Paul Baran, Network Theory, and the Past, Present, and Future of Internet

Colorado Technology Law Journal, Vol. 17, P. 161, 2018

U of Penn, Inst for Law & Econ Research Paper No. 18-38

26 Pages Posted: 18 Jan 2019 Last revised: 14 May 2021

See all articles by Christopher S. Yoo

Christopher S. Yoo

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School; University of Pennsylvania - Annenberg School for Communication; University of Pennsylvania - School of Engineering and Applied Science

Date Written: 2018

Abstract

Paul Baran’s seminal 1964 article “On Distributed Communications Networks” that first proposed packet switching also advanced an underappreciated vision of network architecture: a lattice-like, distributed network, in which each node of the Internet would be homogeneous and equal in status to all other nodes. Scholars who have subsequently embraced the concept of a lattice-like network approach have largely overlooked the extent to which it is both inconsistent with network theory (associated with the work of Duncan Watts and Albert-László Barabási), which emphasizes the importance of short cuts and hubs in enabling networks to scale, and the actual way, the Internet initially deployed, which relied on a three-tiered, hierarchical architecture that was actually what Baran called a decentralized network. However, empirical studies reveal that the Internet’s architecture is changing: it is in the process of becoming flatter and less hierarchical, as large content providers build extensive wide area networks and undersea cables to connect directly to last-mile networks. This change is making the network more centralized rather than becoming more distributed. As a result, this article suggests that the standard reference model that places backbones at the center of the architecture should be replaced with a radically different vision: a stack of centralized star networks, each centered on one of the leading content providers.

Keywords: Distributed networks, network architecture, communications networks, internet architecture, hierarchical architecture, decentralized networks, internet history, network flattening, network centralization, Cold War, communications infrastructure, network security

JEL Classification: L86, O33

Suggested Citation

Yoo, Christopher S., Paul Baran, Network Theory, and the Past, Present, and Future of Internet (2018). Colorado Technology Law Journal, Vol. 17, P. 161, 2018, U of Penn, Inst for Law & Econ Research Paper No. 18-38, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3317642 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3317642

Christopher S. Yoo (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School ( email )

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HOME PAGE: http://www.law.upenn.edu/faculty/csyoo/

University of Pennsylvania - Annenberg School for Communication ( email )

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Philadelphia, PA 19104-6220
United States
(215) 746-8772 (Phone)

University of Pennsylvania - School of Engineering and Applied Science ( email )

3330 Walnut St.
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6309
United States
(215) 746-8772 (Phone)

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