Jon Ippolito on Tue, 1 Mar 2005 01:34:02 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Internet2: Orchestrating the End of the Internet?

Internet2: Orchestrating the End of the Internet?

Anyone who wonders how the Internet will die will find one possible 
scenario in the recent decision by the Internet2 consortium to bring 
Hollywood into the design process for our next-generation Internet.

Hollywood is on a roll. In a fraction of the time that it took the music 
industry to emasculate Napster, the Motion Picture Association of 
America has managed to shut down the highest profile file-sharing sites 
(Suprnova and LokiTorrent) and begun to sue its own share of college 
students. More importantly, the MPAA recently persuaded Congress to 
legislate something their fellow lobbyists in the music industry never 
managed to achieve: a copyright control device in every player. By this 
July, every DVD player and TiVo box will sniff for a "broadcast flag" 
that prevents it from copying digital TV broadcasts. This hardware 
intervention effectively destroys even the possibility of fair use, 
since artists and educators cannot transform, parody, or criticize what 
they cannot record.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is mounting a noble campaign to 
grandfather a compliant tuner before the legislation takes effect 
[1]--but in the meantime the MPAA has set its sights on its next 
acquisition: the ultra-high bandwidth Internet2, which runs on the 10 
gigabit per second Abilene backbone:

"We've been working with Internet2 for a while to explore ways we can 
take advantage of delivering content at these extremely high speeds, and 
basically manage illegitimate content distribution at the same time," 
said Chris Russell, the MPAA's vice president of Internet standards and 
technology. "Those would go hand in hand." [2]

To judge from the statements of Internet2 bigwigs, their technologists 
have already capitulated before the battle has even begun:

"This wraps together the broad interest we have in working with our 
members and potential members on advanced content delivery," said 
Internet2 Vice President Gary Bachula. "Obviously we're interested in 
making sure that's legal and safe." [2]

The presentations I've seen to date from the Internet2 consortium, from 
music classes taught by "master" conductors [3] to biometric and 
authentication applications for "managing identity" [4], suggest that 
Internet2 is a broadcast organization in network clothing. While it's 
doubtful that everyone at work on Internet2 shares this vision, the 
consortium's choice to "collaborate" with the MPAA could give media 
conglomerates a chokehold on the 21st-century Internet.

The stated goal of this collaboration--to investigate new business 
models for streaming movies--sounds reasonable until you read that 
Internet2 is already capable of transmitting a DVD movie from 
Switzerland to Tokyo in under 5 seconds. (Cut to Jack Valenti choking on 
a bagel as he reads this in the morning paper. [5])

No Hollywood exec is going to sanction a business model that lets Joe 
User download a movie onto a hard drive faster than the time it takes to 
launch his Web browser. Forget streaming video on demand. Hell, that 
isn't even enough time to watch a BMW ad.

The technology behind Internet2 *breaks* anything remotely resembling a 
broadcast business model, which is why the MPAA will do its best to 
disarm the technology by installing Digital Rights Management directly 
in its routers to stop interesting content from ever getting into the 

Now, the idea of "intelligent routers" may sound appealing to the 
average Congressperson, but the technologists of Internet2 should know 
better. Internet 1 was able to adapt so quickly to new uses--from email 
to the Web to IM--because its routers are fundamentally *dumb*. As 
engineer David Reed and others argued in the late 1970s [6], an 
indiscriminate "end-to-end" network would allow its users to hook up 
ever faster and more capable computers to its endpoints, without locking 
out uses that the network's architects could not have foreseen. Broadway 
was built for horse-drawn carriages, but since then its level pavement 
and wide footprint has accommodated Model Ts and Toyotas--precisely 
because its architecture was not optimized for carriages. Even companies 
like Disney and Microsoft have publicly recognized the importance of e2e 
to technological innovation. [7]

Yet David Reed already smelled a threat to the e2e paradigm back in 
2000, citing among other threats Hollywood's interest in streaming 
movies. In "The End of the End-To-End Argument?," Reed imagined uses 
that could not be foreseen by intelligent routers, including 
"collaborative creative spaces":

"With broadband networks we are reaching the point where 'pickup' 
creation is possible--where a group of people can create and work in a 
'shared workspace' that lets them communicate and interact in a rich 
environment where each participant can observe and use the work of 
others, just as if they were in the same physical space." [8]

Reed's description of emergent collaborations bubbling across the 
network like so many games of pickup basketball is a world apart from 
the stuffy master classes of the Internet2 consortium. But it reads a 
lot like Internet2's stepsister, the MARCEL network of Access Grid 
communities [9]. If the "official" Internet2 consortium is a symphony 
orchestra in tails, the MARCEL network is a makeshift performance 
troupe. Internet2 has 200 university and corporate sponsors; MARCEL has 
a motley crew of artsy scientists, network performers, and Jitter jocks. 
Internet2 uses stable high-bandwidth videoconferencing for the 
privileged participants and netcast for everyone else; MARCEL uses the 
rickety Access Grid platform, which permits all users to participate at 
the same level.

As MARCEL's Don Foresta has suggested, "efficient use of network 
resources" will be the argument marshalled by the media conglomerates 
against creative re-purposing of Internet2, just as the phrase was used 
justify the commercialization of the airwaves even if it contradicted 
the physics of electromagnetics. [10] (In Italy fascist apologists 
vindicated Mussolini by boasting that the trains ran on time.) Again, 
Reed saw this coming:

"The architects who would make the network intelligent are structuring 
the network as if the dominant rich media communications will be fixed 
bandwidth, isochronous streams, either broadcast from a central 
'television station' or point-to-point between a pair of end users. 
These isochronous streams are implicitly (by the design of the network's 
'smart' architecture) granted privileges that less isochronous streams 
are denied--priority for network resources." [8]

Privileges and networks don't make good bedfellows. For all its talk of 
community and access, Internet2 seems to be offering a 
backwards-thinking hierarchic model of culture, a sort of Great 
Performances meets Reality TV. To be sure, MARCEL has experimented with 
broadcast models as well, featuring gigs by luminaries such as fractal 
mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot and Max/MSP inventor Miller Puckette. 
But these admirable cameos don't reveal MARCEL's true potential; that 
happens when three students from different continents suddenly realize 
they are in the same Access Grid "room," and begin trading Max patches 
or holding pen-and-paper sketches up to the videocamera. In these 
quotidian, pickup collaborations--as in the beguiling video-composite 
performances Net Touch and Net Hope organized by Tim Jackson's Synthops 
lab in Toronto [11]--high-bandwidth networks prove they can be even 
*more* reciprocal than low-bandwidth networks. [12].

While MARCEL has for some time seemed a promising platform for the 
interchange of ideas and networked art, only recently have I come to 
realize that it can also serve a valuable tactical function. Like the 
EFF's efforts to make room for legitimate uses of digital TV recordings, 
MARCEL's creative community can develop and showcase remixable network 
performances--both for their own sake as well as to provide empirical 
evidence for future court cases to defend the value of end-to-end 
networks. [13] In so doing its members can promote the vision of a 
vibrant future for the Internet--one that lets us all play onstage 
instead of admiring the players from the balcony.














[12] Theorist-gadfly Jean Baudrillard pointed out that reciprocality was 
the key feature missing from Hans Magnus Enzensberger's definition of 
emancipatory media.

[13] Cyberlaw guru Lawrence Lessig laments that a lack of empirical 
evidence doomed his argument in Eldred v. Ashcroft.

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