Out of Chaos …

In 1666, the City of London suffered one of the great disasters of Civilization, today known simply as “The Great Fire”. From chaos came greatness. London emerged stronger and better, with beautiful architecture and great landmarks. The masterpiece of that rebuilding was St. Paul’s Cathedral, completed in 1710.

The architect of that rebuilding was named Christopher Wren[1]. Upon his passing, his epitaph concludes with the Latin phrase Si monumentum requiris, circumspice— “If his monument you seek, look around.”

From the chaos of the early DARPA, ARPANET and NSF-funded NSFNET has emerged a globe-spanning communications facility we today call simply “The Internet.” It has become so commonplace and so taken for granted that Wired News has decreed that writers should no longer capitalize it, although that position has sparked a rebellion as others argue[2] that it is indeed a proper noun.

Like the London rebuilding, armies of resourceful and talented people, from lowly tradesmen to visionary architects, have devoted their lives to the project. It is impossible, not to mention absurd, to single out any individual as having “invented” the Internet. Nonetheless, just as Sir Christopher Wren was an architect and visionary leader in the London efforts, certain people today stand out as leaders who made monumental contributions to today’s Commercial Internet. In this work, I choose to capitalize both the word Commercial and Internet and treat it as a proper noun, because they refer to a specific thing derived from the original Internet and in which I have been privileged to participate as a lowly tradesman.

We all know of the visionaries who made their contributions. The list is long and hosts many prestigious names. Marc Andreesen and Eric Bina developed the first Internet Browser; Steve Wolff managed the NSFNet in the 1980s; David Clark was the chief architect of many of the protocols and the formation of the rules governing the Internet; Jon Postel and Paul Mockapetris designed and developed the global DNS system; Vint Cerf is a legend who wore many hats, Larry Roberts led the development of Arpanet and founded Telenet, which we cover in more detail later; Douglas Englebart is another legend, known for inventing the “Mouse” and who wore many hats, including that of Fellow at Tymnet where I worked in the 1980s and was privileged to meet him. The list is virtually endless; I could easily list another one hundred names in this pantheon.

 

This book is not about any of the well-known Internet luminaries, noteworthy though they may be, nor it is an epitaph. It is, however, a biography of someone who should receive credit for his role in turning the chaos of the early Internet into the media-rich digital medium we casually take for granted today. It documents precisely his role in that regard and his true accomplishments. In a larger sense, it is a biography of today’s media-rich Commercial Internet.

Scott Yeager was the visionary driver for the formation of MAE-East, the long-haul Commercial Internet backbone at MFS Datanet, and a pioneer of the media-rich streaming data services that came into being at the ill-fated Enron Broadband Services prior to the dot-com bubble burst in March of 2000.

The time has come to tell the other story of the Internet, the one that today is almost unknown, the role of Scott, myself and many others in building today’s Commercial Internet, and share the vision Scott and I hold for what it must become. This book provides not only the story but backs the tale with immense volumes of supporting information, documentation, videos and proposes a future that we believe must logically follow.

This tale is not singularly focused on the past. It tells not only how we got here, but where we think the Commercial Internet must go. For all its greatness, today’s Internet has serious shortcomings. Theft of personal data, identity theft, online scams, and advertising fraud run rampant, with online dollars diverted to organized crime. Insecure systems, poor security practices and an attitude of secrecy and reluctance to acknowledge failings inhibit real solutions. We propose a way forward, a networking future that is bright, optimistic, and secure, and have created a company called Reprivata to guide it.

 

Many people think they know the Enron story when they recall press accounts of faulty accounting practices and executives being trotted off to prison. Though indicted, Scott was cleared of all criminal charges. When the government attempted to try him a second time on essentially the same grounds, he battled this second case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And, again, he prevailed.

The scandals are what people remember. But there is another story, a less well known, seldom discussed side of Enron that emerged under the name of Enron Broadband Services (EBS) in 2000 on the eve of the dotcom bubble burst. Though largely forgotten today — EBS barely gets a mention in the Enron profile on Wikipedia, for example — Wall Street and high-tech firms in 1999 and 2000 recognized EBS as a major player in the technology sector.

There was a stir of genuine and warranted excitement in the air. Dotcoms were eager to enter into business partnerships with EBS because EBS was going to enable e-commerce, large scale file sharing, video streaming, and application services flowing through a distributed server system and fiber optic network configured on a scale never before imagined. This was rooted in work Scott had done at MFS and which WorldCom had failed to embrace. Enron hired him specifically to build what WorldCom had declined.

The basic concept was known as a “distributed server application service” and with it EBS was creating a Content Delivery Network (CDN).[1] These application layer services were called the Enron Intelligent Network (EIN) and it ran on the Broadband Operating System (BOS).  The CDN over which EBS would deliver streaming video was called Media Cast and Media Transport. These EBS innovations followed from earlier innovation at MFS, and that had followed even earlier innovation as a solitary entrepreneur.

The story of Enron became lost in the scandals and false claims of the prosecutors. The claim of prosecutors was that the BOS and EIN technology at EBS did not exist, wasn’t real or didn’t really work. Nothing could be further from the truth.

 

The technology, innovations, and the future envisioned at EBS was real, and it’s all around us today. Today’s Commercial Internet grew directly from those innovations. The Commercial Internet includes media-rich streaming content to enable e-commerce, and engage large audiences via all types of devices. This is the story of the commercialization of the Internet, but also about its flaws and how it now enables bad actors to take advantage of users, as well as what we can do about it. Circumspice! – Look Around!

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Wren

[2] https://www.wired.com/2015/10/should-you-be-capitalizing-the-word-internet/

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