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Q and A with Vint Cerf

Here's my attempt to transcribe (in real time) the Q and A sessions between Vint Cerf and his audience at this morning's NGN Keynote on telecommunications regulation, where he outlined a layered approach to regulation.

Q: In the real world, governments do cross layers. What's the old argument? Guns don't kill people, people do? Why should the cyberworld be any different?

A: The examples I gave reinforce that notion. But we shouldn't not try to structure the regulatory apparatus so it's more effective. Why do we regulate? You want to ensure fair markets that consumers are fairly treated. Short answer: We should try to get a structure to be more rational, even if not all governments are willing to comply.

Q: What regulation do you propose for VoIP for things like Vonage?
A: The component that's VoIP-based should be unregulated. At the point where it enters the public Net, you're consuming systems that are a part of the older infrastructure (older PSTN), so you can apply the old regime of regulation to that portion of the communication. For traffic that flows solely through the Internet, I see no reason to propose regulation. What is the end game? What if all the voice moves off the PSTN/wireline network? We should move toward a completely unregulated model, except where competition issues warrant such.

Q: Who pays for e911, CALEA (Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act), etc. If we can't tie that to voice, what do we tie it to? Who pays?

A: You can do 911 location services better with the IP system than you could with the PSTN network. The IP address information itself can say more about where you are than any satellite triangulation, even down to the hotel room you're staying in. So who pays depends upon the services being implemented. In other words, privatization.

Q: If layered regulations apply to a higher layer, will providers of lower layers be required to provide hooks for higher layers (vis a vi CALEA)?

A: If you accept the theory that governments have the right to obtain info to protect society, then you are forced to find ways to architect the system to allow that to happen. But things like end-to-end cryptography can defeat any number of hooks in the middle. So with these new tools available to create privacy, the mechanism for allowing government access may need to be at the edges of the Net and not at the middle.

Q: Is there a country where a regulation ideal best models what the United States should be looking toward?

A: I suggest you look at the United Kingdom, which recently restructured its regulatory apparatus, mirroring the FCC (in that it's one org). Their view is consistent with this layered approach. If there's a broadband resource at a given layer, you (as a service provider) should have access to it, regardless...of course, you'll need to pay for that access.

Q: Do most regulatory bodies employ engineers on staff? What's the dialog between standards bodies (like the IETF) and regulatory bodies to discuss these approaches?

A: The FCC has, from time to time, had a chief scientist. I'm not sure there is one there now. The technical group associated with radio communications has more attention than the group associated with architected communications (the Net). Personally, I'd like to see more attention paid to the technology and how it affects regulatory efforts.