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 From The Post
  • Cerf played a role in the foundation of the Internet.

  • Cerf has presented himself as a Net defender against those who warn of the evils lurking online.

  • In his present role at MCI, Cerf has commented on the pending merger with WorldCom Inc.

    On Our Site

  • WashTech's special report on the MCI merger

    On the Web
  • New 98 event information

  •   Defending the Net

    Vint Cerf, senior vice president for Internet Architecture and Engineering at MCI Communications Corp. and former project director of the software standards that led to the Internet, met up with WashTech at this week's New 98 conference in Washington, D.C.

    After his presentation on the history of the Internet, he stopped by's booth to answer questions from our readers. A transcript of the Q&A session follows:

    Tulsa, OK: Do you think the Internet will fundamentally change the political process?

    Vint Cerf: I think it will have some significant impact both in the direction of gathering information about as well as provided by political candidates. I also think elected authorities will find this a valuable means of directly interacting with the electorate.

    Groups will use the Internet to organize their efforts to lobby for various legislation. I am not sure I see a global direct democratic process because of scaling problems with that.

    Washington, D.C.: Hi, my name is Erica Nash and I've worked on accessibility panels with your wife. I'd like to know if you believe there can be developed standards which will make the internet truly accessible to people with disabilities. If so, who would have to be involved with these regulations & how can they be enforced?

    Vint Cerf: There are many people with an interest in access for people with disabilities. Apple Computer and more recently, Microsoft, have initiatives in this area. WGBH's Media Access Center has been working in this area for a number of media for some time. I'm very optimistic that we will be able to use the power of computers and software to improve access for everyone. As to the regulatory aspect, there is already a lot of horsepower in the US ADA to encourage efforts in this direction.

    London, England: Hi Vinc

    When can you see the 'Interplanetary Internet' you spoke about at the Internet Expo in Geneva, coming to fruition?

    What particular advantages wll it have over conventional telecommunications?

    thank you,
    Hugh Poynton

    Vint Cerf: We're just in the beginning stages of the design – the first opportunity to deploy anything would probably come around 2003 in one of the Mars missions. We hope to have a base design ready to publish around July of 1999 and prototypes of parts of the system operating "earthside" late in the year. We plan to test a lot of the ideas in a planetary simulation which introduces artificial delays, errors and periodic changes in connectivity with a system of Interplanetary Gateway prototypes. Of course, the long term realization will probably take about 40 years.

    The advantage of the Interplanetary system is that it will be designed to work across the long delays between planets and other solar bodies, unlike today's Earth-bound Internet which is configured for operation in much lower delay circumstances.

    Arlington, VA: Hi Vint,

    With changes coming in the MCI-Worldcom merger, what new technologies are you and/or the company exploring to improve inter-personal or intra-group communication over electronic media? What's next, "beyond Internet?"

    Also, I've heard you speak of IP addresses for household appliances, but what about (mobile) IPs for people on the move?

    Thanks for your insights, and best wishes to you and your family

    – Dann S.

    Vint Cerf: Hi Dann, thanks for asking this question.
    MCI and Worldcom are eager to explore new applications and services on the Internet. Multicasting is a part of the agenda, as is the ability to generally support multiple classes of service for applications ranging from real-time interaction to very high bandwidth transfers.

    Mobile IP is still a technical challenge and there continues to be work on this in the IETF. I can see a need for this capability for the interplanetary system too – self-organizing networks that can be deployed on the planets and gather and report information to the interplanetary gateway and then back to Earth.

    Woodside, California: Here's what I don't quite understand. Since IP telephony is conducted over the PSTN, using all of that infrastructure. Why is it less expensive than normal voice calls (comparing actual cost, not artificially inflated by tariffs). It's like saying I can use your truck to deliver goods, and it's so cheap because I dont have to pay for a truck.

    Vint Cerf: There is today an access charge levied on long distance companies by local carriers for use of the phone network for telephone calls. It amounts to about 5.5 cents/minute. Internet is an enhanced service and is not subject to this charge.

    Eventually this arbitrage situation will resolve itself, I hope, with access charges that are much closer to actual costs (which are a lot less than 5.5 cents a minute). When these charges are more cost-based, I think we'll see a more uniform treatment. It also appears to be the case that the actual cost of implementing internet telephony (which need not necessarily go through conventional telephone switches) is inherently less expensive than conventional voice telephony.

    Las Palmas, Canary Islands, Spain: How do you think Internet will be in a near future, say 2010?

    Vint Cerf: We are pretty sure by 2010 that Internet will be as large as the telephone network or larger and that it will have moved off-planet to support some robotic exploration of the solar system, including sites on Mars. The capacity available to consumers will almost certainly have reached many megabits per second if not higher and global satellite systems should be in place to provide global, continuous coverage for people who need (and can afford) that kind of service. Most appliances will have Internet-enabled versions so they can be managed and controlled by a house-hold computer.

    Arlington, VA: Do you forsee Internet voting in national elections – perhaps leading to genuine public election of the President?

    Vint Cerf: We are already seeing a certain amount of this happening, for example in the area of securities proxies for stock-holder meetings. I can imagine general elections done in the same way, but administering the system to eliminate fraud will be a challenge. I am not sure I would expect to see a change in the basic electoral process in the U.S. as that mechanism has some safeguards that a flat general election doesn't have.

    Washington, DC: How soon do you think "super pipes" will be available to the average Joe to transport the increasing Internet traffic?

    Vint Cerf: Historically, bandwidth available to the average user have been increasing with time. Not as fast as most of us would like, but, for example, this chat is being conducted from a booth at NETEXPO'98 (MultiCom'98) using a Richochet radio modem linking an IBM laptop into the Internet over the air at about 38 kb/s. I think we will see cable modems and Digital Subscriber Loops deployed widely within the next 5 years, so by 2003, pretty good bandwidth should be available at least in urban areas.

    Charlottesville, VA: The University of Virginia and many other healthcare institutions are implementing telemedicine programs to provide healthcare to persons in medically underserved areas. How do you think the current Internet and the next-generation Internet initiatives will affect healthcare?

    Vint Cerf: That's a good but tough question to answer. First I think we will see more use of remote diagnosis and data capture so that specialists can help with the diagnostic process. Second, I think patients will make increasing use of Internet to obtain information about their medical problems and interact with others who have experienced these problems in the past. Consulting among multiple physicians will surely be assisted by access to medical archives/databases. And, of course, protecting personal privacy will be a challenge.

    McLean, Va: What is your opinion of the Internet bandwidth management product such as Packeteer?

    Vint Cerf: I haven't had personal experience with Packeteer, but all of us in the business are intensely interested in traffic management/engineering technologies that will let us do a better job of allocating capacity to demand. so this is an important business area for companies like Packeteer.

    Washington, D.C.: Mr. Cerf:

    How do you personally feel about the explosive growth of the Internet? Did you expect it to take off like this? Did you think it would happen sooner? Later?

    Vint Cerf: I am very optimistic about this explosion. In fact, I had concluded about 1988 (5 years after the first major deployment in 1983) that we needed to find a way to allow the Internet to become a commercial service. I asked the U.S. Government for permission to connect MCI Mail to Internet as an attempt to break that policy limitation. By coincidence, the Internet statistics started their geometric doubling in that year and haven't stopped since.

    I doubt any of us imagined that the net would take off in the way it has, but I'm delighted to see the tidal wave happen and the prospects for business on and in the network growing so quickly. There seem to be no end of applications that are worth considering.

    Falls Church, VA: What do you think the future is for Digital Signatures (X.509 Schemes) and will we ever have a non-commercial (FREE) infrastructure?

    Vint Cerf: I think digital signatures will play a key role in electronic commerce and perhaps also in things like general election voting and the like. Getting the administrative infrastructure in place to support certificate issuance is still a challenge. We don't have a good legal framework yet to limit liability or even understand the liability of certificate issuance.

    I think we will see a number of different issuers who offer varying degrees of "due diligence" in the certification of the certificate holder so I magine there will be room for a non-commercial infrastructure for some purposes. Keep in mind that it takes resources to offer a reliable service and this has to be dealt with on more than a volunteer basis to be reliable.

    Chicago, IL: Today's Financial Times states in an article on a telecomminications acquisition that "Industry forecasts suggest that the volume of data traffic will be 20 times that of voice calls by early in the next century..."

    Will the increased volume require that a new standard be adopted or is TCP/IP up to the task? Is there still bandwidth on the once heralded fiber optic cables? Do I need to move to the nearest research institution if I don't want to wait for pages to load?

    Vint Cerf: There is plenty of unused capacity on fibers – using wavelength division multiplexing we should be able to extract terabits per second from today's fiber. The big problem is routers or IP switches that can handle the load and there are new products coming online that can handle much higher capacity than routers of the recent past.

    We will need to implement differential services to handle any appreciable amount of voice so that's a primary goal for the near-to-mid-term. You will be able to get much higher capacity access to internet from home and work – see earlier answer on DSL and cable modems for example.

    Arlington, VA: What do you think about unsourced media outlets like the Drudge Report? How do you think that kind of online reporting reflects on respectable media organizations like the Post and the NY Times?

    Vint Cerf: The Internet allows for all kinds of sources of all kinds of quality – generally the antidote for bad information is more information, so I think we can manage in this information rich environment.

    Ashburn, VA: When do you think that e-commerce users will actually experience the benefits of disintermediation in the form of bringing buyers and sellers closer together and thus reducing price to the buyers on the one hand and increasing the price that sellers can achieve?

    Vint Cerf: I think that we have a variety of opportunities to implement new kinds of services on the Internet so there is still an opportunity for intermediation even though i also believe that customers and suppliers will be much closer than the old wholesale-retail model of the past. New services will be automatically invoked in the course of engaging in internet commerce transactions, simply because they are on the net, and that creates new business opportunities for everyone.

    WashTech: That concludes today's discussion. Thanks to Vint Cerf for joining us today.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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