone companies offer lower rates for
   digital services. If opportunities and incentives exist for
   information entrepreneurs, they will create the services which will
   stimulate demand, increase volume, and create more revenue-generating
   traffic for the carriers.  In a competitive market, with higher
   volumes, lower prices follow.

IV.  Make the Network Simple to Use

   The ideal means of accessing the NPN will not be a personal computer
   as we know it today, but a much simpler, streamlined information
   appliance - a hybrid of the telephone and the computer.

   "Transparency" is the Holy Grail of software designers. When a
   program is perfectly transparent, people forget about the fact that
   they are using a computer. The mechanics of the program no longer
   intrude on their thoughts. The most successful computer programs are
   nearly always transparent: a spreadsheet, for instance, is as self-
   evident as a ledger page. Once users grasp a few concepts (like rows,
   cells, and formula relationships), they can say to themselves,
   "What's in cell A-6?" without feeling that they are using an alien
   language.

   Personal computer communications, by contrast, are practically
   opaque.  Users must be aware of baud rates, parity, duplex, and file
   transfer protocols -- all of which a reasonably well-designed network
   could handle for them. It's as if, every time you wanted to drive to
   the store, you had to open up the hood and adjust the sparkplugs. On
   most Internet systems, it's even worse; newcomers find themselves
   confronting what John Perry Barlow calls a "savage user interface."
   Messages bounce, conferencing commands are confusing, headers look
   like gibberish, none of it is documented, and nobody seems to care.
   The excitement about being part of an extended community quickly
   vanishes. On a National Public Network, this invites failure.  People
   without the time to invest in learning arcane commands would simply
   not participate. The network would become needlessly exclusionary.

   Part of the NREN goal of "expand[ing] the number of researchers,
   educators, and students with ... access to high performance computing
   resources" (21) is to make all network applications easy-to-use.  As
   the experience of the personal computer industry has shown, the only
   way to bring information resources to large numbers of people is with
   simple, easy-to-learn tools.  The NREN can be a place where various
   approaches to user-friendly networks are tested and evaluated.

   Technically trained people are not troglodytes; they approve of
   human-oriented design, even as they manage to use the network today
   without it.  For years, leaders within the Internet community have
   been taking steps to improve ease of use on the network.  But the
   training of the technical community as a whole has given them little
   practice making their digital artifacts appropriate for non-technical
   consumption.  Nor are they often rewarded for doing so.  To a phone
   company engineer designing a new high-speed telephone switch, or to a
   computer scientist pushing the limits of a data compression
   algorithm, the notion of making electronic mail as simple as fax

   machine may make sense, but it also feels like someone else's job.
   Being technically minded themselves, they feel comfortable with the
   specialized software they use and seldom empathize with the neophyte.
   The result is a proliferation of arcane, clumsy tools in both
   hardware and software, defended by the cognoscenti: "I use the "vi"
   editor all the time -- why would anyone have trouble with it?"

   If we have the vision and commitment to try this, the transformation
   of the network frontier from wilderness to civilization need not
   display the brutality of 19th century imperialism.  As commercial
   opportunities to offer applications and services develop,
   entrepreneurs will discover that ease of use sells. The normal,
   sometimes slow, play of competitive markets should cause industry to
   commit the resources to serve the market by making access more
   transparent.  But at the start transparency will need deliberate
   encouragement -- if only to overcome the inertia of old habits.

V.  Develop Standards of Information Presentation

   The National Public Network will need an integrated suite of high-
   level standards for the exchange of richly formatted and structured
   information, whether as text, graphics, sound, or moving images.  Use
   the NREN as a test-bed for a variety of information presentation and
   exchange standards on the road towards an internationally-accepted
   set of standards for the National Public Network.

   Standards -- the internal language of networks -- are arranged in a
   series of layers. The lower levels detail how the networks'
   subterranean "wiring" and "plumbing" is managed.  Well-developed sets
   of lower-level standards such as TCP/IP are in wide use and continue
   to be refined and extended, but these alone are not sufficient.  The
   uppermost layers contain specifications such as how text appears on
   the screen and the components of which documents are composed.  These
   are the kinds of concerns which are directly relevant to users who
   wish to communicate.  Recently independent efforts to develop high-
   level standards for document formats have begun, but these projects
   are not yet being integrated into computer networks.

   Today, for example, the only common standard for computer text is the
   American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII).  But
   ASCII is inadequate; it ignores fonts, type styles (like boldface and
   italics), footnotes, headers, and other formats which people
   regularly use. Each word processing program codes these formats
   differently, and there is still no intermediary language that can
   accommodate all of them. The National Public Network will need such a
   language to transcend the visual poverty and monotony of today's
   telecommunicated information. It will also need additional standards
   beyond what have been developed for message addresses and headers, a

   common set of directories (the equivalent of the familiar white pages
   and yellow pages directories), common specifications for coding and
   decoding images, and standards for other major services.

   Congress has provided that the National Institute of Standards and
   Technology

      shall adopt standards and guidelines ... for the interoperability
      of high-performance computers in networks and for common user
      interfaces to systems. (22)

   As the implementation of the NREN moves forward, we must ensure that
   standards development remains both a public and private priority.
   Failure to make a commitment to an environment with robust standards
   would be "the beginning of a Tower of Babel that we can ill afford."
   (23)  Since current standards are so inadequate to the demands of
   users:

      We ... need to endow the NII [National Information Infrastructure]
      with a set of widely understood common communication conventions.
      Moreover, these conventions should be based on concepts that make
      life easier for us humans, rather than for our computer servants.
      (24)  The development of standards is vital, not just because it
      helps ensure an open platform for information providers; it also
      makes the network easier to use.

VI.  Promote First Amendment Free Expression by
     Affirming the Principles of Common Carriage

   In a society which relies more and more on electronic communications
   media as its primary conduit for expression, full support for First
   Amendment values requires extension of the common carrier principle
   to all of these new media.

   Common carriers are companies which provide conduit services for the
   general public.  They include railroads, trucking companies, and
   airlines as well as telecommunications firms.  A communications
   common carrier, such as a telephone company is required to provide
   its services on a non-discriminatory basis.  It has no liability for
   the content of any transmission. A telephone company does not concern
   itself with the content of a phone call.  Neither can it arbitrarily
   deny service to anyone. (25)  The common carrier's duties have
   evolved over hundreds of years in the common law and later statutory
   provisions.  The rules governing their conduct can be roughly
   distilled in a few basic principles. (26)  Common carriers have a
   duty to:

        o provide services in a non-discriminatory manner at a fair

          price
        o interconnect with other carriers
        o provide adequate services

   The carriers of the NREN and the National Public Network, whether
   telephone companies, cable television companies, or other firms
   should be treated in a similar fashion. (27)

   Unlike many other countries, our communications infrastructure is
   owned by private corporations instead of by the government.  Given
   Congress' plan to build the NREN with services from privately-owned
   carriers, a legislatively-imposed duty of common carriage is
   necessary to protect free expression effectively.  As Professor Eli
   Noam, a former New York State Public Utility Commissioner, explains:

      [C]ommon carriage is the practical analog to [the] First Amendment
      for electronic speech over privately-owned networks, where the
      First Amendment does not necessarily govern directly. (28)

   To foster free expression and move the national communications
   infrastructure toward a full common carrier regime, all NREN carriers
   should be subject to common carriage obligations.  Given that the
   NREN is designed to promote the development of science, ensuring free
   expression is especially important.  As on academic said:

      I share with many researchers strong belief that much of the power
      of science (whether practiced by scientists, engineers, or
      clinical researchers) derives from the steadfast commitment to
      free and unfettered communication of information and knowledge.
      (29)

   A telecommunications providers under a common carrier obligation
   would have to carry any legal message regardless of its content
   whether it is voice, data, images, or sound.  For example, if full
   common carrier protections were in place for all of the conduit
   services offered by the phone company, the terminations of
   "controversial" 900 services such as political fundraising would not
   be allowed, just as the phone company is now prohibited by the
   Communications Act from discriminating in the provision of basic
   telephone services. (30) Neither BOCs not IXCs would be allowed to
   terminate service because of anticipated harm to their "corporate
   image."  Though providers of 900 information services did have their
   freedom of expression abridged by the BOC/IXC action, First Amendment
   protection was not available to them because there was no state
   action underlying the termination.

   As important as common carriage is to the NPN, it is equally
   important that it be implemented in such a way as to avoid sinking

   the carriers of these new networks into the same regulatory gridlock
   that characterizes much of telecommunications regulation. (31)  This
   would have a crippling effect of the pace of innovation and is to be
   avoided.  The controlled environment of the NREN should be taken
   advantage of to experiment with various open access, common carriage
   rules and enforcement mechanisms to seek regulatory alternatives
   other than what has evolved in the public telephone system

   Along with promoting free expression, common carriage rules are
   important for ensuring a competitive market in information services
   on the National Public Network.  Our society supports the publication
   of many thousands of periodicals and fifty thousand of new books a
   year as well as countless brochures, mailings, and other printed
   communications.  Historically, the expense of producing
   professional-quality video programming has been a barrier to the
   creation of similar diversity in video.  Now the same advances in
   computing which created desktop publishing are delivering "desktop
   video" which will make it affordable for the smallest business,
   agency, or group to create video consumables.  The NPN must
   incorporate a distribution system of individual choice for the video
   explosion.

   If the cable company wants to offer a package of program channels, it
   should be free to do so.  But so should anyone else.  There will
   continue to be major demand for mass market video entertainment, but
   the vision of the NPN should not be limited to this form of content.
   Anyone who wishes to offer services to the public should be
   guaranteed access over the same fiber optic cable under the principle
   of common carriage.  From this access will come the entrepreneurial
   innovation, and this innovation will create the new forms of media
   that exploit the interactive, multimedia capabilities of the NPN.

VII.  Protect Personal Privacy

   The infrastructure of the NPN should include mechanisms that support
   the privacy of information and communication.  Building the NREN is
   an opportunity to test various data encryption schemes and study
   their effectiveness for a variety of communications needs.

   Technologies have been developed over the past 20 years which allow
   people to safeguard their own privacy. One tool is public-key
   encryption, in which an "encoding" key is published freely, while the
   "decoder" is kept secret.  People who wish to receive encrypted
   information give out their public key, which senders use to encrypt
   messages.  Only the possessor of the private key has the ability to
   decipher the meaning.

   The privacy of telephone conversations and electronic mail is already

   protected by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. (32)  Without
   a valid court order, for example, wiretaps of phone conversations are
   illegal and private messages are inadmissible in court.  Legal
   guarantees are not enough, however.  Although it is technically
   illegal to listen in on cellular telephone conversations, as a
   practical matter the law is unenforceable.  Imported scanners capable
   of receiving all 850 cellular channels are widely available through
   the gray market.

   Cellular telephone transmissions are carried on radio waves which
   travel through the open air.  The ECPA provision which makes it
   illegal to eavesdrop on a cellular call is the wrong means to the
   right end. It sets a dangerous precedent in which, for the first
   time, citizens are denied the right to listen to open air
   transmissions.  In this case, technology provides a better solution.
   Privacy protection would be greatly enhanced if public-key encryption
   technology were built into the entire range of digital devices, from
   telephones to computers. (33)  The best way to secure the privacy and
   confidentiality Americans say they want is through a combination of
   legal and technical methods.

   As a system over which not only information but also money will be
   transferred, the National Public Network will have enormous potential
   for privacy abuse.  Some of the dangers could be forestalled now by
   building in provisions for security from the beginning.

Conclusion

   The chance to influence the shape of a new medium usually arrives
   when it is too late: when the medium is frozen in place.  Today,
   because of the gradual evolution of the National Public Network, and
   the unusual awareness people have of its possibilities, there is a
   rare opportunity to shape this new medium in the public interest,
   without sacrificing diversity or financial return. As with personal
   computers, the public interest is also the route to maximum
   profitability for nearly all participants in the long run.

   The major obstacle is obscurity: technical telecommunications issues
   are so complex that people don't realize their importance to human
   and political relationships. But be this as it may, these issues are
   of paramount importance to the future of this society.  Decisions and
   plans for the NPN are too crucial to be left to special interests.
   If we act now to be inclusive rather than exclusive in the design of
   the NPN we can create an open and free electronic community in
   America.  To fail to do so, and to lose this opportunity, would be
   tragic.

End Notes

   1.  High Performance Computing and Communications Act of 1991, H.R
   656, S.272 section 2(6).

   2.  High-Performance Computing And Communications Act of 1991:
   Hearing before the Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space of
   the Senate Comm. on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, 102nd
   Cong., 1st Sess. 1 (1991)(Opening Statement by Senator
   Gore)(hereinafter 1991 Senate NREN Hearing).

   3.  1991 Senate NREN Hearing 101, 103 (Statement of the Association
   of Research Libraries).

   4.  1991 Senate NREN Hearing 99 (Statement of Dr. Kenneth M. King,
   President, EDUCOM).

   5.  S.272 (Commerce-Energy compromise) section 102(e)

   6.  Michael M. Roberts, Positioning the National Research and
   Education Network. EDUCOM Magazine 13 (Summer 1991).

   7.  1991 Senate NREN Hearing 1 (Opening statement of Sen. Gore).

   8.  Details of the visions vary in their content and expression.
   Senator Gore's bill mandates that federal agencies will serve as
   information providers, side by side with commercial services, making
   (for instance) government-created information available to the public
   over the network. Individuals will gain "access to supercomputers,
   computer data bases, other research facilities, and libraries." (Gore
   imagines junior high school students dialing in to the Library of
   Congress to look up facts for a term paper.)  Apple CEO John Sculley
   has predicted that "knowledge navigators" will use personal computers
   to travel through realms of virtual information via public digital
   networks.

   Such visions are powerful, but they sometimes seem too much like
   sales tools; too vague and overconfident to set direction for
   research.  People often infer from the Apple's "knowledge navigator"
   videotape, for instance, that human-equivalent computer speech
   recognition is just around the corner; but in truth, it still
   requires fundamental research breakthroughs. Network users will still
   need keyboards or pointing devices for many years. Nor will the
   network be able (as some have suggested) to translate automatically
   between languages. (It will allow translators to work more
   effectively, posting their work online.)

   9.  M. Dertouzos, Building the Information Marketplace, Technology

   Review 29, 30 (January 1991).

   10.  See FCC Hearing on "Networks of the Future" (Testimony of M.
   Kapor)(May 1, 1991).

   11.  J. Berman, Democratizing the Electronic Frontier, Keynote
   Address, Third Annual Hawaii Information Network and Technology
   Symposium, June 5, 1991.

   12.  S.272, section 5(d). This section continues: "(1) to the maximum
   extent possible, operating facilities need for the Network should be
   procured on a competitive basis from private industry; (2) Federal
   agencies shall promote research and development leading to deployment
   of commercial data communications and telecommunications standards;
   and (3) the Network shall be phased into commercial operation as
   commercial networks can meet the needs of American researchers and
   educators."

   13.  The distinction between strong support for interoperability and
   something less is illustrated in the NREN compromise debate occurring
   as this paper is being written.  The bill from the Senate Commerce
   Committee (S.272) calls for "interoperability among computer
   networks," section 701(a)(6)(A), while the compromise currently being
   discussed with the Energy Committee adopts a more watered down goal
   of "software availability, productivity, capability, portability."
   section 701(a)(3)(B).

   14.  552 F.Supp 151 (D.D.C. 1982)(Greene, J.).  The MFJ restrictions
   barred the BOCs from providing long distance services, from
   manufacturing telephone equipment, and from providing information
   services.

   15.  The Senate, under the leadership of Sen. Hollings, has just
   recently voted to lift the manufacturing restrictions against the
   BOCs contained in the MFJ.

   16.  In The Matter of Advanced Intelligent Network, Petition for
   Investigation, filed by Coalition of Open Network Architecture
   Parties (November 16, 1990).

   17.  Amendment of Sections 64.702 of the Commission's Rules and
   Regulations, 104 FCC 2d 958 (COMPUTER III), vacated sub nom,
   California v. FCC (9th Cir. 1990).

   18.  NTIA Telecomm 2000 at 79.

   19.  Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on
   Telecommunications and Finance, Hearings on Modified Final Judgment,

   101st Cong., 1st Sess., 1-2 (May 4, 1989).

   20.  Communications Competitiveness and Infrastructure Modernization
   Act of 1991, S. 1200, Title I, Amending Communications Act section 1,
   47 USC 151.

   21.  S.272, section 2(b)(1)(B).

   22.  S.272 Commerce-Energy Compromise section 203(a).

   23.  1991 Senate NREN Hearing at 32 (Statement of Hon. D. Allan
   Bromley, Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy).

   24.  M. Dertouzos at 31.

   25.  See 47 USC section 201.

   26.  See ACLU Information Technology Project, Report to the American
   Civil Liberties Board from the Communications Media Committee to
   Accompany Proposed Policy Relating To Civil Liberties Goals and
   Requirements of the United States Communications Media
   Infrastructure.  (Draft, July 15, 1991) [hereinafter, ACLU Report].
   "Non-discriminatory access to new communications systems must be
   guaranteed not simply because it is the economically efficient thing
   to do, but more importantly because it is the only way to ensure that
   freedom of expression is preserved in the Information Age."

   27.  Though common carriage principles have historically been applied
   to telephone and telegraph systems, the preservation of First
   Amendment values of free expression and free press was not the
   motivating factor.  Professor de Sola Pool notes that telephone and
   telegraph systems inherited their common carrier obligations not so
   much out of First Amendment concerns, but in order to promote
   commerce.  The more appropriate model to look to in extending First
   Amendment values to new communications technologies is the mails.  As
   reflected in the post clause, empowering Congress to "establish post
   offices and post roads," the Constitutional drafters felt that
   creation of a robust postal system was vital in order to ensure free
   expression and healthy political debate.  As Sen. John Calhoun said
   in 1817:

      Let us conquer space.  It is thus that . . . a citizen of the West
      will read the news of Boston still moist from the press.  The mail
      and the press are the nerves of the body politic.

   Non-discriminatory access to the mails has been secured by the
   Supreme Court as a vital extension of First Amendment expression.  In
   a dissent which is now reflective of current law, Justice Holmes

   argued that

      [t]he United States may give up the Post Office when it sees fit,
      but while it carries it on the use of the mails is almost as much
      a part of free speech as the right to use our tongues. (Milwaukee
      Social Democratic Publishing Co. v. Burleson, 255 US 407 (1921)
      (Holmes, J., dissenting)(emphasis added).  This principle was
      finally affirmed in Hannegan v. Esquire, 327 US 146 (1945) (cited
      in de Sola Pool).

   See de Sola Pool, Technologies of Freedom 77-107.

   28.  E. Noam, FCC Hearing "Networks of the Future" (May 1, 1991).

   29.  1991 Senate NREN Hearing at 52 (Statement of Donald Langenberg,
   Chancellor of the University of Maryland System).

   30.  47 USC section 201.  Following much controversy about obscene or
   indecent dial-a-message services, a number of BOCs and interexchange
   carriers (IXCs, ie. MCI, Sprint, etc.) have adopted policies which
   limit the kinds of information services for which they will provide
   billing and collection services.  Recently, some carriers have gone
   so far as to refuse to carry the services at all, even if the service
   handles its own billing.  See ACLU Report.

   31.  See J. Berman & W. Miller, Communications Policy Overview 14-24,
   Communications Policy Forum (April 1991).

   32.  Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, 18 USC 2510 et
   seq.  See also J. Berman & J. Goldman, A Federal Right of Information
   Privacy: The Need for Reform, Benton Foundation Project on
   Communications & Information Policy Options (1989).

   33.  See Statement In Support Of Communications Privacy, following
   1991 Cryptography and Privacy Conference, sponsored by Electronic
   Frontier Foundation, Computer Professionals for Social
   Responsibility, and RSA Software. (June 10, 1990).

Security Considerations

   Security issues are not discussed in this memo.

Author's Address

   Mitchell Kapor
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   155 Second Street
   Cambridge, MA 02142

   Phone: (617) 864-1550

   EMail: mkapor@eff.org

 

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