Susan Estrada: What led me here to this awards ceremony is some of the things that I did in the late 80s, 1980s. It was a kinda heady time. In southern California, a lot of the universities were already working together with the San Diego Supercomputer Center, and we decided jointly to start a regional network. And with all of our partners at the universities we obtained some big NSF money at the time and put together a big fast network that involved T1 lines—1.544 megabits per second—which today isn’t even a fast DSL line, and 56 kilobit connections to campuses that were considered to be high-performance, super fast; vendors didn’t even know what we should do with them because nobody had that much data.
As a result of that we…you know, I’m a person I came from the phone company. So I liked to have service that worked. I liked to make my customers happy. And we were really pressed at the time because there was this idea that the “Internet” was only for academics and government. But we were having a lot of commercial customers come to us and want to be able to use the Internet for conversing with their people at universities as well as at other companies around the US.
So, we worked with another firm—a couple of firms, PSI and UUNET, and together the three of us formed something called the Commercial Internet Exchange. And when we did that that was the first time ever that commercial traffic was able to pass through the Internet. And that was in 1991. So, it was quite quite an adventure coming from a very academic bent, to actually making a commercial endeavor.
Intertitle: Describe one of the breakthrough moments of the Internet in which you have been a key participant?
Estrada: Well obviously the CIX was one of them, of actually being able to legitimately use the Internet for commercial traffic. ‘Cause it was huge. I mean you can’t even imagine today not using the Internet from your cell phone or from your computer, in your business, at home, wherever you are. And back in the 80s and 90s you couldn’t do that. You could only go to certain places. So that was a huge, kind of seminal change in the Internet face at that time.
Also we did stuff like we were the first ones to offer dial-up Internet before you know…there were all of these old-school services out there, but a lot of our customers wanted to be able to dial up. So we got modems and we hacked ’em up and allowed people to dial up into the Internet. Which sounds really crazy today, right, because who uses dial-up anymore but that was very edgy at the time. We worked with folks up in LA who were doing a network as well, and Jon Postel was leading that. And he and I together decided to purchase Cisco routers. And Cisco at the time was a little itty bitty startup company in a warehouse somewhere in the Bay Area in California. And that year when we placed our order from CERFNet with Cisco, it was 10% of the gross revenue for the year. And they didn’t know how to fulfill the order because it was the biggest order they ever got. So you know, you look now at Cisco which has…you know, streets, buildings, and you think back at those times when Cisco was this little tiny company. So there was a lot of changes at the time that we were involved with.
Intertitle: Describe the state of the Internet today with a weather analogy and explain why.
Estrada: I actually— In weather terms I think the Internet is sunny. You know, every now and then— I’m a Californian, right. So it’s always sunny except the ten days a year where it’s crappy. And so you know, there’s gonna be times, just like California, where it’s cloudy or stormy but generally speaking I think it’s sunny. The power of the Internet is so amazing. You know, every day I go it’s just so amazing that when you want to look something up, no matter where you are you pick up your phone, you sit down at your computer, or your tablet and boom you have all the information you ever wanted, right there at your fingertips.
I just don’t know…you know, there’s a lot of turmoil about different aspects of it but the interesting thing with the Internet if you look at the evolution of it is that things have always sort of worked their way out. It’s sort of more like a communal space, and people find ways around the problems that will occur. I’m all about lemonade, so I think it’s a really sunny future.
Intertitle: What are your greatest hopes and fears for the future of the Internet?
Estrada: Concerns, I don’t have a lot. I mean, I think some of the work that I’ve been doing recently is trying to use encourage older adults, the 65+ age group, to use the Internet more than they do now. It’s a real problem for the older adults, because once you get out of the workforce…you know, the people in that age group, they’re not digital natives like you guys are, you know, where you grew up with computers and cell phones and all that stuff. You’re used to that. But for people who are digital immigrants, it’s a much different situation, and trying to keep abreast of the craziness and the pace of change in the Internet today is very hard for a lot of people who don’t have tech support or think that it’s okay to keep a computer for ten years before you throw it away. And things like that. So I think probably my biggest concern now is to make sure that we have the infrastructure in place to make sure that people can continuously use the Internet as long as they are able to do so.
I guess my hope for the future of the Internet is it still just keeps on keepin’ on. And you know, growing; we can get into more of the countries that have really had some disadvantages of getting online because of infrastructure issues.
Also in the US I think in particular I’d really like to see there be real Internet speeds. The kind of thing that Google is doing now of putting a gigabit in so we can actually make some massive strides forward in the types of applications we use and the ways that people interact with each other. It’s a wonderful, wonderful tool.
Intertitle: What action should be taken to ensure the best possible future?
Estrada: You know, I guess the big thing now is the transition of the Internet from the US government out to some other parties for the governance aspects of it. The Internet Society has been around for a long time and been doing a fantastic job, as has ICANN, that’s really sort of grown into their space and done a great job now.
There’s a lot of people who are very worried about what’s going to happen with all that, but I actually think that a lot of the people that do Internet stuff are gonna continue to do the right thing. [sighs] I don’t know, that’s pretty lame but you know. I don’t know. Action, today. I just— You know, I just marvel when I watch my 21 month-old granddaughter pick up a cell phone and use the Internet today and it’s just part of her life. And I just hope that that action can continue in every country all over the world so that we can continue to have a global economy and continue to have a really wonderful opportunity to mesh cultures and work with each other to make a better place.