Internet freedom reigns in Amsterdam
Sat Sep 30, 2006 11:00am ET253
By Lucas van Grinsven, European Technology Correspondent
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Amsterdam has the world's busiest Internet exchange, thanks to nuclear physicists and mathematicians who in the 1980s connected their network needs with the academic belief that knowledge needs to be free.
At a time when the neutrality of the Internet is at stake, and Internet service providers (ISPs) are moving to prioritize their premium traffic, the Amsterdam Internet Exchange is a reminder that the Internet was built on the principle of the unrestricted exchange of ideas and information.
The popularity of the AMS-IX. the official name of the exchange, is the result of a liberal foundation which has created a place where ISPs can do business any way they like.
"'Anything goes unless it's forbidden', was our motto from the beginning. We added a few rules later on, but any unnecessary organizing is being prevented," said Rob Blokzijl from Nikhef, the National Institute for Nuclear Physics and High Energy Physics in the Netherlands.
It shares this spirit with the designers of the Internet who decided that all data packets were created equal, and with Tim Berners-Lee who developed the World Wide Web at the Swiss particle physics lab CERN as a universal and neutral platform.
"The public will demand an open Internet," Berners-Lee said in a recent interview with Reuters.
Indeed, the debate over "net neutrality" is one of the biggest issues facing the Web today on both sides of the Atlantic, pitting big cable and phone companies against Internet powerhouses like Google Inc.
At issue is whether broadband providers should be allowed to create "toll booths" that would charge Internet companies to move content along fast broadband lines, a move critics say would restrict the freedom of the Web.
The birth of AMS-IX is in fact the accidental consequence of Blokzijl's deal -- over a cup of coffee -- to team up with a neighboring center for mathematicians and computer scientists. They bundled their network budgets to buy more network capacity from powerful telecoms monopolies back then.
"It took months to get a line between Amsterdam and Geneva, and we had to coordinate between the local telecoms operators because they wouldn't talk to each other," Blokzijl recalls.
Shortly afterward the first commercial Internet providers started their businesses and connected to the emerging Internet hub in Amsterdam.
"The scale advantaged started when we had four of five ISPs. The rest is history," Blokzijl said.
Internet freedom reigns in Amsterdam. Do we need Internet Censorship?
Gail Orenstein | flickr