Kees Neggers: My role in Internet devel­op­ment, I’ve been involved in the set­ting up of the nation­al research net­work in the Netherlands and have been the man­ag­ing direc­tor of SURFnet from the start in 88 until my retire­ment last year. And the task of SURFnet was to pro­vide an advanced research net­work for the research and high­er edu­ca­tion com­mu­ni­ty in the Netherlands. And as such we had to push the enve­lope all the time. So in the 80s, net­work­ing was sketchy. There were all kinds of pri­vate net­works and there was this major OSI devel­op­ment that would solve all the future net­work­ing prob­lems but did­n’t deliv­er yet. And then the Internet came around and that was the only way real­ly to bring advanced ser­vices to the research com­mu­ni­ty at that time. So we got involved in that, auto­mat­i­cal­ly. And of course, being respon­si­ble for push­ing the enve­lope, I got involved in push­ing the Internet enve­lope as well. 

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

Neggers: There were some of course moments that were…you could call dis­rup­tive. That men­tal­i­ty changed and then things were…moving for­wards. In the begin­ning, in Europe we had PTT monop­o­lies and we had to use their services—no oth­er way. In the Netherlands we were lucky that the PTT and the gov­ern­ment allowed us to move ahead of that. And the PTT pro­vid­ed us with band­width that we were allowed to use for our net­works and we were no longer forced to use their net­works. In their view, that of course would only be tem­po­rary, and after they would have imple­ment­ed that for every­body and we would come back and use their services. 

Of course in the end it turned out that the PTT ser­vices in Europe were not able to serve the research com­mu­ni­ty, and the Internet came around and even today the PTTs serve Internet ser­vices to every­body, of course. So we made the whole circle. 

And in that time­frame, we had to pass many hur­dles. And the first one was of course get­ting band­width, which we were lucky in the Netherlands. And the sec­ond one was get­ting band­width that scaled, because the needs of these users grow expo­nen­tial­ly. They were… Researchers could always use what­ev­er was avail­able. And we are look­ing again in the Netherlands that we were allowed to pro­vide these Internet ser­vices in par­al­lel to our future devel­op­ments. And so the users did­n’t have to wait until the final net­work was there. And of course in the end the final net­work nev­er came around and the Internet continued.

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

Neggers: Well I think the Internet is pret­ty cloudy today. I don’t say that it is more than part­ly cloudy. And you risk storms. And we bet­ter be pre­pared for that. It’s obvi­ous that the Internet is a tremen­dous suc­cess, and the world is not pre­pared to live with­out it any­more. At the same time, it has nev­er been designed to pro­vide the ser­vices it is assumed to do today. So it’s a lot of dif­fi­cul­ties. And we have to move ahead of that. So in my view we real­ly need a clean slate to solve these prob­lems. Continuing to patch the Internet is no longer work­ing. We have real­ly real­ly reached the end of that. It’s amaz­ing how that patch­work has sur­vived so long and how many more things have been pos­si­ble than had ever been thought when it was designed. But we have now reached the end, in my view, and a clean slate is need­ed. And that means more research is need­ed. Of course there’s the addi­tion­al hand­i­cap that it has to be com­pat­i­ble with what we have because no one wants to get out of this any­more. They have seen the ben­e­fits and we have to con­tin­ue with that. 

Intertitle: What are your great­est hopes and fears for the future of the Internet?

Neggers: Well my fear is that peo­ple will con­tin­ue to try to patch the exist­ing Internet. And my hope is that peo­ple will real­ly have the courage to start with a new, well-designed Internet, based on what we now know about what the real needs are, what the Internet needs to serve, and then imple­ment that. 

Interviewer: What does a well-designed Internet look like?

Neggers: Well, the cur­rent Internet has some fun­da­men­tal design flaws. It has nev­er been designed to deal mobil­i­ty, with mul­ti­hom­ing. Security. These are essen­tial ele­ments of a future-proof net­work. The cur­rent Internet does­n’t scale to serve the whole world. It does­n’t scale— We found some patch­es to do voice over the Internet, but now we have to do video over the Internet. You’re mak­ing video now. You need anoth­er Internet. And then you walk around with your mobile phone. You want anoth­er Internet to be served by that phone, much bet­ter than you are today. 

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

Neggers: Again, gov­ern­ments have to step in and fund appro­pri­ate researchers to design this new net­work. And of course take the risk that a num­ber of vest­ed inter­ests will oppose it, but nev­er­the­less sup­port build­ing some­thing new that serves the users in the end. 

Further Reference

Kees Neggers pro­file, Internet Hall of Fame 2013

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