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News from the National Academies
Date: Oct. 4, 2000
Contacts: Bob Ludwig, Media Relations Associate
Kathi McMullin, Media Relations Assistant
(202) 334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Publication Announcement

Sustaining Internet Revolution Requires
Continued Innovation and Regulatory Caution

The transformation of the Internet from a research network used by a few thousand researchers into a global communications infrastructure vital to many aspects of daily life is celebrated as the basis for a new economic order. But as the United States' dependence on this worldwide network increases, so does the need to avoid problems. Vigorous expansion in the number of people who use it, the number of computers connected to it, and the amount of data that is transmitted continue to place pressures on those who design, build, and operate the Internet. Compounding this are concerns about the system's vulnerability to attack and the potential for failures.

A new report from a committee of the National Academies' National Research Council presents a detailed analysis of the Internet's infrastructure and provides a set of guiding principles for those who build and operate its components and for policy-makers who attempt to regulate it. The committee's analysis looks carefully at the Internet's basic technical design, including the evolving state-of-the-art technologies, the structures that hold it together, and how it is operated and managed.

The principal conclusion of the committee is that the Internet is fundamentally healthy and most of the problems and issues they examined can be addressed and solved through evolutionary change to the current infrastructure. However, the committee adds, multiple stakeholders -- the research community, industry, government, and Internet users themselves -- have important roles to play in ensuring the Internet's continued progress. "The Net is becoming the centerpiece of every computing endeavor," observed committee chair Eric Schmidt, chairman and chief executive officer of Novell Inc., San Jose, Calif. "We are still at the beginning of something colossal."

Growing Pains

Keeping pace with demands for the Internet's growth poses significant challenges, the report says. For example, the Internet's standard for governing the exchange of information -- known as IPv4 -- was designed to accommodate roughly 4.3 billion network addresses. But the number of computers connected to the Internet continues to expand. A standard known as IPv6 would provide many more addresses, but it would be expensive to deploy on a large-scale basis. Another response to the demand for Internet addresses -- a technology known as "network address translation" -- has been installed in many networks, but technical difficulties make it undesirable beyond the short term.

The committee acknowledges imperfections in both approaches. It adds that without a move toward improving IPv6, the shortage of addresses will soon be a serious problem for some users and will become a much more pervasive problem down the road.

Making the Internet and its many parts more reliable and less vulnerable to attacks and failures is becoming increasingly important, the committee noted. While much has been learned about the network's vulnerability, more work is needed to design and implement solutions to these problems. Moreover, many Internet service providers (ISPs) don't report details of major problems or outages. The committee recommended that ISPs make information on failures publicly available to enhance the ability of industry and research to develop fixes.

Regulatory Caution

The rapid growth of the Internet industry and the increasing number and variety of services that are being provided are having repercussions on other industries that have developed over a significantly longer period of time and are more highly regulated by the government. The emergence of telephony -- or voice service -- over the Internet, for example, pits the unregulated Internet against the regulated telephone companies. While the Internet telephony market holds only a small share of the total telephony market, the Internet segment is growing.

The report notes that the underlying technologies and services in Internet telephony are evolving rapidly and that many have yet to prove themselves in the marketplace. Further complicating matters, Internet telephony comes in a number of shapes and forms and voice communications appear in applications not traditionally thought of as telephony, such as chat rooms or interactive games. In addition, today's regulations contain assumptions, such as the distinction between local and long-distance carriers, that do not necessarily hold for Internet-based telephony. Citing the need to foster innovation, the committee emphasized that regulation of Internet telephony at this time would be premature, but developments should be watched closely.

With the Internet, change comes unpredictably and fads appear, and then disappear, quickly. As technology swiftly changes, in many instances a perceived problem may fix itself or evolve into an entirely different one. For such a dynamic environment, the committee supports the current policy of nonregulation of the Internet's infrastructure and urged caution when contemplating any necessary regulatory measures. A period of watchful waiting is needed, with several areas that require close attention, including the interconnection practices through which the thousands of networks are linked.

Guiding Principles

Based on its examination of several broad social-policy issues, the committee developed a set of principles to guide policy-makers when approaching changes to the Internet. Most important of these is a reminder that any new laws or regulations should focus on specific business activities and behaviors, and not mandate changes to the Internet's architecture or its constituent networks. Laws or regulations run the risk of forcing modifications to the Internet's basic design, which may have adverse implications that could reverberate throughout.
Policy-makers also should keep a broad geographic perspective when considering Internet issues. How to collect sales taxes on merchandise purchased over the Internet is one of the many issues faced by governments. The Internet's global nature will require many of these issues to be addressed by international forums. Internet-related issues are best resolved using existing laws or rules for handling cross-border activities, but harmonization will present an ongoing challenge, the report says.

The study was sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides independent advice on science and technology issues under congressional charter. A committee roster follows.

Read the full text of The Internet's Coming of Age for free on the Web, as well as more than 1,800 other publications from the National Academies. Printed copies are available for purchase from the National Academy Press Web site or at the mailing address in the letterhead; tel. (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information at the letterhead address (contacts listed above).

NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Applications
Computer Science and Telecommunications Board

Committee on the Internet in the Evolving Information Infrastructure

Eric Schmidt (chair)
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer
Novell Inc.
San Jose, Calif.

Terrence McGarty (vice chair)
Chairman
Telmarc Group LLC
Florham Park, N.J.

Anthony Acampora
Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering
University of California
San Diego

Walter Baer
Senior Policy Analyst
Domestic Research Division
RAND Corp.
Santa Monica, Calif.

Fred Baker
Cisco Fellow
Cisco Systems
Santa Barbara, Calif.

Andrew Blau
Director
Communications Policy and Practice Project
Benton Foundation
Washington, D.C.

Deborah Estrin
Associate Professor of Computer Science
Department of Computer Science
University of California
Los Angeles

Christian Huitema
Architect
Windows Networking and Communications Group
Microsoft Corp.
Redmond, Wash.

Edward Jung
Co-President
Intellectual Ventures
Bellevue, Wash.

David Kettler
Vice President
BellSouth Telecommunications
Atlanta

John Klensin
Vice President for Internet Architecture
AT&T Corp.
Cambridge, Mass.

Milo Medin
Vice President of Networks
Excite@Home
Redwood City, Calif.

Craig Partridge
Chief Scientist
BBN Technologies
Cambridge, Mass.

Daniel Schutzer
Director of External Standards and Advanced Technology
Advanced Development Group, and
Vice President
Citibank
New York City

RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF

Jon Eisenberg
Study Director