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The Future of the Internet Is…a la Carte

A team of researchers from four U.S. universities is poised to lay out the key components for a networking architecture to serve as the backbone of a new Internet that gives users more choices about which services they use. The National Science Foundation (NSF) asked the researchers to design a blueprint for a future version of the Internet.

“This is a significant first step towards developing a new network that enables users to make choices,” says Rudra Dutta, an associate professor of computer science at NC State and co-author of a short paper that lays out the work. “Ultimately, this should make the Internet more flexible and efficient, and will drive innovation among service providers to cater to user needs.”

The short paper, “Choice as a Principle in Network Architecture,” will be presented at the ACM SIGCOMM 2012 conference in Helsinki, Finland, Aug. 13-17. The work will be presented by Tilman Wolf of UMASS Amherst, who is lead author.

The new Internet architecture will hinge on users being able to make choices about which features and services they want to use, and which entities they want to pay to provide those services. As such, the work being done under the NSF grant is guided by three principles:

1). Encourage Alternatives: Any new network must be able to provide different types of services, allowing users to select the service that best meets their needs.

2). Vote With Your Wallet: Any new network must allow users to reward service providers that offer superior and/or innovative services. This will encourage innovation and discourage inferior service.

3). Know What Happened: Any new network must be able to give users and service providers the ability to exchange information about the quality of the service being provided.

This poses a significant challenge, because the current Internet is unable to support the features and mechanisms to implement these three principles.

However, you have to start somewhere. In their short paper, the researchers say that a good first step will be to support the development of alternative services – “including the ability to create alternatives and select among them.”

The short paper being presented this month provides only a broad overview of the challenges ahead, but it also gives us a glimpse of a future that gives users more control while pushing service providers to invest in R&D that will improve the user experience. That’s a good thing.

Researchers on the team come from NC State, UMASS, the University of Kentucky and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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  1. If you read the so called paper, their choice of use scenario completely destroys the entire point they appear to try to make. They couldn’t have picked a worse example than streaming video. Let’s look at how it breaks down:

    Principle 1 – Encourage Alternatives. Well, there’s Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and how many others? I think streaming video is pretty well covered for alternatives.

    Principle 2 – Vote with your Wallet. First, this is a terrible thing to try to bake into an open Internet. We should encourage more freely available content than less. However, the above mentioned alternatives all have a means to handle payment. Easy enough and simple to switch. And frankly, I don’t even want to think about the logistics of having my internet layer or transport layer protocols handling my credit card data and making transactions for me.

    Principle 3 – Know what Happened. The streaming services I’m aware of are capable of altering video quality on the fly to deal with connection issues. One would think the providers could capture the number of times this happens. It doesn’t pinpoint the network link that caused the disruption, but knowing that isn’t going to help the user in the least and is unlikely to help the content provider. I’m sure Netflix would get right on the slowdown at some third party’s border router because a video isn’t streaming as fast as somebody’s non-guaranteed service is rated. Talk about pointless.

    I hope the presenter gets roasted at SIGCOMM.

  2. You will notice this paper was released in Helsinki – avoiding the public reprisals had they done so in the US, even through the universities charged with this are all North American. Anything you have to hide from the people is a bad thing.

  3. The “Vote with your Wallet” says it all – this is a reconstruction of the Internet to exclude the poor and give benefits to those whose Wallets are thick enough to give them the voting power. Pity those wealthy people have to share the current Internet with the riff-raff, they will get faster services they can “reward” while the rest of us get the crap – sounds a lot like the same trends in business that spawned the Occupy movement. The richer getting ever more so, the rest of us getting less and less.

  4. So, with the failure of SOPA and PIPA, let’s just re-build the Internet with those built in together with Net Neutrality and a “reward system” that users can use to reward (pay for) better service than the low-end crap everyone will get if they don’t pay a premium. This is an awful concept and goes directly against the concept that access to the Internet is a basic human right, as the UN recently declared. When we start having to pay every provider through which our services and data pass, this will destroy the Internet as we know it and put in place a great concept for those with megabucks to pay for high-speed. The rest of us will be waiting for the subway version that runs late, poorly and costly.

  5. Clearly a step away from the Internet as a fundamental communication utility and toward enterprise and government dreams — controlling what people see and communicate. I see this as evil.

  6. If I understand correctly, this would represent a return to business models of ISPs like AOL, only providing access to a subset of the internet to subscribers.
    Such a model could easily promote an environment of censorship more harsh, even, than SOPA or PIPA. I’m surprised that the authors of the paper would work to make the internet a more closed-off, corporate-controlled, and heavily regulated worldwide network.

  7. Wow! This “paper” is being heavily commented upon on the net right now. I hope the authors are ready to defend who financed this study.
    My comment is Yeah, let’s forget about the poor people who need the net for basic usage, what do they matter.

    johnm