Hal Varian, dean of the School of Information and Management Systems at U.C. Berkeley, has for some time been predicting the traffic woes and backbone clogging we now see increasingly on the Internet. He recommends that as the current no-cost, trust model of data exchange breaks down, the top-level backbone carriers institute usage-based pricing: users paying more to get higher levels of service guarantees. See  for a summary of a talk Varian gave last spring on this topic. For a lucid background picture of the way the network is put together now I recommend this essay  on the New York Times site (free registration is required) -- the authors claim that there is no economic model to support the continued growth of high-bandwidth use on the Internet. Today's TechKnow Times tantalizes with the news (but no details) of a major carrier having removed one of the regional carriers from its routing tables, rendering some U.S. east-coast sites unreachable for the last five days. And Edupage recently quoted MCI's Vint Cerf, one of the Internet's inventors, sounding like a born-again Varianista. (MCI's wires carry 90% of the Internet's backbone traffic.)
>>From Edupage (1996-10-29):
> "Ultimately, it must be the case that the pricing covers the cost of
> service -- and in circumstances where usage is not stable but growing,
> one needs to price according to use. While I am a strong advocate of
> flat-rate methods to stimulate market development, I think one has to
> be realistic about relating price to cost."
The success or failure of the U.S. approach to the spread of strong cryptography -- called key recovery, the latest form of key escrow -- will hinge on the Clinton administration's ability to convince other countries to go along. The Netizen last week broke the news  that the President is about to appoint a special ambassador whose job will be to apply pressure to U.S. allies and trading partners, getting them to cooperate on the widespread adoption of key-escrow cryptography. This move should surprise no-one who has been paying attention to the debate; FBI Director Louis Freeh's remarks before Congress last June  stressed the importance of international cooperation on key escrow. In my opinion the next Administration move to watch for will be the proposal of laws to limit the _import_ of cryptography technology. (Declan McCullogh wrote in a recent dispatch that a government official had hinted as much to him.) Perhaps coincidentally, Japan recently tightened controls on crypto exports ; a spokesman claimed that the change was not the result of any U.S. pressure.
Followup: TBTF for 1996-08-25 
The proposal  originally floated by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority for adding up to 150 more top-level domains has been sidelined by one of the IANA's sponsoring organizations, the Internet Society. The proposal caused "considerable international debate on various aspects... with no consensus," according to the ISOC's CEO . The matter will be referred to a nine-member international panel for resolution.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is working with CommerceNet on a new initiative to bolster trust and confidence in electronic transactions. eTRUST  will establish and evolve guidelines on issues of privacy, security, and authentication. Their first project addresses online privacy. The organization has developed and will license to online merchants recognizable and credible "trustmarks"  of privacy and security. eTRUST plans to run a pilot program later this year and to announce a commercial offering early next year.
The two companies revealed plans  to bundle each other's software and to work together on a network computer that runs on an Intel chip. The NC will officially be introduced at Oracle's trade show on 11/4, but the company has been showing prototypes for a while now. The newfound cooperation puts an end, for now, to the two companies' recent public feuding.
Do you know how to bring your Web site's robot visitors to heel? The polite ones knock before entering, and the protocol for knocking is spelled out in the venerable Robot Exclusion Standard . Its author, Martijn Koster <m.koster at webcrawler dot com>, also maintains a list of known robots  that currently details 111 of the beasties. Finally, to learn more than you ever wanted to know about robots, worms, spiders, crawlers, and other assorted Web critters visit the new BotSpot .
William Calvin must be one energetic guy: he's a neurophysiologist at the University of Washington, the author of nine books, and the creator at irregular intervals of Science Surf , a must-visit destination for anyone with an interest in science, good writing, or Web design. (Use Internet Explorer >= 2.1 or Netscape 3.0: no funny plug-ins required, but you'll be glad of the support for color in table cells.) I've got a URL-minder  on this one.
On September 5 of this year I was fortunate enough to catch a broadcast on National Public Radio of a piece by Dan Charles titled "Some Say the Internet Will Go the Same Route as Early Networks." I have a transcript -- copyright forbids posting it, but I will outline it here for you. The thesis is that each of the successive waves of information technology to transform American society has followed in the footsteps (or more literally, in the trackbeds) of the railroads. Railroad historian John Hankey is quoted:
The analogy goes deeper. The earlier information technologies evolved in similar ways, and a prudent observer might bet that the Internet will yet again follow in their tracks. A brief period of frantic growth, with dozens of companies building their own independent networks and standards, will be followed by a rapid consolidation into the hands of the few big companies that own the wires -- MCI, Sprint, and AT&T. And possibly WorldNet, the nation's fourth-largest phone company, whose long-distance business is based on the natural-gas pipelines in which they laid optical fiber when their energy business began to decline. Right of way is still king. There are rumors that the railroads are quietly laying down their own fiber lines, angling to get a piece of this latest network business; ditto the electric power companies.
We could carry the historical analogy further. This hoary Internet fable  contends that the reason our railroads use a gauge of 4 feet, 8-1/2 inches is that they were built by British railroaders, whose rails were spaced equal to the earlier wagon ruts, which date back to Roman roads, which were rutted by war chariots. Mil specs live forever.
I did a little research on the subject prior to writing up the story. I left out a few of the details that I had learned, like the fact that the earliest known use of that exact gauge was in a particular coal mine in Northumberland, and that the ruts in the Roman roads would probably have accommodated wheel gauges that varied by a few inches. Leaving out some of those details made for a far better story without actually making it fictitious. There were clearly many factors that went into the adoption of the US standard railroad guage. This was just one of them -- the funniest one. The post was never meant to be a serious historical thesis -- just a good chuckle. Enjoy.
One embellishment on the tale traces it back to Abraham Lincoln who supposedly discovered the tortuous track back to the Roman chariots. Another asserts that Napoleon's Russian defeat by Generals January and February can be laid to the difficulty his army had in negotiating the east European wagon ruts of non-Roman gauge.
We'll leave the last word to Matt Wall <wall at cmu dot edu>, who posted a definitive rebuttal  to the pretty fable of Roman origins for the modern rail. The rebuttal does, however, buttress the predictive arguments of Dan Charles cited above. Expect infrastructure consolidation.
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>>E.Commerce Today -- this commercial publication provided background information for some of the pieces in this issue of TBTF. For complete subscription information see <http://www.tbtf.com/resource/e.commerce-today.txt>.
>>TechKnow Times -- mail email@example.com with subject: subscribe . Web site at <http://www.TechKnowTimes.com/>.
>>Edupage -- mail firstname.lastname@example.org without subject and with message: subscribe edupage Your Name . Web site at <http://www.educom.edu/>.
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_______________________________________________ Keith Dawson dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.