Linux’s Broadening Foundation

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It’s time to embrace 5G, starting with the Edge in our homes and hands.

In June 1997, David Isenberg, then of
AT&T Labs Research, wrote a landmark
paper titled “Rise of the Stupid
Network”
. You can still find it here. The
paper argued against phone companies’ intent to make their own systems
smarter. He said the internet, which already was subsuming all the world’s
phone and cable TV company networks, was succeeding not by being smart, but
by being stupid. By that, he meant the internet “was built for intelligence at
the end-user’s device, not in the network”.

In a stupid network, he wrote, “the data is boss, bits are essentially free,
and there is no assumption that the data is of a single data rate or data
type.” That approach worked because the internet’s base protocol, TCP/IP, was
as general-purpose as can be. It supported every possible use by not caring
about any particular use or purpose. That meant it didn’t care about data
rates or types, billing or other selfish concerns of the smaller specialized
networks it harnessed. Instead, the internet’s only concern was connecting end
points for any of those end points’ purposes, over any intermediary networks,
including all those specialized ones, without prejudice. That lack of
prejudice is what we later called neutrality.

The academic term for the internet’s content- and purpose-neutral design is
end-to-end. That design was informed by “End-to-End Arguments in System
Design”
, a paper by Jerome Saltzer, David P. Reed and David D. Clark,
published in 1980. In 2003, David
Weinberger
and I later cited both papers in
“World of Ends: What the Internet Is and How to Stop Mistaking It for
Something Else”
. In it, we explained:

When Craig Burton describes the Net’s stupid architecture as a hollow
sphere comprised entirely of ends, he’s painting a picture that gets at
what’s most remarkable about the Internet’s architecture: Take the value out
of the center and you enable an insane flowering of value among the connected
end points. Because, of course, when every end is connected, each to each and
each to all, the ends aren’t endpoints at all.

And what do we ends do? Anything that can be done by anyone who wants to
move bits around.