Towards the shift of Internet Architecture

“That’s what we’re delivering. Prepaid cards for Internet access. Complet avec number shortages and business travelers prowling the bagel joints of Rue St Urbain looking for a shopkeeper whose cash drawer has a few seven-day cards kicking around.

“And you come in here, and you ask me, you ask the ruling Bell, what advice do we have for your metro-wide free info-hippie wireless dumpster-diver anarcho-network? Honestly—I don’t have a fucking clue. We don’t have a fucking clue. We’re a telephone company. We don’t know how to give away free communications—we don’t even know how to charge for it.” — Cory Doctorow, Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town

Citizens, telephony dinosaurs like Alcatel-Lucent and The Man have different interests with respect to Internet access. That’s what I think Cory Doctorow tries to stress in the Someone Comes To Town Someone Leaves Town novel too — definitely a recommended read.

The above basic, simple-as-it-is idea has been on my mind lately, in the wake of the cablegates controversy. In a previous post I’ve talked about WikiLeaks impact on the freedom of expression on the Net — for a great analysis, read Henry Story’s great analysis on other WikiLeaks issues.

My premise for this post: WikiLeaks not only re-architectures society, it also catalyzes the shift of Internet architecture.

Recently there have been a number of cases that threat Net Neutrality, such as the Google and Verizon proposal. It suggests that net neutrality should not apply to mobile phone-based connections. This is plain wrong, because in Africa a huge number of people have access to the Internet solely via mobile phones. Moreover, as Jeff Sayre elaborates, it would allow an altogether new fee to be charged for wireless throughput. This means that content providers–bloggers, ecommerce sites, social networks, you name it–will all be assessed wireless transmission fees. The higher the fee paid, the faster their data will be allowed to travel. As such, if this deal would get closed, it would discriminate against content providers and certain users. In order to safeguard the future of the Net, it should be as accessible in wired as wireless (e.g. WiFi, mobile) circumstances.

I am a Net Neutrality partisan because I believe it is for the best.

Here’s why.

Today, what we see is that WikiLeaks dissidents attempt to make computer resources unavailable through DDOS attacks. Ironically, as for the cablegates this does not make sense since the cables themselves are being distributed as a torrent. This means that the sensitive materials are in a P2P space and virtually impossible to stop from being distributed. Even if the WikiLeaks “promotional pages” are removed, the DDOS attacks make no sense as Ethan Zuckerman notes on his blog.

“It’s worth mentioning that Wikileaks is using peer to peer networks to distribute the actual cables. DDoS may be effective in removing their web presence, but it’s going to have a much harder time removing the sensitive material from the internet. The DDoS attacks are actually a useful reminder that we still don’t have a good way to serve web sites on a purely peer to peer architecture.”

So in order to save the Web, we need a P2P architecture. And guess what, very recently Tim Berners-Lee picked this up in the W3C Technical Architecture Group:

“I brought up my desire to extend HTTP to allow it to gracefully switch to p2p under stress at the last TAG afce-face meeting.”

Extending HTTP to work with P2P might be a solution for DDOS attacks initiated by totalitarian governments, terrorist groups and individuals, but the DNS system, which translates IPs to domain names, and maintains top-level domains will still be controlled by ICANN, a non-profit institution.

This means that authorities still can take websites offline.

Luckily, Peter Sunde, Pirate Bay Spokesperson, is working on creating a decentralised domain name service for the Web.

The other side of the story is that from the telecoms. Hans Vanderstraeten, director of strategy at Alcatel-Lucent, reinforces what others in the industry have been articulating: that the Internet should be layered. He believes that the Internet will be growing significantly, and that this will clog the network. As a result, net neutrality will be impossible in the long run. So that’s why Alcatel-Lucent plans to be giving priority to services that are actually demanded by the consumer, such as YouTube.

For me the above is just a mere disguise of the dollar bill motive or driven by profits.

And I think P2P is the path to follow as to empower citizens on the Interwebs.

But the cablegates are getting governments, businesses and citizens to hop on the Net Neutrality wagon and we all are very curious of the outcome of this debate — that’s something to be optimistic about.

Nonetheless, a Net Neutrality proponent and activist as I might be, Berners-Lee and Sundes proposals give me mixed feelings. First of all, the proposal of a P2P architecture for both HTTP and DNS respectively: isn’t that a bit late? Isn’t that like stating “back to the ice age, when you’re in the middle of industrial age”? Secondly, I’m cynical in a sense that I think it’s already too late. The Commercialization of The Internet needs counterbalance, but I’m just wondering if Peter Sunde and the likes will be able to coordinate such dencentralized initiatives. I’m afraid that the Web will become only more fragmented and that, in the end, we have multiple public and private Webs.

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