Internet Evangelist takes all the credit

Vint Cerf’s letter to Congress on COPE displays some remarkable arrogance:

The remarkable social impact and economic success of the Internet is in many ways directly attributable to the architectural characteristics that were part of its design. The Internet was designed with no gatekeepers over new content or services. The Internet is based on a layered, end-to-end model that allows people at each level of the network to innovate free of any central control. By placing intelligence at the edges rather than control in the middle of the network, the Internet has created a platform for innovation. This has led to an explosion of offerings – from VOIP to 802.11x wi-fi to blogging – that might never have evolved had central control of the network been required by design.

Positively breath-taking.

But let’s give credit where it’s due: the Internet is huge, and its very existence has made the world a better place. We should thank all the thousands of engineers who’ve made it possible, as well as the business people, the academics, and the bureaucrats. Thanks to all of y’all.

But do we really have any way of knowing whether the Internet’s success is mainly a function of its design as opposed to some other factor such as its parentage and timing? I could certainly argue that the advent of the IBM PC in 1981 made some kind of world-wide packet network inevitable, and if it hadn’t been the Internet it would have been something similar such as an ISO or XNS network. The Internet was a better choice than ISO because it was relatively simple and much earlier. And the Internet was a better choice than XNS because it wasn’t tied to single vendor and the government practically forced the source code on people. So I’m not so sure about the architect’s claim that the architecture was more important than the implementation.

And what exactly did TCP/IP have to do with the invention of WiFi? I worked on the original MAC protocol for WiFi and I can tell that the Internet wasn’t on the minds of anyone I worked with on it. We were certainly glad to use WiFi to attach devices to the Internet later on, but we would have been just as happy to attach them to anything else. All that the Internet did for WiFi was cause it problems because the Internet is too primitive to allow roaming; it ties a computer address to a location and that’s that.

The central control thing is a big goof too. WiFi networks have central control big time, and so does the Internet, in a more surreptitious way. See RFC 2309 for more on that, or scroll down.

Cerf has convinced himself that his role in history was greater than it really was, and he’s dead set on ensuring that there won’t be a Cerf Jr. who takes the Internet to the next level.

It’s sad to see a once-good engineer stoop so low.