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


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