Thursday, March 29, 2012

AT&T Lost It's Chance to Bury the Internet Future

Technorati Profile

The system of communications that Baran attacked in the early 1960s at RAND was the imperial establishment of AT&T. As Baran explains, "While AT&T did have digital transmission under examination, it was in the context of fitting directly into the plant by replacing existing units on a one-for-one basis. A digital repeater unit would replace an analog loading coil. A digital multiplexer would replace an analog channel bankalways a one-for-one conceptual replacement, never a drastic change of basic architecture. I think that AT&T's views on digital networks were most honestly summarized by AT&T's Joern Ostermann after an exasperating session with me: 'First, it can't possibly work, and if it did, damned if we are going to allow the creation of a competitor to ourselves.'"

In 1972 the company sealed its fate by turning down an opportunity to buy the entire Arpanet. As Larry Roberts explained in Where Wizards Stay Up Late, "They finally concluded that the packet technology was incompatible with the AT&T network." So it was and so it still is. The existing phone system remains the chief obstacle to the final triumph of the Net. But the logic of digital communications is inexorable. It will displace all the existing establishments of television and telephony.  

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