CDF Conference: Standards, Infrastructures and Designs of the Internet

Panel:
John Gage, Sun Microsystems
Izumi Aizu, International University of Japan
Alex Zixiang Tan, Syracuse University
Andrew McLaughlin, Google

John Gage, Sun Microsystems
Open Source or Closed?

Mr. Gage said innovation in China is stifled by the requirement that people must get prior permission from the government to play with computer code — the same problem Lessig identified in the United States. In the U.S., it’s about Intellectual Property rules. In China, it’s about concern over technology’s direction.


Sun, where Mr. Gage works, is now giving its office software and operating system to Chinese programmers for almost free, in open source. He prefers this system over the current options — piracy vs. expensive software.

Alex Zixiang Tan, Syracuse University
Structure of Regulations

Historically, Mr. Tan said, there was a telecom regulator and there were other agencies that governed news, publishing and other areas. Today, as these different regulated organizations move into each other’s areas, regulation is getting more complicated.

There is a “state council” that leads decision-making. It negotiates with MII, MPS, SDPC, NNB, NCB, and other government agencies. The market players also have a role: China Netcom, Sina.com. And finally, foreign players, such as the U.S., E.U., and large Internet companies use WTO and other levers to have an effect.

Look at this page to see the resulting structure.

ISPs link to CERNET, CSTNet, China Telecom, and China Netcom. They in turn link to gateways controlled by MII. MII controls who gets access to the international internet.

Izumi Aizu, International University of Japan
Growth in China’s net

He is Japanese, but he has watched closely the improvement of how the Chinese desire for strong economic information systems have promoted internet development in China. You can open the country in name, he said, but “you still need to know how much oil costs in Shanghai as opposed to Guangzhou.”

Japanese loans ($200 million) and Chinese money (now $200 million per year in Shanghai alone) helped set up a nationwide info management system. The country started its system on TCP/IP back in 1994. It opened the databases to the public internet in 1995. At that time, only 5,000 people nationwide used the net. This is early — the United States started its first central government website in late 1994.

The economic database has spread to all players, small and large.

It has also promoted e-government. Central taxes and customs are now electronic. Local governments are moving to more and more electronic systems.

Andrew McLaughlin, Google
Domain names

Alphabets on the net: The whole internet domain name system is set up for the Roman alphabet — ASCII characters. UNICODE was invented — it allows Chinese characters to be mapped to ASCII characters.

This led to other problems. Things can look the same to users while mapping to different ASCII codes.

In China, Taiwan, Singapore, and Macau, tech geeks got together and came up with a way to ensure that no matter whether people used traditional or simplified Chinese script, they could register a domain and get all of the equivalent names in the other script.

Meanwhile, in China, military planners were trying to create an isolated Chinese internet. It was to send all internet queries within China to dedicated Chinese domain name servers that were not connected to the global net. He’s unsure but he thinks China’s entry into the WTO ensured the former group won out.

Question and Answer

An audience member asked about the resolution of China’s conflict with the United States over the Wireless Encryption Protocol.

– Another audience member said China gave in and accepted the American WEP as a concession on the overall trade gap.

– Mr. Tan said it wasn’t that surprising for them to want their own WEP — the United States is doing the same with High Definition TV.

– Mr. Gage said the IEEE is finally holding an 802.14 (Wireless Broadband) meeting in Shenzhen — the first time the group is meeting in China at all. He added that China has 5,000 IEEE members. But with a country of its size, it should have 50,000.

– Mr. Aizu said that people in non-English-speaking countries get frustrated with being outside the standards organizations, but that they are finally being included — “the flip side of globalization.”

– Mr. McLaughlin said people outside of China should recognize that it’s in their interest to bring the Chinese into every process.

An audience member asked whether the Chinese could get deeper into the standards-setting process, including the open-source development of fundamental technologies.

Mr. Tan said he felt it was more complicated than it looked. He thinks standards will continue to be used for political and economic strategic purposes.

Mr. McLaughlin said that traditionally, standards have been set openly, accommodating interest group demands. He said the habits that build up in an open standards process are the same as the habits needed for many parts of consensus development. And that’s why meetings need to be held in places outside the English-speaking world, and in formats friendly to non-English-speakers. That will avoid the strategic use of standards.

Mr. Aizu said the days of pure engineering decisions is gone. He said he liked Mr. McLaughlin’s idea, but there is a question — are processes open to those who want to participate? Or to those who should participate? Language and economic situation can obstruct participation.

Mr. Gage said the open source system is far more secure. Governments say they don’t like private protocols, but they actually like them — they are more breakable. And maybe the reason the global WEP system was adopted in China for good security reasons.

(posted by Steven Bodzin)

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