Web Masters Episode #64: Milo Medin


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Milo Medin:

I grew up on a farm. It was okay. I didn’t have good connectivity. I didn’t have cable TV. I didn’t need… I went to Cal. I did well in my career. Today, not being connected is a real problem. The price for being disconnected has never been higher because it means you don’t have acts to information that allows you to make better decisions. And so we still have vast areas and economic groups, which are either disconnected or poorly connected. How we fix that, how we create the right incentives to get those people connected will matter a lot because access to information is the way that people gain economic advantage and can actually grow.

Aaron Dinin:

The importance and value of connectivity, it’s something the person you just heard from has been passionate about for decades, which is good, considering who he is and what he does now.

Milo Medin:

My name is Milo Medin. I’m vice president of wireless services at Google.

Aaron Dinin:

That’s right. He’s Milo Medin the man in charge of Google’s wireless services infrastructure strategies and before that, he was in charge of Google Fiber to help Google get fiber optic internet access into homes. And before that he was co-founder and chief technology officer of @Home, the first company to launch commercially viable, high-speed, broadband internet service. Are you ready to hear the story? Let’s get dialed in.

[INTRO]

Aaron DInin:

Hello, and welcome to Web Masters, the podcast that brings you conversations with the Internet’s most impactful innovators, and why do we want to hear from them? Well, it’s because their stories can help teach all of us to become better innovators and entrepreneurs ourselves. At least that’s what I believe. My name is Aaron Dinin. I’m a serial entrepreneur and I teach entrepreneurship at Duke University. For as long as I’ve been building companies I’ve loved hearing founder stories. They’re an incredible way to learn about what works in the entrepreneurial world and well, what doesn’t work. We’ve actually got a bit of both in this episode, featuring Milo Medin co-founder of @Home. I’m going to tell you all about it right after I tell you about our sponsor.

Web Masters is being brought to you with the help and support of our sponsor Latona’s. Latona’s is a boutique mergers and acquisitions broker that helps people buy and sell cashflow positive internet businesses and digital assets. Those are all the types of businesses that exist in part because of the high-speed networking infrastructure pioneered by this episodes guest that includes businesses like e-commerce stores, SaaS apps, content websites, Amazon FBAs, Shopify sites, domain portfolios, and any other type of online work from anywhere internet business you can think of. If you are currently operating one of those and thinking about selling it, be sure to contact the team at Latona’s. They’re experts in selling internet businesses, and they can help you get a great price on yours. And if you’re hoping to buy an internet business, make sure you check out the Latona’s website where you’ll find the listings for the businesses they’ve currently got for sale. That website is latonas.com, L-A-T-O-N-A-S.com.

If you have been listening to Web Masters for a while, you may have noticed multiple guests mention @Home, which by the way is spelled with the at symbol. For example, we’ve already heard from a few people who spent time working for @Home, people like Paul Mockapetris, creator of DNS and featured guest of Web Masters episode number 38. And then we talked with Raj Kapoor, founder of Snapfish, CSO of Lyft and Web Masters’ guest from episode number 27. In fact, while researching for this podcast, I regularly run into mentions of @Home, which is a bit odd for a company that filed for bankruptcy back in 2001, but that’s also a big reason why the @Home story is so interesting. @Home was the first company to launch high-speed cable internet. Of course, today, most of us get our home internet through cable companies, but before @Home consumers accessed the internet through phone lines, either dial up or in some cases, DSL.

@Home, set out to change all that. They wanted to be the AOL of broadband and maybe they could have gotten there, but they had some notorious missteps along the way. As a result, the story of @Home is the story of successful visionaries seeing the future of high-speed internet before just about anyone else. And it’s also the story of being perhaps a bit too visionary, if that’s a thing while not being practical, which to be fair is a common trait among entrepreneurs. In the middle of all this was this episode’s guest Milo Medin. Milo, wasn’t the man behind @Home’s vision. Instead, he was the man recruited by @Home’s powerful founders to build the technology capable of making their vision a reality. Milo succeeded. His strategy for high-speed internet has become the paradigm underpinning most of the internet infrastructure services we use today, but @Home the company he helped found didn’t succeed.

So what happened? How did @Home build the right technology, but the wrong company? In order to help answer that question, let’s start by understanding what that technology was and in order to understand that technology, let’s take a step maybe a bit further back in time to understand the man who created it.

Milo Medin:

I grew up on a farm in a central valley on the outskirts of Fresno. My dad died when I was five. So my mom raised my sister and me. He and my mom were Serbian. My dad came over in the thirties, went back in 1960, married my mom, brought her over and then I was born in ’68 and my sister was born a year after that. So I grew up on a farm. I was not raised in the Bay Area. English was not my first language. When my father died none of us spoke English at home, including my mom. My mom didn’t know how to drive. We all learned English together. I remember bringing workbooks home from school and that was hard, just like a totally foreign environment.

Aaron Dinin:

That’s definitely not the usual, shall I say, tech enabled back ground of the people I tend to interview here on the show. They all seem to have grown up with computers and had parents who got them early computer access. So how’d you discover computers in the internet?

Milo Medin:

I was in probably seventh grade. My math teacher had a Programma 101 calculator and it had a magnetic card. You could program things into it. That was my first experience with a computer where, when I was in junior high, I was really wanting to be a physicist, but then the computer stuff got more and more interesting to me. And then around that same age, I had a teacher’s aid who had a boyfriend at Fresno State and got me an account on the time sharing system there. And so that was kind of cool. And then I think in eighth grade I managed to get my mom to buy me a Apple II computer. I was working part-time to pay for it. And I wrote a terminal emulator program in 6502 assembler and I had a Novation Cat modem. And with that Cat modem, I could dial into the local university system without having someone drive me all the way to campus. And that was fun.

And when I was on that system, they had sort of a messaging system, et cetera and I heard about this thing called ARPANET and so I would dial into the ARPANET TIP at NASA Ames Research Center. So that was kind of cool and I would just explore the internet. And then I found this machine at MIT, the MIT-MC machine, which ran ITS, the incompatible time sharing system, I think is what it was called. And when I tried just to login guest or something like that, it would say that’s not a valid account. Would you like me to make you an account? So I got an account, the system let me make it and I got an account on the MIT-MC system and that was my first experience talking to the ARPANET.

I wound up graduating from high school. I applied to three schools. I applied to Stanford, Berkeley and Fresno State. My daughter, by the way, who’s 17 on her way to UC Davis. She applied to like 18 schools. It’s a whole different kind of animal today. And so I majored computer science at UC Berkeley and wound up working part-time during the summer of my sophomore year at NASA Ames, the very place that I had dialed into when I was in Fresno. That was my first experience dealing with the internet and learning about that and always got very interested in communications.

Aaron Dinin:

Okay. So yeah, that was super early internet you were getting connected to well before the web even. So what excited you about it? What made you want to pursue an internet related career?

Milo Medin:

I don’t know. Part of it is I grew up on a farm, so there weren’t any kids around me. So it was a little bit of connecting with people. Now I had friends school, et cetera. I wasn’t the outcast or anything like that, but it was kind of cool that I could connect to things. And I’m also a radio operator.

Aaron Dinin:

You heard Milo mentioned his childhood growing up on a farm a few times. That’s clearly an important part of his story. It underpins his interest in connectivity. For someone like Milo growing up in a rural area, connectivity was a huge aspiration and it wasn’t just connectivity to other people. It was also about connectivity to resources and ideas and information, all the things he couldn’t easily get where he was. So when he got to UC Berkeley, that passion for connectivity manifested itself in a desire to study computers, networks and computer networking, which he did both at school and in a part-time role, working for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, AKA Livermore Lab, the large US government nuclear research lab, which itself was an important formative experience in Milo’s career trajectory or as he puts it…

Milo Medin:

Working on nuclear weapons helps prepare you for competing with incumbents I think.

Aaron Dinin:

Well, that definitely puts entrepreneurial competition into a whole new perspective. More importantly, it also reflects a significant part of Milo’s passion for his work, which unlike a lot of entrepreneurs, isn’t very by financially motivated. Instead, Milo is motivated by the role high-speed networks play in supporting stable countries, governments, and populations.

Milo Medin:

My mom always told us the country did not have to let us in. You should earn your keep. You should do good for the United States. “I did not have to be let in. Your dad didn’t have to be let in. We owe the country for how good it’s been to us.” So that’s part of the reason I wanted to work in NASA and work I’ve done in the last few years with the Department of Defense and on the policy side. I guess there’s still that sense of wanting to be grateful.

Aaron Dinin:

You heard Milo refer to his current job as mentioned at the beginning of this episode, he works at Google. So you might be wondering how those things connect, but of course, Google is a hugely important voice in how governments approach networking and Milo helps support those efforts.

Milo Medin:

We do a lot of work in 5G. Interestingly enough, I was part of an advisory board, before the buying guys got rid of all the advisory boards to the Pentagon called the Defense Innovation Board. Eric Schmidt chaired it and we got to help work with the military to have help advance their systems drive innovation, help them be more competitive. And it was interesting. My work on 5G in Google overlapped with 5G from a military and security context. And so we produced actually an analysis a couple years ago in April of 2019 that really changed how people thought about 5G because we had actually did the modeling for how many base stations you would need at millimeter wave at different spectrum bands and the competitiveness dynamic with us versus China and the rest of the world. And I think that is one of the areas I’m still very passionate about and working in, in terms of shared spectrum, how can we drive better infrastructure?

Because today it’s not just about a kid on a farm in the central valley. Now it’s about national competition. In China, last numbers I saw there were 477 million fiber to the home customers and the entire rest of the world combined was about 120 million customers. The entire rest of the world combined. You think about supply chains. You think about equipping that nation with bandwidth to be able to do things that you just couldn’t do before. And the US has a lot of challenges in this space in terms of being able to build equivalent networks that can continue to go faster because now it’s about a national competition. It’s not just about competing between me and the farm and a friend in the city or me in the big city versus someone in rural America.

It’s now about nation and nation and who controls, who gets to drive innovation in higher and higher speed applications, more integration with compute to be able to do things in robotics, in AI, in sensing, in IOT and all these other spaces that when you have enough bandwidth with a low enough latency, you can do that you could not do before. So the nation that doesn’t have a good frame work for competing in that space will not be driving the applications of the future. And if that’s China, who is the leader and you have civil military fusion where the Chinese government has access to all the data that’s stored in Chinese businesses, that’s a challenge. The US has shaped what the meaning of the internet, what freedom means, how we think about applications and the ability for entrepreneurs to create new things that can just erupt and provide value.

Aaron Dinin:

Again, for Milo networking and connectivity are the backbone for everything else. Without good network infrastructure, you can’t enable incredible innovation. It was Milo’s rural upbringing combined with his unusually early digital education that positioned him to be, A, exceptionally passionate about the importance of connectivity and B well positioned to actually do something about it. Those efforts began and earnest when after leaving UC Berkeley, he took a job at NASA.

Milo Medin:

After leaving Berkeley I had to decide whether or not I wanted to do more stuff at Livermore, or… I had a friend of mine who said there’s a new division at NASA Ames who was building communication networks and that seemed kind of fun. And so I wound up picking NASA Ames and I got to work in a division that built the sort of local area network and was in charge of the ARPANET and that’s where I started working in the internet engineering community and helped build the first West Coast interconnect, which we called the FIX, the Federal Interconnect Exchange. The original name, by the way, I called it the FEBA, which is a military term called the Forward Edge of the Battle Area. That’s sort of the frontline. I thought that was appropriate. That’s the frontline of routing, right? We had EGP back then before BGP and the regional networks get connected.

Mike St. Johns, who was at DCA, Defense Communications Agency at the time and Jim Layton at Energy and we interconnected with each other at Ames. And we had a main server that was there and a whole set of other things. This was in the very early days because people used to interconnect through the ARPANET and that was not really scaling well, so we decided to build these interconnect places. Anyway, the name got changed to FIX because Mark [Poland 00:17:05] who was the DARPA officer dealing with the internet stuff at the time said, I am not going to go up in front of Capitol Hill and explain why this thing called this military term. Change the name. Okay, “Well, how about Federal Interconnect Exchange, the FIX?” And so that’s how that nomenclature. And then there was the CIX, was the Commercial Internet Exchange after that and then we had FIX West and FIX East and all the rest of that.

Aaron Dinin:

So you were basically helping build the initial foundation for the internet, is that right?

Milo Medin:

Yeah, exactly. And when the NSFNET came about, my friends at Merit, Hans-Werner Braun and [Lis Garrick 00:17:41] and all of them, we got them interconnected as well. And then I had been working on the NASA version of that network. So we had connected all the NASA field centers together with IP connectivity and then began extending that to researchers globally. So we put in with our friends at the University of Hawaii, Torben Nielsen and company there, connections into Australia and New Zealand, Japan. They started off slow and then we added capacity to them.

We put in connections in parts of Europe. We even put a connection into Saunders from Fjord in Greenland and to McMurdo base in Antarctica to support researchers down there. And I had sent people down to the Antarctica in order to install that. We built an earth station on Black Island, which is I think 40 kilometers [inaudible 00:18:31] of the McMurdo base and put a microwave relay across the ice cap. We got a good deal on a used satellite. An entire satellite, just to get one and a half megabits per second, from McMurdo back to the rest of the internet.

Aaron Dinin:

I kind of love the mental image of getting a deal on a used satellite. It’s akin to getting a good deal on a used car.

Milo Medin:

It didn’t have a lot of station keeping fuel. It was sort of at the end of its life. Yeah, you can get some good deals on satellites from time to time.

Aaron Dinin:

I don’t know why, but that seems good to know. I’ll keep that in mind. Maybe it’ll come in handy at some point in the future, but for now, I guess what I really want to know and understand is how you went from building the internet for the US government to building an internet broadband company. How did that transition happen?

Milo Medin:

At some point, I got converged from a contractor to government and I wound up being a branch chief at NASA Ames. And I was very happy actually doing all sorts of interesting things. I kept getting these stickies on my desk from the secretary that said a guy named John Doerr from some place called KPCB called you. I don’t know who this is. I don’t know who KPCB is. It sounds like a law firm and so I hadn’t gotten round to returning calls.

Aaron Dinin:

By the way, it seems worth mentioning that Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers is basically one of the most successful venture capital firms in the world. And John Doerr is the billionaire VC who helped lead rounds in companies like Netscape, Amazon, Intuit and Google. When John Doerr calls you, you call him back immediately, but of course that’s not what Milo did.

Milo Medin:

Finally, he calls me and I’m in the office. I pick up the phone and John Doerr, and John is like, “Hey, I’ve been trained to reach you.” Et cetera, et cetera. I’d like to talk to you about an opportunity. And I’m like, “I’m sorry, who are you? And what is it that you do?” Well, “I work for a venture capital firm. While we have this opportunity, we’re looking at building something.” I go, “Well, that’s fine. Send me an email. I’m happy here. I’m happy to go see if I have friends who would be interested in.” And then he said, your friend, Jeff Bear thought that you would be really interested in this. I’m like, “Well, that’s interesting. You don’t really give out names of people for opportunities if you’re close friends.” And so I thought that was interesting. I said, “Well, okay, I’m happy to get together and chat.” “Great. How about tomorrow?” I said, “Well, I’m just about to leave. I’m going to Washington on a trip, but I’ll be back on Friday night.”

Said, “Well, how about breakfast on Saturday in Palo Alto?” So we had breakfast and he goes, “I’d like to bring along my associate Will Hurst.” “Will Hurst. You mean that like the newspaper guy?” He goes, “Yeah, he works at our firm.” “Wow. Okay. This is kind of interesting.” And so we end up meeting for breakfast at the Good Earth in Palo Alto.

Aaron Dinin:

I can’t believe you’re basically just trying to blow off John Doerr and William Hurst. That’s absurd. So what did you three talk about in your meeting? Why did they want to speak to you so badly?

Milo Medin:

He said, “Yeah, we’re working with John Malone at TCI and they’ve developed this thing called the cable modem and it can push ethernet data over the cable lines and Jeff thought you would be a great person to go build a internet service with this and put cable modems in people’s homes.” I go, “Do you understand how slow the core of the internet is? You don’t want to build 10 megabit connections to people’s houses and then they’d end up just being congested at the next top with the networks getting faster, but our backbones are just going to DS3. This is kind of pointless. It’s not going to work. Because you’re just going to move the bottleneck.”

Aaron Dinin:

Wow. So how did they respond to you basically dumping on their idea?

Milo Medin:

They were a little disappointed because Jeff had said, “Well, this guy’s smart.” Blah, blah, blah. And I’m telling them this not going to work well. They go, “Could you do it some different way? How could you fix that?” Well, if you thought about like a distributed computing problem where you had caching in different places and then common content would get cached and then you still need a fast backbone, but that would give you at least fast access to common content and all the rest. But that would require computers being lots of different places and it’d very expensive. How expensive? So I’m doing this, the back of the envelope calculations, I don’t know like 120 million. They go, “Oh, if you needed 3 or 4 billion, it would take longer.” And I’m like 3, 4 billion? An orbiter costs a billion dollars. Who are these guys?” So I remember the conversation really well because this is like bigger than NASA’s budget. How could you do this? But I still wasn’t that interested in leaving, but it was an interesting conversation.

Aaron Dinin:

I mean, that sounds like a very interesting conversation, but eventually they did convince you to leave NASA obviously. So how did that happen, how they do it?

Milo Medin:

So that led to a meeting where he said, “Well, I want to have you go out to Denver and meet with TCI.” The cable operator their partners. And I said, “Well, I have to take time away from work to fly out and fly back.” “No, just come on my jet.” I’m like, “Jet?” “Yeah, I have there a jet.” So I took a day off work and went out to SFO and took off with them, went to Denver. And I was talking to these guys about cable modems and how you build architecture and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And they were like, “Well, great. When do you start?” I go, “Well, I’m not interested in leaving NASA.” Everybody’s looking at each other in the room at that point. And I had a couple more meetings like that. And later on they said, “Look, why is it that you like working at NASA?” “I could have impact.” “Well, don’t you think you could have more impact on more people by building it this as opposed to working in NASA?” “Well, I guess that’s true.”

They said you could make a lot of. It’s like, “Well, I was raised in a farm. I’m single. I don’t really appreciate good things. I’m boring.” But the point about being able to have impact was the thing that convinced me to leave NASA and join @Home. And John really was the founder. It was his idea. He gave me a problem and I thought about how to solve problem and that’s how I kind of decide where I work. Somebody gives me a problem and my brain will stop working on it, then that’s how I decide what I work on. It really is as simple. I’ve never planned my career. It’s just people came to me with interesting questions. Like, could you solve this? And how would you do that? And if I couldn’t stop thinking about it, then that’s how I decided to work on things.

Aaron Dinin:

So it’s at this point that Milo helps launch @Home with backing from John Doerr and KPCB. Will Hurst took the role of founding CEO while Milo was in charge of technology. Their launch partnership is with TCI, Telecommunications Inc, a big cable network provider that would soon be acquired by AT&T and that set the foundation for how @Home would work. @Home partnered with cable companies, merging their technology with cable company infrastructure to deliver broadband internet access.

Milo Medin:

It was the first for real mass market broadband provider in the US. We had working contracts with TCI, Comcast, Cox Cable, Rogers and Shaw up in Canada. And we helped work on a number of things in terms of how to build a network that was really fast and thinking about it, not just as a telecom network. It’s funny because today people think that cable operators are the dominant broadband supplier in the United States, which is true. You look at their growth rates, financials, et cetera. It’s just an amazing business. But when we started @Home, nobody believed that the cable guys were able to deliver reasonable internet service. Got fuzzy analog TV, right? And the Bells, phone companies were the ones who were owning the information and future of the United States. And I remember having debates with DSL engineers.

After cable modems started coming out it was clear that ISDN, which was the path that the telephone companies owned. Integrated Switched Digital Network. So instead of a 64KB voice connection, you got 64KB data connection. You could run two channels together and 128KB. You had these terminal adapters that would take that and give you a switch connection and then… Well, switching didn’t work out so well. ATM didn’t work out so well, all the stuck got relegated into ash with history, and then they came out with DSL and it could go one and a half megabits per second. And then I remember having these conversations. The first services we built were 10 megabits and people said, “We’re Denver. Why would anybody need 10 megabits?” And this kind of mentality is still around. Why did people need gigabit?

So the interesting thing that drove cable modems in the early days was two things. One, it was always on. Prior to cable modems, dial up service, you had to connect. You weren’t always connected. And there was no point in having the local network at your house because well, you weren’t always connected. Who’s going to switch it up. So having it always on connection was the first step in extending the value to other devices in the home.

Aaron Dinin:

So were you in competition with the cable companies?

Milo Medin:

Totally aligned with the cable companies. We split revenue and all the rest of that. We competed against the phone companies who were trying to come out with DSL and they were the dominant player. Nobody thought cable was serious about it. And in fact, in the early days, the cable operators, weren’t really thinking about data as a big product. Their view, the folks at TCI specifically, we were like, “Well, direct TV launched.” And they had digital TV service. There was no high def back in those days, but their service was digital. You didn’t have all this noise and fuzziness like in the analog TV systems. They were worried that they were going to lose their video subscribers to the satellite guys, to direct TV. And they thought for their premium subscribers, having high-speed internet service would be something that would keep their subscribers from leaving cable and going satellite. So it was sort of a turn reduction goal, not a mainstream product.

Aaron Dinin:

But that didn’t last, right? Comcast or whatever cable company you want to point to now runs its own cable internet. Why is that? Why isn’t it still @Home?

Milo Medin:

One of the things that happened over time was we always thought this was the mainstream product. You could move video over the internet. It will eat everything, but that wasn’t the way the cable guys thought about it. Over they realized this and that’s when the relationship with @Home became very contentious because this thing became not this ancillary product to help reduce churn. This became your core. Once they started realizing that they had to own it and that was the source of a lot of tension.

Aaron Dinin:

Source of tension might even be a bit of an understatement. We’re talking lawsuits and bankruptcies and all sorts of fun corporate intrigue. Basically on the business side of the company @Home was trying to grow its content specifically content optimized for its high-speed network, which nobody else really had. So in 1998 at @Home bought/merged with Excite, which was the third largest internet portal at the time behind AOL and Yahoo. The price was somewhere around $6 billion, making it one of the largest internet purchases of the time. In the minds of the people at both Excite and @Home, this pairing would give Excite enormous reach while giving @Home content it could deliver to users and monetize on via advertising. In theory, it kind of made sense, I guess, but in practice, not so much. The short version is the cable companies didn’t really agree. And after all @Home’s 4 million users were actually cable company customers. So the cable companies decided to take them back.

And by the way, this all happened in the shadow of the huge dot com bust, meaning Excite’s business dried up pretty soon after the two companies merged. And that wasn’t a good thing. If you read reports from the time, it all sounds pretty messy though, for Milo who cared more about the technology than the business, it was perhaps a bit more exciting.

Milo Medin:

We took the company public. I got to do the S1 and the raise and IPO and all the rest of that. It was a very eye opening experience, dealing with board members and cable guys squabbling with each other. AT&T came in and bought TCI and that was an amazing change at that point, because AT&T was this massive company. They were not the usual suspects when it came to cable guys and Mike Armstrong who was CEO at that time, wanted to combine video data transport and the rest of all the different services, including phone services to deliver and sort of an integrated package. And that was my first experience in a really big company, a really big bureaucracy city. It was just crazy. I remember visiting their learning center in New Jersey to give a talk and they had these letters on the outside of the conference rooms where the meetings were held. I said, what do these letters mean?

Oh, that’s the minimum grade level you have to be to attend. What? Yeah, well, lower level people aren’t allowed to go to these meetings. You have to be a certain level. And I remember the phone systems there when you called each other on the internal phone system, your grade level would show up. So you didn’t have to answer if it was like a junior person calling you. A very different culture in that company. But it was a great experience learning about it

Aaron Dinin:

As Milo was getting a masterclass in corporate America from the inside, the stock price of @Home went from somewhere around $128 a share in the first quarter of 1999 to roughly $1 per share by the third quarter of 2001 and a bankruptcy filing. So yeah, not so good, but even though from a company perspective, that’s not a successful outcome I’d argue @Home was wildly successful in terms of changing how people were connected to the internet. @Home ushered in the idea of an always on high-speed internet connection at your house. It’s something millions and millions of people around the world take for granted today and it enables much of what we do, but someone had to figure out how to make it possible. That someone was Milo.

Sure @Home might seem like a relic of the past, a third party enabler of cable internet until the companies themselves realized it needed to be their primary business. However, none of what the cable companies do now would’ve been possible without the critical paradigm shift that Milo enabled. Specifically, Milo is the person who understood that in order for high-speed internet to be a viable thing, the data had to be moved closer to the end user.

Milo Medin:

It’s interesting this model of local cash caching to speed things up. Today, CDNs provide that service and they carry, I think north of 90% of consumer data traffic. This forward deployment of thinking about networks, not as communication systems, but really distributed computing systems where you’ve got compute in different parts of the infrastructure and storage in different parts of the infrastructure to optimize data flow. There are entire companies that do nothing other than that. And if you now think about mobile edge compute in the 5G context, again, that is moving compute deeper into the network, changing the mark point from where the compute and the cloud is now. You didn’t have the cloud back then, if you want think about the core of what we were building that was effectively trying to move the compute, move the data closer to the user to avoid bottlenecks.

See, one of the interesting things is nobody wants to talk to each other. They all want to talk to the internet. In a traditional phone network, people in a city would make calls to each other primarily, and then sometimes they would go long distance. Everything in the internet is long distance. Nobody talks to each other in your neighborhood. All the traffic flows up. And that is really a challenge from a network infrastructure perspective because you’ve got millions of users, all their traffic coming up who wants to now talk to highly concentrated cloud infrastructure. Well, that’s a mess. You could easily have bottlenecks. So how do you fix that? Well, you move the demark, you move the data closer and are closer to the user, so that you’re not having to aggregate all those flows at interconnection points that just can’t scale.

And so this model of what we did back in the nineties of how do I avoid congestion by moving data closer to the user, by moving cache closer to the user. That now is sort of the fundamental structure of how the internet is organized. And it’s continuing as access network speeds go up, this issue about how to avoid aggregation and concentration gets worse and worse. So what you’re seeing is the demark point between compute AKA and the cloud and home for the business, that demark is moving. We used to interconnect at a few locations nationally. Then it went to places that were regional and now in every big city, you’ve got direct interconnection in many networks because it’s too expensive for the access that provider move all that data across country.

So you just keep pushing content closer and closer and closer. In the end, the cloud will eat everything. You just have a little bit of access network at the end, but you’re going to have the edge of the cloud in every infrastructure, whether it’s fixed or mobile is going to end up being moved closer, because nobody wants to talk to each other. They all want to talk to the internet.

Aaron Dinin:

Do you see what I mean? The cloud based world we live in where the internet is everywhere all the time, and we just tap into it with whatever device we happen to have handy. That wouldn’t have been possible in the old dial up world. We needed someone, a person like Milo to figure out how to bring the data closer to users in order to leverage all the increased speeds. In that sense, even though at home failed as a business, I suppose you could make the argument that it was a successful entrepreneurial endeavor, at least from Milo’s perspective. @Home successfully solved the problem Milo wanted to solve, even if it ultimately wasn’t the company to continue implementing the solution. The result in other words was exactly what Milo wanted and continues to push for, which is better connectivity.

Milo Medin:

I’ve been to refugee camps in Africa with the UN. I remember in this camp, there were teenagers learning to weld by watching a YouTube video on a one and a half inch featured phone screen. They couldn’t read, but they could learn how to weld because of video that was being delivered to them. And I remember talking to this other gentleman who had been there for I think, 12 years, he said, we need internet because we need to find a way to upgrade ourselves. And I thought that was really insightful. Now you can waste time on TikTok and do stupid stuff with the internet too.

The ability for you to upgrade yourself, to learn, to pursue an interest, you have access to the world’s information now. And my kids just treat that casually. But when I was growing up, going to the best library and being able to read the best works was just a huge privilege. Now it’s almost not valued anymore. You can do that so easily. And I do worry that we’ve created an environment of abundant connectivity, but what are we using it for? Are we using it to waste our time? Are using it to upgrade ourselves like that gentleman in Africa?

Aaron Dinin:

Honestly, I don’t really see it as an either or question. Why not both? After all, you could listen to a wildly entertaining podcast like Web Masters and learn a lot at the same time. Am I right? Of course I am. Which is why you are going to head on over to your podcasting app of choice and make sure you’re subscribed to Web Masters, so you get the next episode just as soon as it’s released. And while you’re there, please take a moment to leave a nice review and maybe even share it with a friend.

I want to thank Milo Medin for taking the time to share his story and the story of @Home. I also want to thank our sound engineer, Ryan Higgs, for his help pulling together this episode and I want to thank our sponsor Latona’s for their support. If you’re interested in buying or selling an internet business, make sure you check out latonas.com.

If you’ve got any thoughts, concerns, or feedback about this episode, you can let us know on Twitter. We are @WebMastersPod and I’m on Twitter too @AaronDinin. That’s A-A-R-O-N D-I N I N, or find me on my website, aarondinin.com. While you’re there you’ll also see lots of other content about startups and entrepreneurship that I think you’re going to enjoy just like, I think you’re going to enjoy the next episode of Web Masters we’ve got. It’s coming soon. In the meantime, well, it’s time for me to sign off.