LACNIC – 10 YEARS: An Interview with Patrik Fältström
“Business models have moved faster than protocols”
While visiting Montevideo, Patrik Fältström, chair of the ICANN Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC), reviewed European connectivity in the mid-1980s and recalled the initial resistance to the IP protocol
By Pablo Izmirlian.
Sweden, the mid-1980s. Patrik Fältström divided his time between the Royal Navy and the Royal Institute of Technology. At that time he realized he was more interested in computers than mathematics and began working on the deployment of the Internet in his country. Today, Fältström chairs the ICANN Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC) and is Head of Research and Development at Netnod, an independent, non-profit organization that manages Internet Exchange Points. After his presentation at the Lacnic 10 Years meeting titled Challenges with Unwanted Activities on the Internet, he spoke about the early steps of the Internet in Sweden and the European connectivity landscape when the World Wide Web began to make its way in the continent.
Is it true that northern European countries were early adopters of the Internet?
Yes, that is correct. In those days, in Europe we had networks in Italy, in the Nordic countries, one network in Austria and in the Netherlands, and then we had a university in France, but nothing else. This was partly because we hadn’t deregulated yet, so you only had incumbents and you didn’t have any separate regulator that was independent of the government and the incumbent. So in many cases, for example in Germany, you could not use other protocols than what the telco were providing to you, which means that in Germany you could not run IP protocol at all. So that’s one example, while in the Nordic countries we could do whatever we wanted. To some degree we were lucky, we could have the transmission that we needed and we could start around IP on top of it.
Was there a sense of competition with the development of the Internet in the US? Did Europe feel it was lagging behind?
No, not at all. Running IP networks in the US started of course earlier that in Europe, but in Europe we had commercial IP before than in the US, because in the US you had the National Science Foundation, that was funding the network originally, and one of the clauses to be able to connect to the NSFNet said you were not allowed to run commercial IP traffic over NSFNet. On our network, in the Nordic countries, we didn’t have that kind of clauses because it was the Nordic council of ministers that made the decision we should have the network protocol agnostic. So we ran several protocols, like X.25, IP… IP was only one of the protocols, but there were no clauses that commercial companies could not use it. So when we connected to NSFNet, in the fall of 1989, we ended up having a problem because we could have commercial traffic but not over to the US. So in 1991, in March, the first commercial ISP started in Sweden, to be able to take care of the commercial IP traffic.
Do you remember which was that first ISP?
It was Tele2, or what is called SWIPNet, Swedish IP Network. That provider was created after a few people had been negotiating with the incumbent for almost nine months to try to convince the incumbent to run IP, and the incumbent didn’t want to do it. And then finally… we started fall of ’89, negotiating with the incumbent all through 1990, and then in the fall of 1990, gave up, talked with the competitor, the challenger of the incumbent, that just had started a cell phone service, what about running IP? The challenger said “will it upset the incumbent?”, and we said “yes it will”, [and they said] “then we do it” [laughs].
Why was there such a resistance to run IP?
Because there was an agreement among governments in the world that IP was not to be used. Full stop.
Sounds like a conspiracy.
Yeah, but those were the days. It was like that, and this is what people should remember, that it was not until around the mid-eighties, or even a bit later, when governments and regulators started to think about IP. And if you look at ITU [International Telecommunication Union], everything is coming from that old telco world, that IP was not good.
And now we are talking about IPv6.
Yes, but when we started it was already IPv4, which we are still using, so the evolution is not that fast. The business models have moved faster than protocols.