Cerf wary of biased broadband business models

Vint Cerf says New Zealand needs to look to "open access" to the internet rather than a business model that allows domination by any one party.

Speaking as an individual and Google's "internet evangelist", not as a chairman of ICANN, Cerf has discussed telecommunications policy with representatives of the New Zealand government in the run-up to the ICANN meeting in Wellington.

As for the contentious local-loop unbundling question, "generally speaking I support unbundling", he says. The alleged failure of the concept in the US was due more to slow-moving administration by bodies such as the Federal Communications Commission, rather than by any fault in the concept itself, Cerf says.

Cerf expresses some disquiet at the development of the internet in the US; bandwidth has increased, but this has been achieved using technologies that threaten to favour particular kinds of content and particular sources, such as entertainment-focused cable operators. "They're rebuilding the cable TV service," he says of the dominant US partners.

The question of revenue to support increase in bandwidth is a relevant one, Cerf says, "but we should step back and ask ourselves what else has generated revenue." The answer is in innovative applications like Amazon, which encourage two-way participation by their users, he says. In part, he says, it is the responsibility of users to take advantage of these services fully and create the demand that will encourage bandwidth boost.

"I want a mindset that sees that the last ten years' explosion in internet use has been the product of open access," Cerf says.

To a Computerworld suggestion that talk of "open access" might be seen to conflict with Google's acceptance of government filters on China's internet, Cerf says the accommodation of the Chinese government's wishes was an "appropriate" compromise, reached "after years of struggle".

One important concession obtained by Google, says Cerf, is that if access to a website or other internet service is suppressed by government filters, the user will see a notice saying explicitly that it is suppressed, not simply a 404 "not accessible" message.

"We hope over time, China will adjust" he says. "The presence of the internet [there] invites that opportunity."

ICANN board chairman Paul Twomey says assurance of the security and stability of the internet is a priority. Recent distributed denial of service attacks have not only targeted domain-name servers but have used those servers to "amplify" the volume of the attacks. Moves are under way to protect the DNS more effectively by signing genuine DNS records in a similar way to that used in public-key infrastructures. But Twomey admits "there is a certain type of arms race" between the attackers and the defenders of the 'net's integrity.

Cerf emphasises that protection of the internet is not a role for ICANN alone; all network operators, down to the owners of individual websites, can do their part to implement effective security, he says.

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