Net 'Business Backbone'

Virtual Community Pioneer Sees Opportunities/One Big Hooked-Up, Networked, Internetted Planetary Economy

ony Rutkowski's early tenure with the Internet Society -- the closest thing the Net community has to a governing body -- raised a few eyebrows, most notably since he was also working at the time for long-distance giant Sprint.

But the two parted amicably, and now Rutkowski steers the Internet, ostensibly Sprint-free, through some admittedly shaky times, what with its newfound popularity among America Onliners, neophytes, and most scarily, Those Who Wish to Do Business.

But in an interview (over Internet E-mail) with Washington Technology staff writer Liz Skinner, Rutkowski talked openly about the nature of the Net as a business tool for the world, even with its frontier-and-fringe reputation. Will the price be freedom? He doesn't think so.

WT: With at least 20 million people now tapping into the Internet worldwide, where are you seeing the largest growth in number of users?

Rutkowski: It's not possible to determine the characteristics of users. In terms of attached networks, commercial networks are experiencing the largest growth by far. These networks support both businesses and private users.

WT: What will the Internet be like 5 or 10 years from now?

Rutkowski: Like today, only much more pervasive as a mesh of all the computers in the world, with all kinds of interesting new applications and uses. It will also be the world's business backbone.

WT: How will the Internet become the "world's business backbone"?

Rutkowski: The standards, applications, and practices are being put into place to allow massive business use of the Internet. This includes important pieces relating to billing and accounting with such innovative new concepts as Digicash, as well as bringing Electronic Data Interchange formats into other Internet tools.

WT: What role do you see the Internet playing in the developing National Information Infrastructure?

Rutkowski: It is and will remain a key (but by no means the exclusive) component of National and Global Information Infrastructure -- both as a network and as a model for development, collaboration and changing how organizations and individuals work.

WT: Will the Internet be universally accessible?

Rutkowski: Universal access to electronic communications has always and will remain an economic equation: "How much bandwidth, what price, what terminal device and where?"

With a cheap PC and 20 bucks a month, you can get Internet access in most U.S. metropolitan areas today. It's accessible today via local networks in 146 countries -- or from anywhere with a phone call.

WT: Will rural areas have access to the developing information superhighway?

Rutkowski: They have access now via the telephone system. Cable TV systems will soon be offering Internet access. Satellite and terrestrial wireless systems are also arriving this year. Ultimately, the question is one of economics, and a public policy issue of how much do urban dwellers subsidize the rural living of people.

WT: How will universal access be affected by the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee's efforts to ensure an "emergency on-ramp" to the NII for government agencies to be able to communicate during emergencies?

Rutkowski: It won't be affected. The "emergency on-ramp" analogy is broken. NSTAC doesn't control the Internet.

WT: Is anyone in charge of the Internet?

Rutkowski: The Internet Society provides the global coordination for the Internet, including its architecture, standards, and administration. That's about as "in charge" as you can get with a distributed network of autonomous networks.

And, you don't need any more. That's why its so enormously successful -- it has no direct government or monolithic involvement.

WT: Do you foresee the government getting involved in running or regulating the Internet?

Rutkowski: Not significantly -- unless they want to kill it. Governments worldwide have been indirectly involved, playing important roles by funding various Internet components including significant research and administration, but not in a direct operational or regulatory sense.

It is worldwide competition and deregulation that has furthered the Internet paradigm. Regulatory involvement would also be difficult because of the policy decisions taken in so many places in the world that keep government out of computer networking. These include the U.S. Computer III Decision, the EU Green Paper, the Japan OND policy, and the GATT GNS treaty.

WT: Why was the Internet Society created?

Rutkowski: Its principal purpose is to maintain and extend the development and availability of the Internet and its associated technologies and applications -- both as an end in itself, and as a means of enabling organizations, professions and individuals worldwide to more effectively collaborate, cooperate and innovate in their respective fields of interest.

WT: Who makes up the Internet Society?

Rutkowski: The Internet is an international organization which consists of a full-time staff and people who participate in its bodies. It is no different in this respect than countless other industry organizations.

WT: Does it provide any services to aid Internet systems administrators with operational issues?

Rutkowski: The Society is legally responsible internationally for the standards, administrative practices, and architectural decisions that allow the Internet, its technologies, and applications to function.

Its Network Security workshops effect better network operational practices. Its liaison with other international organizations and national government officials on regulatory, development, trade, and educational matters provide the basis for continued scaling and ubiquity of the Internet marketplace and paradigm.

Its authoritative information on the Internet supports officials and investment firms. Lastly, it will be convening an operations forum for bringing together operators and service providers.

WT: How is the Internet Society addressing security problems on the Internet?

Rutkowski: The Society's standards body has an entire area with numerous working groups focusing on nothing but security matters. It hosts an annual Network Distributed Systems Security conference. It promotes and works closely with international and national teams that provide continued monitoring of security problems.

WT: Is there any voluntary "code of conduct" for the Internet?

Rutkowski: This is being considered by the Board of Trustees at its Prague meeting on 13th and 14th of June.

SIDEBAR TO MAIN:

What is the Internet Society?

The Internet Society is the international organization for global cooperation and coordination for the Internet and its internetworking technologies and applications.

WHO ARE ITS MEMBERS? Its members reflect the breadth of the entire Internet community and consist of individuals, corporations, non-profit organizations, and government agencies.

WHAT IS ITS PURPOSE? Its principal purpose is to maintain and extend the development and availability of the Internet and its associated technologies and applications -- both as an end in itself, and as a means of enabling organizations, professions, and individuals worldwide to more effectively collaborate, cooperate and innovate in their respective fields and interests. Its specific goals and purposes include:

* Development, maintenance, evolution and dissemination of standards for the Internet and its internetworking technologies and applications.

* Growth and evolution of the Internet architecture.

* Maintenance and evolution of effective administrative processes necessary for operation of the global Internet and internets.

* Education and research related to the Internet and internetworking.

* Harmonization of actions and activities at international levels to facilitate the development and availability of the Internet.

* Collection and dissemination of information related to the Internet and internetworking, including histories and archives.

* Assisting technologically developing countries, areas, and peoples in implementing and evolving their Internet infrastructure and use.

* Liaison with other organizations, governments, and the general public for coordination, collaboration, and education in effecting the above purposes.

HOW DOES IT OPERATE? The Internet Society operates through its international board of trustees, its International Networking Conferences and developing country workshops, its regional and local chapters, its various standards and administrative bodies, its committees, and its secretariat. The Board of Trustees is headed by a President with the assistance of several officers. The Board consists of 18 eminent individuals drawn from every region of the world -- most of whom were instrumental in creating and evolving different components of the Internet and the technology.

WHERE IS IT LOCATED? The permanent international headquarters and secretariat of the Society is located at Reston, Va., and is headed by the executive director.

WHAT IS ITS LEGAL STATUS? The Internet Society is incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation, with tax-deductible status in Washington, D.C., near its headquarters location.

WHY WAS IT CREATED? The Internet Society was announced in June 1991 at an international networking conference in Copenhagen and brought into existence in January 1992 by a worldwide cross-section of individuals and organizations who recognized that the Society was a critical component necessary to evolve and globalize the Internet and internet technologies and applications, and to enhance their availability and use on the widest possible scale.

HOW CAN YOU GET MORE INFORMATION? Telephone: (703) 648 9888 or (800) 468 9507. Postal address: Internet Society 12020 Sunrise Valley Drive, Suite 270 Reston Va. 22091. E-mail address: membership@isoc.org (individual membership) or org-membership@isoc.org (organization membership).

This sidebar of questions and answers about the Internet Society was provided by Tony Rutkowski. It is adapted from an item posted on Internet.


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