Commercial Internet E Xchange - The Great Debate

The Great Debate

The early history of the Internet was dominated by U.S. government agencies such as ARPA/DARPA through ARPANET, the Defense Communications Agency (DCA) through MILNET, the National Science Foundation (NSF) through CSNET and NSFNET, the NSF sponsored regional research and education networks, and a handful of national networks sponsored by various federal government agencies. The focus of this group was either military/government or research and education communications, especially support for the separately funded NSF supercomputing initiatives that started after Nobel laureate Ken Wilson's testimony to Congress in the 1980s.

In general these federally supported networks did not allow commercial traffic that was not in direct support of a federal agency's mission or in support of research and education. There were of course many organizations that wanted access to the Internet, but did not do work directly for or with federal agency or in support of research and education.

In 1991 the NSF allowed Advanced Network and Services (ANS), a non-profit company established by the Merit Network, IBM, and MCI to carry commercial traffic over the ANSNet backbone, the same infrastructure that carried traffic for the NSFNET Backbone Service. NSF required ANS to (i) charge at least the average cost of carrying the commercial traffic, (ii) to set aside any revenue in excess of the cost of carrying the commercial traffic in an infrastructure pool that would be allocated to enhance and extend national and regional networking infrastructure and support, and (iii) to ensure that carrying commercial traffic did not diminish the NSFNET service.

Some saw allowing ANS CO+RE to carry commercial traffic as a good next step in the evolution of the Internet and as a way to bring about economies of scale that would reduce the cost of the Internet for everyone. Others were concerned by this approach to commercialization/privatization of the Internet and the manner in which ANS, IBM, and MCI received a perceived competitive advantage in leveraging federal research money to gain ground in fields in which other companies allegedly were more competitive. There was also disagreement about a settlement policy that seemed to require payments based on the amount of traffic exchanged.

The "com-priv" public mailing list at PSInet ( was created to provide an open forum where the pros and cons of the ANS/NSF agreement and approaches toward the commercialization of the Internet could be debated. The concept for the CIX was disclosed and debated on the com-priv list.

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