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Network Working Group M. Kapor Request for Comments: 1259 Electronic Frontier Foundation

                                                        September 1991
                      Building The Open Road:
        The NREN As Test-Bed For The National Public Network

Status of this Memo

 This memo provides information for the Internet community.  It does
 not specify an Internet standard.  Distribution of this memo is


 A debate has begun about the future of America's communications
 infrastructure.  At stake is the future of the web of information
 links organically evolving from computer and telephone systems.  By
 the end of the next decade, these links will connect nearly all homes
 and businesses in the U.S.  They will serve as the main channels for
 commerce, learning, education, and entertainment in our society.  The
 new information infrastructure will not be created in a single step:
 neither by a massive infusion of public funds, nor with the private
 capital of a few tycoons, such as those who built the railroads.
 Rather the national, public broadband digital network will emerge
 from the "convergence" of the public telephone network, the cable
 television distribution system, and other networks such as the
 The United States Congress is now taking a critical step toward what
 I call the National Public Network, with its authorization of the
 National Research and Education Network (NREN, pronounced "en-ren").
 Not only will the NREN meet the computer and communication needs of
 scientists, researchers, and educators, but also, if properly
 implemented, it could demonstrate how a broadband network can be used
 in the future.  As policy makers debate the role of the public
 telephone and other existing information networks in the nation's
 information infrastructure, the NREN can serve as a working test-bed
 for new technologies, applications, and governing policies that will
 ultimately shape the larger national network.  Congress has indicated
 its intention that the NREN
    would provide American researchers and educators with the computer
    and information resources they need, while demonstrating how
    advanced computer, high speed networks, and electronic databases
    can improve the national information infrastructure for use by all

Kapor [Page 1] RFC 1259 Building The Open Road September 1991

    Americans. (1)
 As currently envisioned, the NREN
    would connect more than one million people at more than one
    thousand colleges, universities, laboratories, and hospitals
    throughout the country, giving them access to computing power and
    information -- resources unavailable anywhere today -- and making
    possible the rapid proliferation of a truly nationwide, ubiquitous
    network... (2)
 The combined demand of these users would develop innovative new
 services and further stimulate demand for existing network
 applications.  Library information services, for example, have
 already grown dramatically on the NREN's predecessor, the Internet,
 because the
    enhanced connectivity permits scholars and researchers to
    communicate in new and different ways.... Clearly, to be
    successful, effective, and of use to the academic and research
    communities, the NREN must be designed to nurture and accommodate
    both the current as will as future yet unknown uses of valuable
    information resources. (3)
 So as the NREN implementation process progresses, it is vital that
 the opportunities to stimulate innovative new information
 technologies be kept in mind, along with the specific needs of the
 mission agencies which will come to depend on the network.
 Far from evolving into the whole of the National Public Network
 itself, the NREN is best thought of as a prototype for the NPN, which
 will emerge over time from the phone system, cable television, and
 many computer networks.  But the NREN is a growth site which, unlike
 privately controlled systems, can be consciously shaped to meet
 public needs.  For a wide variety of services, some of which might
 not be commercially viable at the outset, the NREN can
    provide selective access that proves feasibility and leads to the
    creation of a commercial infrastructure that can support universal
    services.... If we fully focus on ...[current] goals and work our
    way through a multitude of technical and operational issues in the
    process, then the success of the NREN will fully support its
    extension to broader uses in the years to follow. (4)
 In order to function as an effective test-bed, one that promotes
 broad access to a range of innovative, developing services, the NREN
 must be built so that it is easy for developers to offer new kinds of
 applications, and is accessible to a diversity of users.  For

Kapor [Page 2] RFC 1259 Building The Open Road September 1991

 example, to encourage the development of creative, advanced library
 services, it must be easy for libraries to open their data bases to
 users all across the network.  And if these library services are to
 flourish through the NREN, then the services must be available to
 researchers and students all over the country, through a variety of
 channels.  Though the NREN itself is intended to meet the
 supercomputing and networking needs of the government-financed
 research community, Congress has wisely recognized that it can also
 function as a channel for delivery of a wide range of privately-
 developed information services.  To
    encourage use of the Network by commercial information service
    providers, where technically feasible, the Network shall have
    accounting mechanisms which allow, where appropriate, users or
    groups of users to be charged for their usage of copyrighted
    materials over the Network. (5)
 Congress can create an environment that stimulates information
 entrepreneurship by mandating that the NREN rely on open technical
 standards whose specifications are not controlled by any private
 parties and which are freely available for all to use.  Such non-
 proprietary standards will ensure that different parts of the network
 built and operated by independent parties, will all work together
 properly.  By employing widely-used, non-proprietary standards the
 NREN will make it easy for new information providers to offer their
 wares on the network.  The market will snowball: as more services are
 offered, more users will be attracted, who will increase overall
 demand.  The NREN will also be a test-bed for development and
 experimentation with new networking standards that facilitate even
 broader, more efficient interconnection than now possible on the
 Internet.  But throughout the stages of the NREN, all concerned
 should be sure that these functionalities are fostered.
 The NREN design and construction process is complex and will have
 significant effects on future communications infrastructure design:
    Building the NREN has frequently been described as akin to
    building a house, with various layers of the network architecture
    compared to parts of the house.  In an expanded view of this
    analogy, planning the NII [national information infrastructure] is
    like designing a large, urban city.
    The NREN is a big new subdivision on the edge of the metropolis,
    reserved for researchers and educators.  It is going to be built
    first and is going to look lonely out there in the middle of the
    pasture for a while.  But the city will grow up around it in time,
    and as construction proceeds, the misadventures encountered in the
    NREN subdivision will not have to be repeated in others.  And

Kapor [Page 3] RFC 1259 Building The Open Road September 1991

    there will be many house designs, not just those the NREN families
    are comfortable with.... The lessons we learn today in building
    the NREN will be used tomorrow in building the NII. (6)
 The coming implementation and design of the NREN offers us a critical
 opportunity to shape a small but important part of the National
 Public Network.


 At its best, the National Public Network would be the source of
 immense social benefits.  As a means of increasing social
 cohesiveness, while retaining the diversity that is an American
 strength, the network could help revitalize this country's business
 and culture.  As Senator Gore has said, the new national network that
 is emerging is one of the "smokestack industries of the information
 age." (7)  It will increase the amount of individual participation in
 common enterprise and politics.  It could also galvanize a new set of
 relationships -- business and personal -- between Americans and the
 rest of the world.
 The names and particular visions of the emerging information
 infrastructure vary from one observer to another. (8)  Senator Gore
 calls it the "National Information Superhighway."  Prof. Michael
 Dertouzos imagines a "National Information Infrastructure [which] ...
 would be a common resource of computer-communications services, as
 easy to use and as important as the telephone network, the electric
 power grid, and the interstate highways." (9)  I call it the National
 Public Network (NPN), in recognition of the vital role information
 technology has come to play in public life and all that it has to
 offer, if designed with the public good in mind.
 To what uses can we reasonably expect people to use a National Public
 Network?  We don't know.  Indeed, we probably can't know -- the users
 of the network will surprise us.  That's exactly what happened in the
 early days of the personal computer industry, when the first
 spreadsheet program, VisiCalc, spurred sales of the Apple II
 computer.  Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak did not design
 the spreadsheet; they did not even conceive of it.  They created a
 platform which allowed someone else to bring the spreadsheet into
 being, and all the parties profited as a result, including the users.
 Based on today's systems, however, we can make a few educated guesses
 about the National Public Network.  We know that, like the telephone,
 it will serve both business and recreation needs, as well as offering
 crucial community services.  Messaging will be popular: time and time
 again, from the ARPAnet to Prodigy, people have surprised network
 planners with their eagerness to exchange mail.  "Mail" will not just

Kapor [Page 4] RFC 1259 Building The Open Road September 1991

 mean voice and text, but also pictures and video -- no doubt with
 many new variations.  One might imagine two people poring over a
 manuscript from opposite ends of the country, marking it up
 simultaneously and seeing each others' markings appear on the screen.
 We know from past demand on the Internet and commercial personal
 computer networks that the network will be used for electronic
 assembly -- virtual town halls, village greens, and coffee houses,
 again taking place not just through shared text (as in today's
 computer networks), but with multi-media transmissions, including
 images, voice, and video.  Unlike the telephone, this network will
 also be a publications medium, distributing electronic newsletters,
 video clips, and interpreted reports. (10)
 We can speculate but cannot be sure about novel uses of the network.
 An information marketplace will include electronic invoicing,
 billing, listing, brokering, advertising, comparison-shopping, and
 matchmaking of various kinds.  "Video on demand" will not just mean
 ordering current movies, as if they were spooling down from the local
 videotape store, but opening floodgates to vast new amounts of
 independent work, with high quality thanks to plummeting prices of
 professional-quality desktop video editors.  Customers will grow used
 to dialing up two-minute demos of homemade videos before ordering the
 full program and storing it on their own blank tape.
 There will be other important uses of the network as a simulation
 medium for experiences which are impossible to obtain in the mundane
 world.  If scientists want to explore the surface of a molecule,
 they'll do it in simulated form, using wrap-around three-dimensional
 animated graphics that create a convincing illusion of being in a
 physical place.  This visualization of objects from molecules to
 galaxies is already becoming an extraordinarily powerful scientific
 tool.  Networks will amplify this power to the point that these
 simulation tools take their place as fundamental scientific apparatus
 alongside microscopes and telescopes.  Less exotically, a consumer or
 student might walk around the inside of a working internal combustion
 engine -- without getting burned.
 Perhaps the most significant change the National Public Network will
 afford us is a new mode of building communities -- as the telephone,
 radio, and television did.  People often think of electronic
 "communities" as far-flung communities of interest between followers
 of a particular discipline.  But we are learning, through examples
 like the PEN system in Santa Monica and the Old Colorado City system
 in Colorado Springs, that digital media can serve as a local nexus,
 an evanescent meeting-ground, that adds levels of texture to
 relationships between people in a particular locale.  As Jerry Berman
 of the ACLU Information Technology Project has said:

Kapor [Page 5] RFC 1259 Building The Open Road September 1991

    Computer and communications technologies are transforming speech
    into electronic formats and shifting the locus of the marketplace
    of ideas from traditional public places to the new electronic
    public forums established over telephone, cable, and related
    electronic communications networks. (11)
 To both local and long-distance communities, accessible digital
 communications will be increasingly important; by the end of this
 decade, the "body politic," the "body social," and the "body
 commercial" of this country will depend on a nervous system of
 fiber-optic lines and computer switches.
 But whatever details of the vision and names gives to the final
 product, a network that is responsive to a wide spectrum of human
 needs will not evolve by default.  Just as it is necessary for an
 architect to know how to make a home suitable for human habitation,
 it is necessary to consider how humans will actually use the network
 in order to design it.
 In that spirit, I offer a set of recommendations for the evolution of
 the National Public Network.  I first encountered many of the
 fundamental ideas underlying these proposals in the computer
 networking community.  Some of these recommendations address
 immediate concerns; others are more long-term.  There is a focus on
 the role of public access and commercial experiments in the NREN,
 which complement its research and education mission.  The
 recommendations are organized here according to the main needs which
 they will serve: first ensuring that the design and use of the
 network remains open to diversity, second, safeguarding the freedom
 of users.  The ultimate goal is to develop a habitable, usable and
 sustainable system -- a nation of electronic neighborhoods that
 people will feel comfortable living within.

I. Encourage Competition Among Carriers

 In the context of the NREN, act now to create a level and competitive
 playing field for private network carriers, (whether for-profit or
 not-for-profit) to compete.  Do not give a monopoly to any carrier.
 The growing network must be a site where competitive energy produces
 innovation for the public benefit, not the refuge of monopolists.
 The post-divestiture phone system offers us a valuable lesson: a
 telecommunications network can be managed effectively by separate
 companies -- even including bitter opponents like AT&T and MCI -- as
 long as they can connect equitably and seamlessly from the user's
 standpoint.  The deregulated telecommunications system may not work
 perfectly and may produce too much litigation, but it does work.  We

Kapor [Page 6] RFC 1259 Building The Open Road September 1991

 should never go back to any monopoly arrangement like the pre-
 divestiture AT&T which held back market-driven innovation in
 telecommunications for half a century.  Given the interconnection
 technology now available, we should never again have to accept the
 argument that we have to sacrifice interoperability for efficiency,
 reliability, or easy-of-use.
 Similarly, the NREN, and later the National Public Network, must be
 allowed to grow without being dominated by any single company.
 Contracting requirements in the current legislation advance this
    The Network shall be established in a manner which fosters and
    maintains competition within the telecommunications industry and
    promotes the development of interconnected high-speed data
    networks by the private sector. (12)
 Absent a truly competitive environment, a dominant carrier might use
 its privileged access to stifle competitors unfairly: "Use our local
 service to connect to our undersea international links, without the
 $3 surcharge we tack on for other carriers." The greatest danger is
 "balkanization" -- in which the net is broken up into islands, each
 developing separately, without enough interconnecting bridges to
 satisfy users' desires for universal connectivity.  Strong
 interoperability requirements and adherence to standards must be
 built into the design of the NREN from the outset. (13)
 After 1992, private companies will manage an ever-greater share of
 the NREN cables and switches.  The NSF should use both carrot and
 stick to encourage as much interconnection as possible.  For example,
 the NSF could make funding to NREN backbone carriers contingent on
 participation in an internetwork exchange agreement that would serve
 as a framework for a standards-based environment.  As the NREN is
 implemented, some formal affirmation of fair access is needed --
 ideally by an "Internet Exchange Association" formed to settle common
 rules and standards.  (Their efforts, if strong enough, could
 forestall a costly, wasteful crazy-quilt of new regulations from the
 FCC and 50 State Public Utilities Commissions.) This association
 should decide upon a "basket" of standard services -- including
 messaging, directories, international connections, access to
 information providers, billing, and probably more -- that are
 guaranteed for universal interconnection.  The Commercial Internet
 Exchange (CIX) formed in 1991 by three commercial inter-networking
 carriers represents a substantive, initial move in this direction.

Kapor [Page 7] RFC 1259 Building The Open Road September 1991

II. Create an Open Platform for Innovation

 Encourage information entrepreneurship through an open architecture
 (non-proprietary) platform, with low barriers to entry for
 information providers.
 The most valuable contribution of the computer industry in the past
 generation is not a machine, but an idea -- the principle of open
 architecture.  Typically, a hardware company (an Apple or IBM, for
 instance) neither designs its own applications software nor requires
 licenses of its application vendors.  Both practices were the norm in
 the mainframe era of computing.  Instead, in the personal computer
 market, the hardware company creates a "platform" -- a common set of
 specifications, published openly so that other, often smaller,
 independent firms can develop their own products (like the
 spreadsheet program) to work with it.  In this way, the host company
 takes advantage of the smaller companies' ingenuity and creativity.
 Even interfaces rigidly controlled by a single manufacturer, like the
 Macintosh, embrace the platform concept.  Two years ago, when Apple
 began planning the System 7 release of its Macintosh operating
 system, one of its first steps was to invite comment from software
 companies like Macromind, Aldus, Silicon Beach, and T/Maker.  In
 substantive, sometimes very argumentative sessions, Apple revealed
 the capabilities it planned to these independents, who knew their
 customers and needs much better than Apple.  One multi-media company,
 after arguing that Apple should take a different technical turn,
 actually found itself doing the work in a joint project.  The most
 useful job of Apple's famous "evangelists" is not selling the Mac
 specs, but listening to outsiders, and helping Apple itself stay
 flexible enough to work with independent innovators effectively.
 In the design of the NREN, information entrepreneurship can best be
 promoted by building with open standards, and by making the network
 attractive to as many service providers and developers as possible.
 The standards adopted must meet the needs of a broad range of users,
 not just narrow needs of the mission agencies that are responsible
 for overseeing the early stages of the NREN.  Positive efforts should
 be made to encourage the development of experimental commercial
 services of all kinds without requiring the negotiation of any
 bureaucratic procedures.
 In the early stages of development of an industry, low barriers to
 entry stimulate competition.  They enable a very large initial set of
 products for consumers to choose from.  Out of these the market will
 learn to ignore almost all in order to standardize on a few, such as
 a Lotus 1-2-3.  The winners will be widely emulated in the next
 generation of products, which will in turn generate a more refined

Kapor [Page 8] RFC 1259 Building The Open Road September 1991

 form of marketplace feedback.  In this fashion, early chaos evolves
 quickly a set of high-demand products and product categories.
 This process of market-mediated innovation is best catalyzed by
 creating an environment in which it is inexpensive and easy for
 entrepreneurs to develop products.  The greater the number of
 independent enterprises, each of which puts at voluntary risk the
 intellectual and economic capital of risk-takers, is the best way to
 find out what the market really wants.  The businesses which succeed
 in this are the ones which will prosper.
 It is worthwhile to note that not a single major PC software company
 today dates from the mainframe era.  Yesterday's garage shop is
 today's billion-dollar enterprise.  Policies for the NPN should
 therefore not only accommodate existing information industry
 interests, but anticipate and promote the next generate of
 The diverse needs of these many users will create demand for
 thousands of information proprietors on the net, just as there are
 thousands of producers of personal computer software today and
 thousands of publishers of books and magazines.  It should be as easy
 to provide an information service as to order a business telephone.
 Large and small information providers will probably coexist as they
 do in book publishing, where the players range from multi-billion-
 dollar international conglomerates to firms whose head office is a
 kitchen table.  They can coexist because everyone has access to
 production and distribution facilities -- printing presses,
 typography, and the U.S.  mails and delivery services -- on a non-
 discriminatory basis.  In fact, the sub-commercial print publications
 are an ecological breeding ground, through which mainstream authors
 and editors rise.  No one can guarantee when an application as useful
 as the spreadsheet will emerge for the NPN (as it did for personal
 computers), but open architecture is the best way for it to happen
 and let it spread when it does.
 The PC revolution was brought about without direct public support.
 Entrepreneurs risked their investors' capital for the sake of
 opportunity.  Some succeeded, but many others lost their entire
 investment.  This is the way of the marketplace.  We should take a
 much more cautious attitude about the commitment of public monies.
 In the absence of proven demand for new applications, government
 should not be spending billions of dollars on the creation of
 broadband networks.  Neither should telephone companies be allowed to
 pass on the costs of the NPN in a way which would raise the rates for
 ordinary voice telephone service.
 Instead, we should position the NREN to show there is a market for

Kapor [Page 9] RFC 1259 Building The Open Road September 1991

 network applications.  The commercial experiments just beginning on
 the Internet provides one source of innovation.  Deployment of a
 national ISDN platform in the next few years represents another
 relatively inexpensive seed bed.  As such experiments demonstrate
 more of a proven demand for public network services, it should be
 possible for the private sector to make the investments to build the
 broadband NPN using experience from the NREN.
 At the same time as the NREN is being debated and developed,
 telephone companies continue to push at the limits imposed on them by
 the "Modification of Final Judgment" (MFJ) of divestiture, the 1982
 anti-trust agreement which split up the Bell system. (14)  Under
 pressure from the D.C. Court of Appeals, Judge Greene recently lifted
 the information services restrictions on the BOCs -- despite the
 competitive tension between the telephone companies, cable TV
 carriers, and newspapers.  Thus, in the next year or so, Congress may
 well be forced to define a new set of rules for regulated
 telecommunications. (15)  Like the AT&T divestiture decision, this
 would represent a fundamental shift in national policy with enormous
 and unpredictable consequences.
 Many consumer and industry groups are concerned that as the MFJ
 restrictions are lifted, the RBOCs will come to dominate the design
 of the emerging National Public Network, shaping it more to
 accommodate their business goals than the public interest.  The
 Communications Policy Forum, a coalition of public interest and
 industry groups, has recently begun to consider what kinds of
 safeguards will be needed to maintain a competitive information
 services market that allows RBOC participation.  The role that the
 RBOCs come to play in the nation's telecommunications infrastructure
 is, of course, an issue that must be carefully considered on its own.
 But in this context, the NREN represents a critical opportunity to
 create a model for what a public network has to offer, free from
 commercial pressures.
 With all of the uncertainty that surrounds the RBOCs entry into the
 information services market, we should use the NREN to learn how to
 develop a network environment where competitive entry is easy enough
 that the RBOCs opportunity to engage in anti-competitive behavior
 would be minimized.  There is evidence that the RBOCs are resisting
 attempts to transform the public telephone system into a truly open
 public network (16) notwithstanding the FCCs stated intention do
 implement Open Network Architecture. (17)  But since the NREN
 standards and procedures can be designed away from the dominance of
 the RBOCs, a fully open network design is within reach.  In this
 sense the NREN can be a test-bed for "safeguards" against market
 abuse just as it is a test ground for new technical standards and
 innovative network applications.

Kapor [Page 10] RFC 1259 Building The Open Road September 1991

 An open platform network model carrier from the NREN to the National
 Public Network would actually make some MFJ restrictions less
 necessary.  Phone companies were originally prohibited from being
 information providers because their bottleneck control over the local
 exchange hubs gives them an unfair advantage.  But on a network in
 which the local switch is open to information providers -- because
 the platform itself is so rich and well-designed -- creativity and
 quality triumph over monopoly power.  Instead of restricting
 information providers, the National Public Network developers should
 encourage the entry of as many new parties as possible. Just as
 personal computer companies started in garages and attics, so will
 tomorrow's information entrepreneurs, if we give them a chance.
 Their prototypes today, small computer networks, electronic
 newsletters, and chat lines, are among the most vibrant and
 imaginative "publishers" in the world.

III. Encourage Pricing for Universal Access

 Everyone agrees in the abstract with universal service -- the idea
 that any individual who wishes should be able to connect to a
 National Public Network. But that's only a platitude unless
 accompanied by an inclusive pricing plan.
 The importance of extending universal access to information and
 communication resources has been widely recognized:
    In light of the possibilities for new service offerings by the
    21st century, as well as the growing importance of
    telecommunications and information services to US economic and
    social development, limiting our concept of universal service to
    the narrow provision of basic voice telephone service no longer
    services the public interest.  Added to universal basic telephone
    service should be the broader concept of universal opportunity to
    access these new technologies and applications. (18)
 The problem of disparate access to information resources has been
 recognized in other telecommunications arenas as well.  Congressman
 Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Chairman of the Subcommittee of
 Telecommunications and Finance of the House Energy and Commerce
 Committee warns that:
    [i]nformation services are beginning to proliferate.  The
    challenge before us is how to make them available swiftly to the
    largest number of Americans at costs which don't divide the
    society into information haves and havenots and in a manner which
    does not compromise our adherence to the long-cherished principles
    of diversity, competition and common carriage. (19)

Kapor [Page 11] RFC 1259 Building The Open Road September 1991

 To address this problem in the long-term, there is legislation now
 pending which would broaden the guarantee of universal phone service
 to universal access to advanced telecommunications services.  Senator
 Burns has proposed that the universal service guarantee statement in
 the Communications Act of 1934 should be amended to include access to
    a nation-wide, advanced, interactive, interoperable, broadband
    communications system available to all people, businesses,
    services, organizations, and households..." (20)
 In the near term, the NREN can serve as a laboratory for testing a
 variety of pricing and access schemes in order to determine how best
 to bring basic network services to large numbers of users.  The NREN
 platform should facilitate the offering of fee-based services for
 Cable TV is one good model: joining a service requires an investment
 of $100 for a TV set, which 99% of households already own, about $50
 for a cable hookup, and perhaps $15 per month in basic service.
 Anything beyond that, like premium movie channels or pay-per-events
 is available at extra cost. Similarly, a carrier providing connection
 to the mature National Public Network might charge a one-time startup
 fee and then a low fixed monthly rate for access to basic services,
 which would include a voice telephone capability.
 Because regulators are concerned about any telephone service that
 might cause the price of basic voice service to rise, they are
 unwilling to approve new services which don't immediately recover
 their own costs.  They are concerned that any deficit will be passed
 on to consumers in the form of higher charges for standard services.
 As a result, telephone companies tend to be very conservative in
 estimating the demand for new services.  Prices for new services turn
 out to be much higher than what would be required for universal
 digital service.  This is a kind of catch-22, in which lower prices
 won't be set until demand goes up, but demand will never go up if
 prices aren't low enough.
 Open architecture could help phone companies offer lower rates for
 digital services. If opportunities and incentives exist for
 information entrepreneurs, they will create the services which will
 stimulate demand, increase volume, and create more revenue-generating
 traffic for the carriers.  In a competitive market, with higher
 volumes, lower prices follow.

Kapor [Page 12] RFC 1259 Building The Open Road September 1991

IV. Make the Network Simple to Use

 The ideal means of accessing the NPN will not be a personal computer
 as we know it today, but a much simpler, streamlined information
 appliance - a hybrid of the telephone and the computer.
 "Transparency" is the Holy Grail of software designers. When a
 program is perfectly transparent, people forget about the fact that
 they are using a computer. The mechanics of the program no longer
 intrude on their thoughts. The most successful computer programs are
 nearly always transparent: a spreadsheet, for instance, is as self-
 evident as a ledger page. Once users grasp a few concepts (like rows,
 cells, and formula relationships), they can say to themselves,
 "What's in cell A-6?" without feeling that they are using an alien
 Personal computer communications, by contrast, are practically
 opaque.  Users must be aware of baud rates, parity, duplex, and file
 transfer protocols -- all of which a reasonably well-designed network
 could handle for them. It's as if, every time you wanted to drive to
 the store, you had to open up the hood and adjust the sparkplugs. On
 most Internet systems, it's even worse; newcomers find themselves
 confronting what John Perry Barlow calls a "savage user interface."
 Messages bounce, conferencing commands are confusing, headers look
 like gibberish, none of it is documented, and nobody seems to care.
 The excitement about being part of an extended community quickly
 vanishes. On a National Public Network, this invites failure.  People
 without the time to invest in learning arcane commands would simply
 not participate. The network would become needlessly exclusionary.
 Part of the NREN goal of "expand[ing] the number of researchers,
 educators, and students with ... access to high performance computing
 resources" (21) is to make all network applications easy-to-use.  As
 the experience of the personal computer industry has shown, the only
 way to bring information resources to large numbers of people is with
 simple, easy-to-learn tools.  The NREN can be a place where various
 approaches to user-friendly networks are tested and evaluated.
 Technically trained people are not troglodytes; they approve of
 human-oriented design, even as they manage to use the network today
 without it.  For years, leaders within the Internet community have
 been taking steps to improve ease of use on the network.  But the
 training of the technical community as a whole has given them little
 practice making their digital artifacts appropriate for non-technical
 consumption.  Nor are they often rewarded for doing so.  To a phone
 company engineer designing a new high-speed telephone switch, or to a
 computer scientist pushing the limits of a data compression
 algorithm, the notion of making electronic mail as simple as fax

Kapor [Page 13] RFC 1259 Building The Open Road September 1991

 machine may make sense, but it also feels like someone else's job.
 Being technically minded themselves, they feel comfortable with the
 specialized software they use and seldom empathize with the neophyte.
 The result is a proliferation of arcane, clumsy tools in both
 hardware and software, defended by the cognoscenti: "I use the "vi"
 editor all the time -- why would anyone have trouble with it?"
 If we have the vision and commitment to try this, the transformation
 of the network frontier from wilderness to civilization need not
 display the brutality of 19th century imperialism.  As commercial
 opportunities to offer applications and services develop,
 entrepreneurs will discover that ease of use sells. The normal,
 sometimes slow, play of competitive markets should cause industry to
 commit the resources to serve the market by making access more
 transparent.  But at the start transparency will need deliberate
 encouragement -- if only to overcome the inertia of old habits.

V. Develop Standards of Information Presentation

 The National Public Network will need an integrated suite of high-
 level standards for the exchange of richly formatted and structured
 information, whether as text, graphics, sound, or moving images.  Use
 the NREN as a test-bed for a variety of information presentation and
 exchange standards on the road towards an internationally-accepted
 set of standards for the National Public Network.
 Standards -- the internal language of networks -- are arranged in a
 series of layers. The lower levels detail how the networks'
 subterranean "wiring" and "plumbing" is managed.  Well-developed sets
 of lower-level standards such as TCP/IP are in wide use and continue
 to be refined and extended, but these alone are not sufficient.  The
 uppermost layers contain specifications such as how text appears on
 the screen and the components of which documents are composed.  These
 are the kinds of concerns which are directly relevant to users who
 wish to communicate.  Recently independent efforts to develop high-
 level standards for document formats have begun, but these projects
 are not yet being integrated into computer networks.
 Today, for example, the only common standard for computer text is the
 American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII).  But
 ASCII is inadequate; it ignores fonts, type styles (like boldface and
 italics), footnotes, headers, and other formats which people
 regularly use. Each word processing program codes these formats
 differently, and there is still no intermediary language that can
 accommodate all of them. The National Public Network will need such a
 language to transcend the visual poverty and monotony of today's
 telecommunicated information. It will also need additional standards
 beyond what have been developed for message addresses and headers, a

Kapor [Page 14] RFC 1259 Building The Open Road September 1991

 common set of directories (the equivalent of the familiar white pages
 and yellow pages directories), common specifications for coding and
 decoding images, and standards for other major services.
 Congress has provided that the National Institute of Standards and
    shall adopt standards and guidelines ... for the interoperability
    of high-performance computers in networks and for common user
    interfaces to systems. (22)
 As the implementation of the NREN moves forward, we must ensure that
 standards development remains both a public and private priority.
 Failure to make a commitment to an environment with robust standards
 would be "the beginning of a Tower of Babel that we can ill afford."
 (23)  Since current standards are so inadequate to the demands of
    We ... need to endow the NII [National Information Infrastructure]
    with a set of widely understood common communication conventions.
    Moreover, these conventions should be based on concepts that make
    life easier for us humans, rather than for our computer servants.
    (24)  The development of standards is vital, not just because it
    helps ensure an open platform for information providers; it also
    makes the network easier to use.

VI. Promote First Amendment Free Expression by

   Affirming the Principles of Common Carriage
 In a society which relies more and more on electronic communications
 media as its primary conduit for expression, full support for First
 Amendment values requires extension of the common carrier principle
 to all of these new media.
 Common carriers are companies which provide conduit services for the
 general public.  They include railroads, trucking companies, and
 airlines as well as telecommunications firms.  A communications
 common carrier, such as a telephone company is required to provide
 its services on a non-discriminatory basis.  It has no liability for
 the content of any transmission. A telephone company does not concern
 itself with the content of a phone call.  Neither can it arbitrarily
 deny service to anyone. (25)  The common carrier's duties have
 evolved over hundreds of years in the common law and later statutory
 provisions.  The rules governing their conduct can be roughly
 distilled in a few basic principles. (26)  Common carriers have a
 duty to:
      o provide services in a non-discriminatory manner at a fair

Kapor [Page 15] RFC 1259 Building The Open Road September 1991

      o interconnect with other carriers
      o provide adequate services
 The carriers of the NREN and the National Public Network, whether
 telephone companies, cable television companies, or other firms
 should be treated in a similar fashion. (27)
 Unlike many other countries, our communications infrastructure is
 owned by private corporations instead of by the government.  Given
 Congress' plan to build the NREN with services from privately-owned
 carriers, a legislatively-imposed duty of common carriage is
 necessary to protect free expression effectively.  As Professor Eli
 Noam, a former New York State Public Utility Commissioner, explains:
    [C]ommon carriage is the practical analog to [the] First Amendment
    for electronic speech over privately-owned networks, where the
    First Amendment does not necessarily govern directly. (28)
 To foster free expression and move the national communications
 infrastructure toward a full common carrier regime, all NREN carriers
 should be subject to common carriage obligations.  Given that the
 NREN is designed to promote the development of science, ensuring free
 expression is especially important.  As on academic said:
    I share with many researchers strong belief that much of the power
    of science (whether practiced by scientists, engineers, or
    clinical researchers) derives from the steadfast commitment to
    free and unfettered communication of information and knowledge.
 A telecommunications providers under a common carrier obligation
 would have to carry any legal message regardless of its content
 whether it is voice, data, images, or sound.  For example, if full
 common carrier protections were in place for all of the conduit
 services offered by the phone company, the terminations of
 "controversial" 900 services such as political fundraising would not
 be allowed, just as the phone company is now prohibited by the
 Communications Act from discriminating in the provision of basic
 telephone services. (30) Neither BOCs not IXCs would be allowed to
 terminate service because of anticipated harm to their "corporate
 image."  Though providers of 900 information services did have their
 freedom of expression abridged by the BOC/IXC action, First Amendment
 protection was not available to them because there was no state
 action underlying the termination.
 As important as common carriage is to the NPN, it is equally
 important that it be implemented in such a way as to avoid sinking

Kapor [Page 16] RFC 1259 Building The Open Road September 1991

 the carriers of these new networks into the same regulatory gridlock
 that characterizes much of telecommunications regulation. (31)  This
 would have a crippling effect of the pace of innovation and is to be
 avoided.  The controlled environment of the NREN should be taken
 advantage of to experiment with various open access, common carriage
 rules and enforcement mechanisms to seek regulatory alternatives
 other than what has evolved in the public telephone system
 Along with promoting free expression, common carriage rules are
 important for ensuring a competitive market in information services
 on the National Public Network.  Our society supports the publication
 of many thousands of periodicals and fifty thousand of new books a
 year as well as countless brochures, mailings, and other printed
 communications.  Historically, the expense of producing
 professional-quality video programming has been a barrier to the
 creation of similar diversity in video.  Now the same advances in
 computing which created desktop publishing are delivering "desktop
 video" which will make it affordable for the smallest business,
 agency, or group to create video consumables.  The NPN must
 incorporate a distribution system of individual choice for the video
 If the cable company wants to offer a package of program channels, it
 should be free to do so.  But so should anyone else.  There will
 continue to be major demand for mass market video entertainment, but
 the vision of the NPN should not be limited to this form of content.
 Anyone who wishes to offer services to the public should be
 guaranteed access over the same fiber optic cable under the principle
 of common carriage.  From this access will come the entrepreneurial
 innovation, and this innovation will create the new forms of media
 that exploit the interactive, multimedia capabilities of the NPN.

VII. Protect Personal Privacy

 The infrastructure of the NPN should include mechanisms that support
 the privacy of information and communication.  Building the NREN is
 an opportunity to test various data encryption schemes and study
 their effectiveness for a variety of communications needs.
 Technologies have been developed over the past 20 years which allow
 people to safeguard their own privacy. One tool is public-key
 encryption, in which an "encoding" key is published freely, while the
 "decoder" is kept secret.  People who wish to receive encrypted
 information give out their public key, which senders use to encrypt
 messages.  Only the possessor of the private key has the ability to
 decipher the meaning.
 The privacy of telephone conversations and electronic mail is already

Kapor [Page 17] RFC 1259 Building The Open Road September 1991

 protected by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. (32)  Without
 a valid court order, for example, wiretaps of phone conversations are
 illegal and private messages are inadmissible in court.  Legal
 guarantees are not enough, however.  Although it is technically
 illegal to listen in on cellular telephone conversations, as a
 practical matter the law is unenforceable.  Imported scanners capable
 of receiving all 850 cellular channels are widely available through
 the gray market.
 Cellular telephone transmissions are carried on radio waves which
 travel through the open air.  The ECPA provision which makes it
 illegal to eavesdrop on a cellular call is the wrong means to the
 right end. It sets a dangerous precedent in which, for the first
 time, citizens are denied the right to listen to open air
 transmissions.  In this case, technology provides a better solution.
 Privacy protection would be greatly enhanced if public-key encryption
 technology were built into the entire range of digital devices, from
 telephones to computers. (33)  The best way to secure the privacy and
 confidentiality Americans say they want is through a combination of
 legal and technical methods.
 As a system over which not only information but also money will be
 transferred, the National Public Network will have enormous potential
 for privacy abuse.  Some of the dangers could be forestalled now by
 building in provisions for security from the beginning.


 The chance to influence the shape of a new medium usually arrives
 when it is too late: when the medium is frozen in place.  Today,
 because of the gradual evolution of the National Public Network, and
 the unusual awareness people have of its possibilities, there is a
 rare opportunity to shape this new medium in the public interest,
 without sacrificing diversity or financial return. As with personal
 computers, the public interest is also the route to maximum
 profitability for nearly all participants in the long run.
 The major obstacle is obscurity: technical telecommunications issues
 are so complex that people don't realize their importance to human
 and political relationships. But be this as it may, these issues are
 of paramount importance to the future of this society.  Decisions and
 plans for the NPN are too crucial to be left to special interests.
 If we act now to be inclusive rather than exclusive in the design of
 the NPN we can create an open and free electronic community in
 America.  To fail to do so, and to lose this opportunity, would be

Kapor [Page 18] RFC 1259 Building The Open Road September 1991

End Notes

 1.  High Performance Computing and Communications Act of 1991, H.R
 656, S.272 section 2(6).
 2.  High-Performance Computing And Communications Act of 1991:
 Hearing before the Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space of
 the Senate Comm. on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, 102nd
 Cong., 1st Sess. 1 (1991)(Opening Statement by Senator
 Gore)(hereinafter 1991 Senate NREN Hearing).
 3.  1991 Senate NREN Hearing 101, 103 (Statement of the Association
 of Research Libraries).
 4.  1991 Senate NREN Hearing 99 (Statement of Dr. Kenneth M. King,
 President, EDUCOM).
 5.  S.272 (Commerce-Energy compromise) section 102(e)
 6.  Michael M. Roberts, Positioning the National Research and
 Education Network. EDUCOM Magazine 13 (Summer 1991).
 7.  1991 Senate NREN Hearing 1 (Opening statement of Sen. Gore).
 8.  Details of the visions vary in their content and expression.
 Senator Gore's bill mandates that federal agencies will serve as
 information providers, side by side with commercial services, making
 (for instance) government-created information available to the public
 over the network. Individuals will gain "access to supercomputers,
 computer data bases, other research facilities, and libraries." (Gore
 imagines junior high school students dialing in to the Library of
 Congress to look up facts for a term paper.)  Apple CEO John Sculley
 has predicted that "knowledge navigators" will use personal computers
 to travel through realms of virtual information via public digital
 Such visions are powerful, but they sometimes seem too much like
 sales tools; too vague and overconfident to set direction for
 research.  People often infer from the Apple's "knowledge navigator"
 videotape, for instance, that human-equivalent computer speech
 recognition is just around the corner; but in truth, it still
 requires fundamental research breakthroughs. Network users will still
 need keyboards or pointing devices for many years. Nor will the
 network be able (as some have suggested) to translate automatically
 between languages. (It will allow translators to work more
 effectively, posting their work online.)
 9.  M. Dertouzos, Building the Information Marketplace, Technology

Kapor [Page 19] RFC 1259 Building The Open Road September 1991

 Review 29, 30 (January 1991).
 10.  See FCC Hearing on "Networks of the Future" (Testimony of M.
 Kapor)(May 1, 1991).
 11.  J. Berman, Democratizing the Electronic Frontier, Keynote
 Address, Third Annual Hawaii Information Network and Technology
 Symposium, June 5, 1991.
 12.  S.272, section 5(d). This section continues: "(1) to the maximum
 extent possible, operating facilities need for the Network should be
 procured on a competitive basis from private industry; (2) Federal
 agencies shall promote research and development leading to deployment
 of commercial data communications and telecommunications standards;
 and (3) the Network shall be phased into commercial operation as
 commercial networks can meet the needs of American researchers and
 13.  The distinction between strong support for interoperability and
 something less is illustrated in the NREN compromise debate occurring
 as this paper is being written.  The bill from the Senate Commerce
 Committee (S.272) calls for "interoperability among computer
 networks," section 701(a)(6)(A), while the compromise currently being
 discussed with the Energy Committee adopts a more watered down goal
 of "software availability, productivity, capability, portability."
 section 701(a)(3)(B).
 14.  552 F.Supp 151 (D.D.C. 1982)(Greene, J.).  The MFJ restrictions
 barred the BOCs from providing long distance services, from
 manufacturing telephone equipment, and from providing information
 15.  The Senate, under the leadership of Sen. Hollings, has just
 recently voted to lift the manufacturing restrictions against the
 BOCs contained in the MFJ.
 16.  In The Matter of Advanced Intelligent Network, Petition for
 Investigation, filed by Coalition of Open Network Architecture
 Parties (November 16, 1990).
 17.  Amendment of Sections 64.702 of the Commission's Rules and
 Regulations, 104 FCC 2d 958 (COMPUTER III), vacated sub nom,
 California v. FCC (9th Cir. 1990).
 18.  NTIA Telecomm 2000 at 79.
 19.  Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on
 Telecommunications and Finance, Hearings on Modified Final Judgment,

Kapor [Page 20] RFC 1259 Building The Open Road September 1991

 101st Cong., 1st Sess., 1-2 (May 4, 1989).
 20.  Communications Competitiveness and Infrastructure Modernization
 Act of 1991, S. 1200, Title I, Amending Communications Act section 1,
 47 USC 151.
 21.  S.272, section 2(b)(1)(B).
 22.  S.272 Commerce-Energy Compromise section 203(a).
 23.  1991 Senate NREN Hearing at 32 (Statement of Hon. D. Allan
 Bromley, Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy).
 24.  M. Dertouzos at 31.
 25.  See 47 USC section 201.
 26.  See ACLU Information Technology Project, Report to the American
 Civil Liberties Board from the Communications Media Committee to
 Accompany Proposed Policy Relating To Civil Liberties Goals and
 Requirements of the United States Communications Media
 Infrastructure.  (Draft, July 15, 1991) [hereinafter, ACLU Report].
 "Non-discriminatory access to new communications systems must be
 guaranteed not simply because it is the economically efficient thing
 to do, but more importantly because it is the only way to ensure that
 freedom of expression is preserved in the Information Age."
 27.  Though common carriage principles have historically been applied
 to telephone and telegraph systems, the preservation of First
 Amendment values of free expression and free press was not the
 motivating factor.  Professor de Sola Pool notes that telephone and
 telegraph systems inherited their common carrier obligations not so
 much out of First Amendment concerns, but in order to promote
 commerce.  The more appropriate model to look to in extending First
 Amendment values to new communications technologies is the mails.  As
 reflected in the post clause, empowering Congress to "establish post
 offices and post roads," the Constitutional drafters felt that
 creation of a robust postal system was vital in order to ensure free
 expression and healthy political debate.  As Sen. John Calhoun said
 in 1817:
    Let us conquer space.  It is thus that . . . a citizen of the West
    will read the news of Boston still moist from the press.  The mail
    and the press are the nerves of the body politic.
 Non-discriminatory access to the mails has been secured by the
 Supreme Court as a vital extension of First Amendment expression.  In
 a dissent which is now reflective of current law, Justice Holmes

Kapor [Page 21] RFC 1259 Building The Open Road September 1991

 argued that
    [t]he United States may give up the Post Office when it sees fit,
    but while it carries it on the use of the mails is almost as much
    a part of free speech as the right to use our tongues. (Milwaukee
    Social Democratic Publishing Co. v. Burleson, 255 US 407 (1921)
    (Holmes, J., dissenting)(emphasis added).  This principle was
    finally affirmed in Hannegan v. Esquire, 327 US 146 (1945) (cited
    in de Sola Pool).
 See de Sola Pool, Technologies of Freedom 77-107.
 28.  E. Noam, FCC Hearing "Networks of the Future" (May 1, 1991).
 29.  1991 Senate NREN Hearing at 52 (Statement of Donald Langenberg,
 Chancellor of the University of Maryland System).
 30.  47 USC section 201.  Following much controversy about obscene or
 indecent dial-a-message services, a number of BOCs and interexchange
 carriers (IXCs, ie. MCI, Sprint, etc.) have adopted policies which
 limit the kinds of information services for which they will provide
 billing and collection services.  Recently, some carriers have gone
 so far as to refuse to carry the services at all, even if the service
 handles its own billing.  See ACLU Report.
 31.  See J. Berman & W. Miller, Communications Policy Overview 14-24,
 Communications Policy Forum (April 1991).
 32.  Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, 18 USC 2510 et
 seq.  See also J. Berman & J. Goldman, A Federal Right of Information
 Privacy: The Need for Reform, Benton Foundation Project on
 Communications & Information Policy Options (1989).
 33.  See Statement In Support Of Communications Privacy, following
 1991 Cryptography and Privacy Conference, sponsored by Electronic
 Frontier Foundation, Computer Professionals for Social
 Responsibility, and RSA Software. (June 10, 1990).

Kapor [Page 22] RFC 1259 Building The Open Road September 1991

Security Considerations

 Security issues are not discussed in this memo.

Author's Address

 Mitchell Kapor
 Electronic Frontier Foundation
 155 Second Street
 Cambridge, MA 02142
 Phone: (617) 864-1550

Kapor [Page 23]

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