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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.


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

Publication Title

Colorado Technology Law Journal

Publication Citation

17 Colo. Tech. L.J. 161 (2018)