François Flückiger: I did most of my career at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, the biggest physics lab­o­ra­to­ry in the world, where we try and under­stand what the mat­ter is made of, what the vac­u­um is made of, where the uni­verse comes from. And to do that, we need we need tech­nol­o­gy and we need net­work­ing, because we work with thou­sands of physi­cists around the world. This is why we need it, net­work­ing and connection.

In 83, I was giv­en the job to devel­op and improve the CERN exter­nal net­work­ing. At that time, we had a cou­ple of leased line con­nec­tions, one to France, the oth­er one to the UK. And eight years lat­er, CERN had become the largest Internet hub in Europe, gath­er­ing on the order of 80% of the total band­width for Internet installed in Europe. And this was my job, to devel­op that from these two minus­cule links two the largest European hub for Internet in Europe by 9192

Intertitle: Describe one of the break­through moments or move­ments of the Internet in which you have been a key participant.

Flückiger: There were sev­er­al moments which were par­tic­u­lar­ly epic, I would say. Some of our physi­cists were work­ing in far­away coun­tries such as China. And I remem­ber a mem­o­rable trip in Beijing to set up the very first con­nec­tion between the nation­al physics insti­tute in China and CERN, a long line cross­ing China, Mongolia, and the rest—the USSR at that time, and the rest of Europe. So, there were some con­nec­tions which were not easy to do, and we were pio­neer­ing, often mak­ing the first con­nec­tion between one giv­en coun­try and and Europe and CERN

Intertitle: Describe the state of the Internet today with a weath­er anal­o­gy and explain why.

Flückiger: I think that the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion with the Internet is a mix of hopes and fears. The main fear I have, and I believe most of my col­leagues have, is to see the Internet more frag­ment­ed than it is, and much more frag­ment­ed than we want­ed it to be. When we designed it, we devel­oped tech­nol­o­gy which was due to be open, which means that every­one knows the tech­nol­o­gy, every­one can devel­op it, and every­one can improve it as well. 

And the pos­i­tive point of that is still that for some of what we call—for part of the archi­tec­ture, all the mech­a­nisms which allow a piece of infor­ma­tion to go from one place to the oth­er one, they still use open tech­nolo­gies, what we call TCP/IP tech­nolo­gies. It has been chal­lenged some­times by com­pa­nies which want­ed to devel­op par­al­lel pro­pri­etary tech­nolo­gies. It failed. Everyone knew that still the same tech­nol­o­gy which is often, known to every­one, this is a pos­i­tive aspect. 

On the oth­er hand, at oth­er lev­els, what we call the appli­ca­tion level—what you use—sometimes it’s still okay. Mail, for exam­ple. If I send you a mail, if I receive a mail from you, this will use a tech­nol­o­gy which is open to every­one. But all the appli­ca­tions will start to be frag­ment­ed, and main­ly pro­pri­etary tech­nolo­gies are used. Which means that you can only talk and com­mu­ni­cate with your camp. And if you want to com­mu­ni­cate with some­one else, you need to use a dif­fer­ent tech­nol­o­gy. And the two camps will not com­mu­ni­cate. Think of the way in which you do video con­fer­enc­ing, for exam­ple. It’s one camp, or anoth­er one, or a third one. And you need to speak all lan­guages, and not a com­mon lan­guage. There is Esperanto lan­guage. You need to talk all lan­guages and to be part of all the com­mu­ni­ties if you want to com­mu­ni­cate with var­i­ous parts of those com­mu­ni­ties. This is to me one of the main threats. 

The oth­er one, the one that every­one talks about, is the indi­rect threat—and it is through no fault of the Internet, it is through the fault of our gov­ern­ments, the threat on the privacy—our pri­va­cy, your pri­va­cy, the pri­va­cy of our infor­ma­tion. The fact that if I call you this can be record­ed. And if you call me this could be record­ed well. Your mes­sages and what­ev­er web site you nav­i­gate to. So, this is through no fault of the Internet, but this is a fact that this is a pow­er­ful tool which allows for attack­ing pri­va­cy. This is a threat.

Intertitle: Is there action that should be tak­en to ensure the best pos­si­ble future?

Flückiger: Some of the actions to help main­tain­ing the open­ness is to main­tain in those orga­ni­za­tions which devel­op the tech­nol­o­gy, essen­tial­ly the IETF, the ini­tial spir­it of open­ness and the ini­tial spir­it of try­ing as far as pos­si­ble to resist the indus­tri­al pres­sures. It is nat­ur­al, it is just nor­mal that a com­pa­ny tries to lob­by the evo­lu­tion of the tech­nol­o­gy for their inter­est. This is what the com­pa­ny is for. But above that, there is the inter­est of the soci­ety at large. So, main­tain­ing in struc­tures like the IETF, which devel­oped the tech­nol­o­gy, this open spir­it where we try and min­i­mize those influ­ences to keep devel­op­ing tech­nol­o­gy which is for the ben­e­fit of all and not for the ben­e­fit of one par­tic­u­lar com­pa­ny is essen­tial, and this is what I believe will main­tain a full open­ness in the future. 

Intertitle: Is there any­thing else you would like to add?

Flückiger: I remem­ber October 88, there was a sec­ond meet­ing of a com­pli­cat­ed com­mitte called CCIRN, Coordinating Committee for Intercontinental Research Networking. It was held in West Virginia. And there was a few Europeans. I was rep­re­sent­ing CERN, my orga­ni­za­tion, with a few of us. And at the end of the meet­ing, which was focused on how to deploy the Internet, our American col­leagues, led by Vint Cerf, told us, Look, guys from Europe, if you are inter­est­ed in the Internet, you should try and set up a struc­ture to allo­cate the IP address­es your­self. Because we keep doing that for you. So if you are seri­ous with the Internet, try and do that in Europe.”

I returned to CERN in Geneva, and two months lat­er I called a meet­ing. And there was a hand­ful of peo­ple, but very moti­vat­ed peo­ple, who answered. Six peo­ple in total. Rob Blockzijl and Daniel Karrenberg from Amsterdam, Mats Brunel from Sweden, Enzo Valente from Italy, Olivier Martin and myself from CERN. We gath­ered in a small bar­rack at CERN on a rainy day and then we decid­ed that we need­ed to set up the struc­ture. In the mid­dle of the after­noon, in the mid­dle of the meet­ing, Daniel Karrenberg pro­posed a name for that struc­ture. He called it RIPE. It was a French acronym: Réseaux IP Européens. And this is a struc­ture which till now allo­cates IP address­es in Europe and part of the world as well. So, it’s a small anec­dote that tells what a hand­ful of peo­ple moti­vat­ed and will­ing to do things can achieve.

Six months after this meet­ing, Rob Blockzijl orga­nized the first forum for RIPE in Amsterdam, and a cou­ple of months lat­er Daniel Karrenberg cre­at­ed the RIPE Network Coordinating Center, which is still doing the job of allo­cat­ing resources for Internet in Europe and part of the world.

I believe that if talk­ing about one of the main threats, which is the fact that the Internet has become a sort of vehi­cle for gov­ern­ments, or means for gov­ern­ments vio­lat­ing pri­va­cy of cit­i­zens and indi­vid­u­als, all means to denounce and to fight that are good. So this can be done via col­lec­tive actions, and a hand­ful of peo­ple can gath­er togeth­er to hack together—you are stronger if you act togeth­er. But not for­get­ting that some­times, very influ­en­tial indi­vid­u­als mak­ing their voice alone, and their voice not being dilut­ed in a group may have also a strong effect. So I believe that the most influ­en­tial peo­ple, the most well-known peo­ple in the Internet are wel­come to denounce and to make their voice against the lack of pri­va­cy and the risks that the gov­ern­ments now are mak­ing, as well as groups, indi­vid­u­als, can gath­er together—and also through orga­ni­za­tions. The Internet Society, ISOC, is one of those big group vehi­cles that can chan­nel those mes­sages. There is pri­va­cy. There is free­dom. And this too must be respect­ed as well, even though every­one under­stands the need to pro­tect soci­ety and maybe some com­pro­mis­es need to be done here and there, but at least that we know what is being done with our data and in par­tic­u­lar with our pri­vate data.

Further Reference

François Flückiger pro­file, Internet Hall of Fame 2013

Help Support Open Transcripts

If you found this useful or interesting, please consider supporting the project monthly at Patreon or once via Cash App, or even just sharing the link. Thanks.