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<nettime> INET '98, Geneva, Switzerland July 1998 (conference report)
cisler on Wed, 5 Aug 1998 22:40:54 +0200 (MET DST)


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<nettime> INET '98, Geneva, Switzerland July 1998 (conference report)


INET '98, Geneva, Switzerland July 1998

Conference report by Steve Cisler <cisler {AT} pobox.com>


The Internet has grown into so many things that saying you are attending an
Internet conference now is about as descriptive as saying you ate food in a
restaurant. While it certainly is not the largest or the most profitable,
the Internet Society's annual INET conference encompasses so many
commercial, technical, and societal themes that it's a good conference 
catch up on important issues and to bump into interesting people, many of 
whom are not on the conference circuit.

I have been lucky enough to attend most of the INET meetings from 93 to the
present. This is the most important conference convened by the Internet
Society, but with the competition from other conferences, it has been a
challenge to attract enough paying attendees and sponsors to stay in the
black financially every year. In 1997,  the World Bank and other development
agencies scheduled Global Knowledge '97 at the same time, and some chose
that affair over INET 97 in Malaysia which had low attendance.  This year
attendance was way up, and the size of the convention facilities, Palexpo 
in Geneva, Switzerland, gave enough room for all the activities, including 
a spacious computer room with  many tables of new machines and places for
laptops to hook up. It seemed, though, that people spent less time online
than in past conferences. Instead, they were out in the halls or at the
sessions rather than just reading email.

  A number of the people who helped build the Internet helped found the
Internet Society: Bob Kahn, Dave Farber, Vint Cerf, John Postel, and some 
of them are still closely associated with it. The board of trustees reflects
the membership and the composition of the Internet less than it did in 1993.
 It is mainly American guys in their late 50's trying to anticipate the
vectors that shape and sometimes distort the Internet. They are staying
ahead of the game(s) in some respects, but they lack the legitimacy and
clout of a big government or the resources of a company or foundation even
if they possess the knowledge. The Society does provide a meeting point for
government and industry notables as well as hundreds of attendees from
countries in the early stages of networking.

Network Training Workshops

Perhaps the most valuable service provided by the society has been the
developing country workshop, now called the Network Training workshops. This
year it was held in Rio de Janeiro for the first time, as well as Geneva.
The Spanish/Portuguese students did not travel on to the conference from
Brazil, but the Africans who attended the French and English training
sessions in Geneva also attended the main conference as well as a two day
workshop just following their own training.  Some people, even though they
are well trained, keep appearing at the workshops to attend year after year.
 To be fair, many students become instructors at home or in the regional
workshops, and if we take seriously the talk about a society where
continuous learning takes place, then the presence of experienced veterans
from developing countries is preferable to just having the "experts" from
the U.S., Europe, and Canada attend. George Sadowsky, who was recently
replaced as the main honcho for conferences, noted that most of the
countries that had connected to the Internet did so with the technical
assistance of some of the 1200 INET workshop graduates.

I attended the Developing Countries Networking Symposium, held concurrently
with sessions on education, ATM networks, website design, and intranet
planning.  Many of the attendees were from Africa, so many of the short
talks focused on African projects or experiences.  Erik Holst-Roness, a
consultant from Sierra Leone, calmly described their project to connect up
Freetown. With the help of Rosa Delgado, then at the ITU, they showed the
parliamentarians the various hardware and software options and demonstrated
useful applications. They priced the services, colocated at the telco, to
compete with local nodes for AOL and CompuServe. For $50/month, access would
potentially be available to the approximately 3000 computers in the country
of four million people. Unfortunately, an annoying coup d'etat took place
and stalled the project for a year. Holst-Roness remarked, "After the coup,
many businesses remained closed; investors were uneasy, and people carried
their laptops with them, in case they had to leave in a hurry."

Most of the other environments described were not as severe as that of
Sierra Leone.  Mike Jensen, a South African consultant who has written some
excellent papers on the Internet in this part of the world, commented on the
very high costs of local calls (as much as $14.00/hour in some African
countries) and the other penalty that developing countries have to pay both
sides of their Internet links, so data sucked from the web sites in Zimbabwe
or Senegal to the U.S. is paid for by the Africans. Jensen talked about
smart ways of reusing older equipment with new graphic interfaces, virtual
POPs to lower access costs, and the need for lower tariffs on information
technology. He maintains an important web page with information on African
telematics projects: <http://www3.wn.apc.org/africa/>

Lucio Goelzer of the ITU described a secure payments scheme to allow small
retailers to sell African artifacts and manufactured goods over the net. He
worries that the interactivity gap will prevent African companies from
taking part in the world market. Given that you need a credit card to make a
purchase, most of the customers will be from developed countries. There is a
link from the ITU site, <www.itu.int/ECDC> to the catalog <www.steerage.co.za>

Johan Ernberg, also from the ITU, made a number of interesting points.
Universal service in the U.S. and the developed world means access in each
household, but public access in developing countries means access to
telecommunications within walking or biking distance of the services.
Because about three-quarters of the world's population lives in rural areas,
Ernberg's program has been concentrated there. The more remote you are the
more you need access. However, he admitted that one of their projects in a
rural area of Suriname had been a failure. The populations was too sparse,
and the phone and fax received some usage, but the computer was rarely used.
The ITU models are meant to be self-sustaining from the very beginning
because everyone knows you cannot subsist on grants (even though hundreds of
these centers around the U.S. are still trying to do just that.)  A version
of his paper is at:
<www.unesco.org/webworld/tunis/tunis97/com_57/com_57.html >

I met old acquaintances from Uganda (Charles Musisi) and Venezuela (Ermanno
Pietrosemoli) as well as first time attendees from places not yet on the
net. That evening I had dinner with John Black of the International
Federation of the Red Cross. He came out of retirement to run their
telecommunications network, and as he said, "Every phone call you receive
could be a new crisis." As we ate dinner (with no phones ringing) we
discussed the recent tidal wave that had just devastated coastal communities
in New Guinea, and John outlined the different telecomm options: HF radio
messages (600 baud but useful), satellite phone, VSAT, and land lines. 
<www.ifrc.org>.

There were a number of speeches delivered in French, and in these
pre-conferences there was no provision for translation services between any
of the languages, though a few English talks were summarized in French. Some
of the delegates who were bilingual expressed displeasure at this lack of
service. One person suggested that ISOC should shift some funds from the
lavish evening parties to provide more translation services.

The whole language issue was much more problematic last year in Montreal,
but it's going to persist, especially as other languages are used for more
and more web material. Already the rate of expansion of Spanish language web
pages is more than pages in English.

High cost of conference

Another barrier is the registration fee. The cost of the conference is a
problem for the organizers as well as attendees. The registration fees can
be as much as $1000 which is a very high price for something billed as a
somewhat scholarly  meeting.  Transportation and lodging, especially in a
town like Geneva, are very costly. There is a gulf between those who can pay
and those who depend on scholarships or stipends from the generous donors to
attend. In between, many people who are interested in the topic can neither
find the funds nor a benefactor to help them gain admittance. Fortunately,
there were webcasts and the text of most of the papers online. A few people
come on their own (not institutional) funds. Few are young, and some are
women, but they do come from more than 100 countries. As I look through my
business cards from the past week, they are from Mauritius, Japan, Chile,
Mauritania, Madagascar, Tanzania, Kenya,  Honduras, and Latvia, besides the
more developed countries. It was very diverse in some ways, but not in
others. This is not a trade show, so it did not have a very commercial feel.
The modest exhibit space for about 40 organizations  was the same size for
each entity. Large corporate donors were allowed a place on the podium, so
we had infomercials from IBM, Cisco, and Oracle. This was annoying because
they each could have taken the occasion to address higher level concerns
than "intranet solutions" and how many hits IBM's Wimbleton web site
sustained.

Wednesday morning

After the usual welcomes and short talks and awards (John Postel received a
much deserved one) Vint Cerf gave his state of the net speech.  Cerf, who
was still with MCI in spite of the impending sale of the Internet business
to Cable and Wireless, remains the star attraction for the Internet Society.
Besides being tireless, ubiquitous, he also has time to absorb the ideas,
criticisms, and banter from hundreds of peers, admirers, and supplicants. He
is like an anchor tenant in a shopping center, and if that tenant should
move, what happens to the property values for the rest of the rentals? As
much of a celebrity as Cerf is, ISOC is depends heavily on volunteers from
all over the world to make its programs and events successful.

Cerf stressed the youth of the Internet, as a commercial entity, anyway. He
estimates there are more than 240 countries with a direct connection, 100
million users, 350 million web pages (which account for 75% of the Internet
traffic), and about 7500 ISPs around the world.

ISOC: missionary enterprise to outer space?

I have always thought there were strong parallels between the 19th century
missionary movement to bring Christianity to the "heathen" and the Internet
Society's  21st century drive to connect up the world (unconnected =
heathen). I certainly have evangelized the Net, and my son is spending his
summer installing networked computers in Madagascar, Zimbabwe, and Namibia,
so I don't mean that this zeal is misplaced, even though the legacy of the
missionary movement has been mixed. However, Vint Cerf announced a project
to work on interplanetary Internet protocols so that, even with long delays
due to distance, the net could extend to space missions being planned in the
U.S. The press ate this up, and asked for very specific answers to something
that is rather speculative at this time. Cerf posed rhetorical questions
about planetary level domains (.earth .mars). I'm sure there will be some
netrepreneur ready to sell you a domain name on Uranus by the time this is
published.

Back on earth the conference broke up into multiple tracks (new
applications: social, legal and regulatory policies; commerce and finance;
teaching and learning; globalization; network technology/ and user-centered
issues). Over 100 papers were presented. The papers  are available online
(www.isoc.org/inet98/proceedings) as well as some of the poster sessions.
The posters are for topics that did not make the cut for the regular
sessions or because they just did not fit in any of the existing categories.

Wednesday evening, the International Museum of the Automobile was open for a
reception.  The food was excellent, but the air conditioning was off during
some of the hottest weather Geneva has experienced, and 1500 of us were in
very close quarters. The automobiles were gorgeous. Old orphaned marques
like the Delahaye, Hispano-Suiza, and Messerschmidt hold a lot more romance
and beauty than old orphaned computers and operating systems. (I was using
an eMate with the Newton o/s.)

Youth on the Net: Visions for the 21st Century

I want to describe just one session of one track, user-centered issues, the
last on Thursday. About 50 people attended this event which was sponsored by
the Morino Institute. It was a nice balance of the youth expressing their
rather divergent views, with questions from the audience and Vint Cerf and
brief introductions and commentary by Laura Breeden and Sheva Gross. Sheva
did not try and inject herself too much into the whole event, partly because
the kids on stage were very forthcoming most of the time. To maintain some
privacy for the young people, I'll just describe them by their origin.

The young man from Finland was heavily into the Net, but he was very
outspoken about the limits of this kind of life. His friends spend as much
as 12 to 15 hours a day online, mainly with IRC running in the background 
as they work or play. He admitted that some have health problems from lack
of exercise because of back, arm, wrist, and eye fatigue. His mom bought him
a domain name for Christmas, even though she did not know what that was. He
seemed to be a born entrepreneur who wanted to learn everything about the
Internet, its policies, and then help make its future.

The Plug In rep from Palo Alto High School in California, said she was
interested in acting and that she did not spend any of her free time online.
For her, moderating a teenage chat room was work, and not a giant part of
her life. Teenagers seem to behave better online when other teens are
running the show.

The boy from Ghana, who is studying in the U.S., is optimistic about the
promise of the Internet for a poor country such as Ghana. He thinks the gaps
will be bridged because of corporate interest and private funding, and he
things infotech is the best place to make a change. He described how
different life is on the net from life in Ghana:

"In Ghana the society is very stratified by age. An elder is never wrong, so
you have to obey. When I started using the net in 1995, I saw that
everything is open. I could ask about anything, and there were no barriers
in people's attitude toward me.  If you tried to buy something in Ghana, the
shopkeeper might ask you where you got the money, but not online.  It made
me feel in touch with so many things.  A teenager can go and buy anything
they want online.  Young people feel equal when it comes to the social
structure. "

The Hungarian remarked that he could be anyone he wanted online, even a 50
year old woman. "I don't know if it's right, but it feels good!" he
commented.

The Finn said that the public sector was very strong in Finland, so there
were public networks, free access in libraries, and yet he realized that the
public sector is weak in many other countries.  In general the kids thought
the Internet was making the world more unequal, not less so.

All of them had free access, or at least they did not have to worry about
paying for connections. I think they knew they were privileged in many ways
that other adults from developing countries at INET were not. The Hungarian
boy admitted he used a "stolen account" for his Internet time.

None of the panel thought that filtering of content was very wise option (as
the U.S. delegate, Ira Magaziner did the next day), but there was not a lot
of discussion of the reasons for their views. Given the 90 minutes for the
panel, Laura covered a lot of ground, kept it very interactive, and so a
small number of adults heard some fresh ideas from some thoughtful young
people. Generalizing about them, as is Don Tapscott's big mistake, just
doesn't make sense, as was evident by the diversity of this panel. You could
tell this was a moving encounter for Vint Cerf, and the audience found the
whole exchange very refreshing.

Community  Networks

At INET in 1993 I had ten minutes to present a paper on community networks.
Five years later the session was again chaired by Laura Breeden.  This year
her session on community and civic networks included a paper about the
intercultural problems of La Plaza Telecommunity in Taos, New Mexico,
<www.laplaza.org> and why so few Indians and Spanish speaking residents used
the system.  

Germano Paini, a consultant to the city of Collegno, Italy (near Turin)
which has set up a ten stations "telematic workshop" and which employs 18
people for training and running the center. It was a good example of a city
run initiative that could be replicated in other parts of Europe and perhaps
some developing countries.

Governments and Internet Governance

The last morning was devoted to governance issues with speakers from the
U.S., Australia, and France. Mike Roberts, the moderator, made the point
that we were shifting our discussion from government to governance. As the
Internet expands, how much government is too much or too little. Donald
Heath introduced the topic by mentioning the government's power to "disrupt
or crush" and one member of the audience shouted "And to protect the Net"
presumably from the overwhelming commercial forces now so evident.

The French spoke frequently of the "patrimonie culturelle" and the need for
the net to be shaped by more than market forces. Catherine Trautmann,
Minister of Culture from France, talked about how much they had shaped "le
web" by populating it with material in French. A colleague, Jean-Noel Tronc,
technical counselor for technology and the information society, mistakenly
referred to the web as an American invention. I'm sure he was confusing it
with the Internet, but those from Geneva, the place where it was developed,
must have been annoyed.

Irene Albers, from the Dutch ministry of transport, felt the government
should "reflect society. They can do nothing except  encourage society to
find its own solutions, make its own laws, or cooperate internationally." Of
course, the whole political process is about what part of society the
government should reflect, and that is part of the tension in most Internet
issue: what part of the Internet society should new policies reflect.

Paul Twooney, National Office of Information Economics in Australia:
"For a lot of people the world does not have a smiley face.  We have to
manage the crisis of bringing villages into the 21st century.  We are seeing
a reaction to globalization and international networked communities.  The
instant communications will have a big impact on our economy;  it was driven
by the steam engine and then the gas engine.   The Internet engine will
change all of people's lives.

Regional groups fear that all these services reduce the number of people
delivering services below a level at which the communities can survive. 
These technologies denude the communities. This process results in a "clash
of myths." The myths that Australia has of itself  are beginning to
disintegrate.  There are many myths sitting in this room. "

In another session Ira Magaziner made a few comments, but he was in town
mainly for the IFWP post conference. 

"Anyone those thinks we understand where the Internet is heading is fooling
himself. We need to respond quickly to its fluidity. The Internet has the
potential to enhance individual.freedom.  People are no longer locked into
their geographic communities, and each of those can have different sets of
rules."  Dictatorship depends upon control of information, so we have to
maximize the individual freedom, so we should not have centralized control.
 
Where there is, coordination necessary (not governance),.  So far the IETF
and ISOC's  model with limited purpose and stakeholder based, this has
worked. As the stakeholders increased, so have the groups involved.   ...

"We are Democrats and believe that government has a role in society.
Governments. have to deal with taxation.   Governments should be involved in
a minimal transparent way.  One key feature now: government. will protect
people against abuses.  In this age the people will be given the tools to
protect themselves  <i.e. they may buy software filters>): In questions of
content, we won't have government laws, we will have tools to filter what
comes into their own home.  So the government helps set goals of 'societal
values.'   Adults want control because their kids understand it better than
they do. "

IFWP post conference

I did not attend the two day meeting on the International Forum on the White
Paper that struggled with the domain name problems. This web site has some
good summaries of the working groups, the white paper, and will have
audio/video recordings later: <www.geneva.ifwp.org>  Milton Mueller of
Syracuse University posted a long report from the conference on nettime
which is archived here: <www.factory.org/nettime/archive/1931.html>. 

Conclusion

In 1999 the conference will be held in San Jose, California. There is
already a call for papers, and I'd urge those of you with a strong interest
in local issues, whether it is connectivity, learning, small business
commerce, community networking or local cultural preservation to consider
submitting an abstract.  While the TCP/IP protocols may be intergalactic, it
is evident that more and more solutions to real problems in all countries
rely on local knowledge and local deliberation.  These will prove to be the
most valuable and interesting contributions to future conferences.

Steve Cisler is involved in a variety of community and public access
projects both online and offline. His home page is home.inreach.com/cisler.
---
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