Have you ever wondered how South Africa got connected to the Internet? It happened during the bleak days of apartheid, thanks to the valiant efforts of self-proclaimed hippie Randy Bush:
I suppose you are wondering what a computer scientist, engineer, and unrepentant hippie is doing at this lectern today. Well, I am also wondering the same. So I guess the best I can do with this honor and opportunity is to tell you about why I chose to do certain things and the small but occasionally pungent lessons I have taken away from these experiences.
Not everyone was willing to break the boycott in those days, but Bush had his reasons:
Well, I had been raised to boycott all dealings with South Africa, as well as Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal, and other international pariah states. And I was being asked to directly support South Africa’s entry into the internet. Serious soul-searching led me to the conclusion that social change was not likely to be accomplished by cutting off communication. So I agreed on the condition that connectivity would be for universities and NGOs only, and only those which were not apartheid-supporting or enforcing. The administrative work and funding from the South African side was done by Vic Shaw of the FRD. In November 1991, a bit over ten years ago, the first direct full internet connectivity to South Africa (as opposed to store and forward email) was commissioned via a low speed leased line to my home office in the States. South Africa was the second country in Africa to become connected to the internet, preceded by Tunisia a few months earlier.
That’s quite an interesting legacy. Currently, Bush works for the Japanese government and as a volunteer with various non-profits.
UPDATE: Reader Andrew Alston says the credit doesn’t properly fall on Bush:
Randy Bush might have been involved, but he is DEFINITELY not the father of the South African internet, if that title goes to anyone its Mike Lauwrie from back in the Rhodes University days.
There you are, two points of view from which to choose.
But paid peering may be forbidden by Question 106 of the FCC’s proposed Open Internet rules because it’s essentially two-tiered network access, Norton points out.
Paid peering illustrates how hard it is to write an anti-discrimination rule for the Internet that doesn’t have harmful side effects for all but the largest content networks. Paid peering is a better level of access to an ISP’s customers for a fee, but the fee is less than the price of generic access to the ISP via a transit network. The practice of paid peering also reduces the load on the Internet core, so what’s not to like? Paid peering agreements should be offered for sale on a non-discriminatory basis, but they certainly shouldn’t be banned.
There’s another good treatment of the subject at Digital Society, inspired by the same conversation with peering maven Bill Norton.
UPDATE: There’s an incredible whine-a-thon in the comments to this article by Google’s Director of Network Operations Vijay Gill and some of his friends from a network operators’ IRC channel. Gill says I’ve got all the facts wrong because paid peering existed in a very limited way ten years ago under a different name. I don’t dispute that, but simply note its potential problems with net neutrality regulations in some guises. The issue is whether the Internet of the Future will be a slave to the Internet of the Past’s supposed insistence on a single service level for all peering agreements, not that there ever has been such a regulation.
UPDATE 2: One thing I definitely was unclear about is whether Arbor’s estimates of traffic growth, 47%, are in line with the MINTS estimates. I conclude that overall growth is much higher than the MINTS figure because Arbor measures only inter-domain traffic at Internet Exchanges. There’s obviously been a great deal of growth in the Akamai and Limelight CDNs, neither of which is measured by MINTS or Arbor, and growth in private peering (paid and unpaid) as well. MINTS measures more than public IX traffic, yet their figures are in line with Arbor’s data from public sources only; this difference in method and similarity of measurements suggests that MINTS may be understating the total of the inter-domain case, depending on how the load falls out between public and private sources. Private connections are increasing, according to IX operators and heavy users.