Explain the rise of the commercial Internet in the US
This assignment asks you to develop a political-economic analysis of conditions that explain the rise of the commercial Internet in the U.S.
Watch the documentary “Digital Disconnect” (https://umass.kanopy.com/product/digital-disconnect) and, please write an essay (500-750 words) discussing:
1) Three economic, political or regulatory factors that explain the development of Internet infrastructure and services mostly as a commercial enterprise in the U.S., and
2) provide a relevant conclusion on what you learned through this documentary about changes in the evolution of the Internet in the last 30 years: what was intriguing and illuminating about this documentary? What is the main takeaway or idea you learned through this case study?
NOTE that this assignment does not ask you to discuss the socio-political impacts or consequences of Internet development. INSTEAD, it asks you to analyze the factors that explain how and why a government-funded military, research and educational network project (ARPANET) evolved and transformed into the hyper-commercialized network of networks we know today as the Internet.
The Internet is a network of networks. It is a truly decentralized collaborative creation, and in this series of articles, we are explaining how it works.
In Part 1, we took the journey through time and learned how this once-unimaginable idea of interconnected earth came to fruition. The Internet, originating from ARPANET, spread through the world like a virus. Albeit rapid expansion, the Internet for the longest time was government-funded and restricted to non-commercial uses such as scientific research. Only in the 90s, after passing new legislation in the US, precursors of modern-day ISPs started forming, and it kickstarted the commercialization of the Internet.
Then, the real evolution began.
Despite not being available for the general public (with limited exceptions), in the 1990s, the Internet was now in the making for over 20 years. Therefore, physical infrastructure got established to some extent, the network had time for growth, and the foundation for the Internet had been laid. This foundation is what we now call the Internet Backbone.
At that time, networks like NSFNET provided the Backbone for the USA. Europe had NORDUNET, and there were more. After the door opened for the commercialization of these networks, Network Service Providers (NSPs) initially connected to these backbones via the Network Access Points (NAPs). Once commercial use of the Internet gained momentum, NSPs started interconnecting, thus expanding the Backbone, but this time with the initiative and motivations of private businesses.
In 1994 NSFNET commissioned private companies to take direct control of all four of their NAPs, and NSFNET itself became a part of the history not long after. Eventually, these public NAPs became congested. Leading telecommunication companies, who were among the first real ISPs, began building their own Backbone with better, faster access points. Alongside these established enterprises, smaller operators were also providing Internet access and expanding the network. However, to understand how the Internet works, how data travels, and what issues occur from it, one needs to understand several key concepts, and one of them is Peering.
Peering is an act of interconnection of separate Internet networks to exchange traffic between each other to gain mutual benefit. Usually, neither party pays the other for the traffic, and this is called settlement-free peering. Other benefits include increased capacity, redundancy, and efficiency of the networks.
Once the largest ISPs have established themselves in the market, they worked out peering agreements between each other. At first, they also willingly peered with smaller players, but that didn’t last. During the first decade of commercialization, more prominent providers broke their arrangements with smaller providers. Consequently, they started charging them to transfer data through their networks and thus connect to the Backbone.
Largest ISPs who were joined by settlement-free peering agreements and required no upstream relationships formed the foundation of the Internet Backbone and are called Tier 1 ISPs. The hierarchy started emerging, and this brings us to the other important concept of Internet economics — Transit.
A transit occurs when one network operator pays another network for Internet access. Tier 1 ISPs that form the very Backbone are at the apex of a hierarchy and never purchase transit agreements from other providers. They do, however, sell their bandwidth to other, smaller players — Tier 2 ISPs. The latter find themselves in the middle of the Internet’s hierarchy. They form transit agreements with Tier 1 ISPs and purchase bandwidth from them. Not only that, but they engage in peering between themselves and also sell bandwidth to the last frontier companies — Tier 3 ISPs, which strictly purchase traffic from higher tier providers.
As you now can imagine, to make the Internet work and to ensure full access for everyone, all providers must interconnect seamlessly. At this point, Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) come into play. Originating from NAPs, IXPs work similarly. They are the physical points through which Internet Service Providers and Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) exchange Internet traffic. They allow reducing latency and facilitate peering agreements.