'Net pioneer celebrates 40 years and looks ahead

32-year Merit veteran reminisces on the Internet's 40-year history

What are the most interesting projects that Merit has under way right now?

After the NSF activity, Merit reverted back to its original role of providing services within the state of Michigan. I think one of the ongoing activities [that's] an outgrowth of the NSFnet area is Merit's involvement with NANOG [North American Network Operators' Group]. Merit is the sponsor and organizer for those activities and I think that remains a very valuable contribution.

From a state of Michigan point of view, Merit is by far the largest ISP, providing network connectivity to almost all of the higher-educational community in the state. So it has a very major role in providing the network infrastructure to the educational component in Michigan, including access to Internet2. It also provides connectivity to many other organizations -- elements of the state government and some municipal and county governments, plus libraries.

How has Merit set the standard for other state research networks?

One of the things that has been unique about Merit is we started in the late 1960s and it's still in existence now. Very few other state networks have evolved in quite that way. And Merit has also been much more innovative in use of technology and operation.

Do you see the role of state research networks changing over the next 10, 15 or 20 years?

There was quite a change following the NSFnet era -- the number of the state or regional networks that were formed or in existence have evolved to rather different entities. Some have decided to go commercial, some have gone out of existence and new ones formed. So I think that trend will continue to happen. It's hard to say in 10 or 20 or more years what will really happen to Merit. But I believe, at least for the next few years, Merit will continue pretty much on the same path that it currently has. It has strong support from its board of directors.

What do you think are the key challenges facing the Internet industry right now?

Certainly some of the concerns with respect to security. Malicious use of the network, the amount of spam traffic, phishing and other related problems.... I don't see any easy solutions to those issues and I think that will be an ongoing challenge for folks to deal with.

Does Merit have a position or take a stand on any of the burning issue of today, like net neutrality or Internet regulation, or whether Internet services should be treated as information or telecom services?

I know one of the issues that Merit staff are very much concerned about is complying with the CALEA requirements and how to deal with those. And that's not simple because the actual requirements are not spelled out in considerable detail. That is an issue I know that the staff is actively working on.

One of the other characteristics of [Merit as a nonprofit organization is that it is] pretty careful about not getting too active in lobbying or taking strong positions on major issues. So I'm not aware of any major effort on Merit's part for or against 'Net neutrality.

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Jim Duffy

Network World

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