Michael Stanton: Good evening. As you maybe noticed, Brazil is represented here in the Internet Hall of Fame by three typical Brazilians. There’s Tadao Takahashi. There’s Demi Getschko. And there’s myself. And we all came together in the 1980s to be able to help to construct the first Internet network in Brazil. This had a series of aspects. I only met the two of them during this process, and it was an interesting one because it was conducted partly within the scientific community. I was a university professor. I have been from when I went to Brazil in 1971 until my retirement five years ago.
And during this time in the 80s, I was working as the head of department of computer science at the Catholic University in Rio de Janeiro. And my first activity connected with networks was just using…how shall I put it, local area networks. And then, I’ve always been interested in communications and also a bit in geography. I read about the NSFNET. NSFNET was started, engineered, in 1985. And the news of this arrived in Brazil a little bit later because at the time we had no good electronic communications. You had to wait for the journals to arrive by surface mail and all that kind of stuff. But I was so impressed by what I read about what was going on in this that I really decided that this was what we needed in order to be able to communicate adequately in the academic community.
And so, I used the contacts I had in different areas to try to provoke a discussion about such a goal. And there were two meetings which I helped to organize in that year, 1987. One was just the people that were in the computing and networking area. And this also included, cold, people from our NSF called CNPq, who asked me to organize a larger meeting at the university of São Paulo some months later, to which about forty, forty-five people came. And these people represented a part of the government, many of the research groups in different disciplines, and also the state telephone monopoly, which was to prove a one of the obstacles in the path of being able to do what we wanted to do.
But we went ahead and defined at this meeting what were the obstacles and how we’d like to overcome them. And the result of this was that two years later, the Brazilian government launched a project called RNP, that’s the National Research Network in Portuguese, and Tadao Takahashi was appointed as the coordinator of this project. And shortly afterwards he invited Demi and myself to join him, and together we worked in collaboration in order to deliver what was proposed at that meeting two years earlier.
It took us three years. And they were very interesting years. We had interaction for instance with people in Latin America during this time. There was an international meeting held in Rio de Janeiro which I helped organize but I didn’t take much part in as far as the international connections were concerned.
But we ended up in 1992 with a national backbone network which touched eleven of the twenty-seven constituent parts of Brazil at the vast speed of 64 kilobits a second, or 9.6 kilobits a second. It’s funny. This marks I suppose you could say in retrospect the digital divide between our parts of the world and North America. You know, we had this vast difference between the speeds which were then operating on the NSFNET and our own.
However, that was a challenge. RNP was established as I say in 1992 as a network. The following year, I moved back to the university because the option for me to continue with RNP was to stop being a professor and start being a…living off of a grant, and that wasn’t really feasible with the number of children I had at that time.
So I just started reverting to what was going on and the problems in the universities and I had a very happy few years interacting there with the new university I went to. I was at the Catholic University in ’87 and then I moved to the UFF, the Federal University in Niterói next to Rio. And that was how I spent the next eight years.
In 1995—this is important—the commercial Internet came to Brazil. After two years of an RNP working and reading about what you could do on the Internet, there was a vast clamor for commercial services. And in fact RNP was enrolled in this process of helping to set up the commercial Internet. At the same time we had a new government in that year, 1995, whose objectives included to break up the telecom monopoly. Which was an essential part of removing obstacles to bringing investment into this kind of activity. And so that was a very tumultuous period which as I say, I missed out on quite a lot.
However, RNP’s involvement was significant because their backbone, which by then was something right 2 meg connections, was widely used as an alternative to the state monopoly’s network and provided options thus for providers to be able to take their traffic to the exchange points which were starting to appear.
Tadao had left by 1996, and his successor was José Luís Ribeiro. José Luís was working before that at a university in Rio also, and he was alarmed at the idea that there was a lot of discussion at that time of abandoning altogether the support by the government of a national research and education network. And he advanced a new proposal, which was to convert the RNP project into a nonprofit company which would then be contracted by the government on a regular basis as a part of the national budget to operate and run the network. And this was done about 1999, 2000. And this set the stage for what was going to happen after that.
What happened after that was that José Luís decided he wanted to be part of the commercial Internet also. And so he left RNP and looked for another job. His successor was Nelson Simões, who has been director general of RNP now since 2001. And I was already known to him because the university I had been at in 1987, he was also there. And in 2002 he invited me to rejoin RNP as a member of the board of directors and then to work together to solve the problems, or to advance the state of research and education networking in order to make it something which we could best sell to the government as a fixture for supporting research, education, and similarly-related parts of our society which really needed networks.
So, in this period starting 2002, RNP moved in a number of areas for the next few years, developing the network more, producing collaboration within the community of the universities to develop network services for use by our users. And also to start introducing international connections with other networks of a similar kind. And these were obviously the United States but also in other countries of Latin America and in Europe. So number of long-term collaborations began with these other continents, and this helped to bring us closer to where we ought to be in terms of providing adequate services for our users.
RNP was launched in September 1989, exactly thirty years ago this month. So we’re now at the stage of looking back and seeing how we are at present. Brazil’s a very large country, as you probably know. We have now clients…campus, in 1,500 points in institutions around the country. And we can calculate about 4 million, which is about 2% of the population, is served by these connections either as people who work in the universities or they’re students and so on.
The latest news we have about attacking the digital divide is we have a series of new initiatives in course. Many of these are to do with network development. And one of the people most involved in handling this is our present director of networks, who’s Eduardo Grizendi. And these include…now, this is several years later after the first network, upgrading our backbone to 100 gig, and possibly…it’s scalable because it’s multiples of a 100 gig; it depends on the demand of traffic you have.
There’s international connections which are also at the same level: 100 gig, scalable. RedCLARA—I didn’t mention RedCLARA but RedCLARA was set up around 2003 to bring together the similar networks in Latin America from Mexico down to the south of South America. There about fourteen national networks involved in RedCLARA and our project of building and operating this network has been the object of much assistance from the European Union through successive projects. So we we are now increasing the capacity of the RedCLARA network also to 100 gig scalable. And there are new international routes. They’re linked to the US, there’s a new route to Africa, a new cable. Transatlant—trans-South atlantic cable for change, is enabling us to get directly from Brazil and thus the rest of Latin America to Africa. And for the first time in many many years, a new submarine cable is under construction at the moment between Brazil and Portugal, which will provide very high-capacity scalable access to Europe.
So all of these things are going on at the moment. RNP is now thirty years from from point its zero. What it will be like in another thirty years’ time it’s very difficult for me to predict; I probably won’t be around to see it. But time will tell, and I think the signs are good.
I’d like to close by thanking some of the people who have been involved in this proposal to be a member here. The proponent was Peter Knight, who is a United States citizen who lives and works in Brazil. He’s an economist and is a stand up paddler at 76; he’s in very good condition. Then there are my sponsors, the people who provided support letters. There are five of them altogether. One is Professor Harvey Newman from CalTech. Because of our great collaboration in assisting the physics researchers who are scattered around Brazil. Also Nelson Simões the director general, and Flavio Wagner who’s currently the head of the Internet Society in Brazil. And two of my former students, Iara Machado who’s now a director of RNP in my place, and Antonio Abele[sp?] from the university in Pará.
I’ll close by thanking very much the Internet Society for recognizing and approving and giving me this opportunity. I’m very pleased and very proud and rather humbled to get to this stage, and I’d like to thank them very much.
And finally, my family. I have my daughter here with me. She’s sat at the table here at the front. My wife Virgilia and we have two sons also, Antony and Leonardo. They follow and support me very much in all that I do in this respect. And I’d like to thank all of them. Thank you.
Internet Hall of Fame profile