Internet's existence is marriage between private, public sectors

Shawn McCarthy

In case you missed it, the Internet had its 30th birthday party Sept. 2. It was a small affair at the University of California at Los Angeles, which was ground zero for the Internet explosion.

Amid the handshakes, smiles and pats on the back, the federal government never received the credit it deserves for playing midwife to the Net baby.

From the time it was a gleam in the eye of a few visionary thinkers right up to this moment, government funds, workers, machines and data have made the Internet the success it is. When you look at milestones in the Net's development, you see how big a part the government played.

Some dates cited here come from the Hobbes Internet timeline hosted by the Internet Society at Others are quoted from previous GCN stories, and still others I got from Net veterans I have been lucky enough to meet over the years.

Some say the Net was born in 1961.

Although many call Vinton Cerf the father of the Internet, the first paper about packet-switching technology was written by Leonard Kleinrock in 1961. The future UCLA professor didn't use the word packet, however. His paper was titled 'Information Flow in Large Communication Nets.'

Early traffic

In the early 1960s, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency funded a series of studies on how such a network might be built and helped set up rudimentary networks that didn't actually use packet switching.

Plans for a packet network firmed up in 1966 and 1967. The first experiments occurred at the National Physical Laboratory in England in 1967.

In 1968, DARPA contracts for the first regional packet network went to UCLA to host the Network Measurement Center, and to Bolt Beranek and Newman Inc. (BBN) of Cambridge, Mass., for developing interface message processors, the forerunners of today's routers.

Sept. 2, 1969, was the date Kleinrock and others hooked their computer to the Net's first router, about the size of a telephone booth. The first long-distance connection between two computers came on Oct. 20, when UCLA researchers tried to log on to a computer at the Stanford Research Institute in northern California. The connection crashed during log-in.

By the end of 1969, computers at the University of California at Santa Barbara and the University of Utah made a connection. The early network included an IBM System/360, a Digital Equipment Corp. PDP-10, a Scientific Data Systems 940/Genie and an SDS Sigma 7.

Because DARPA published and shared the protocols, development proceeded rapidly. By 1970, BBN's Boston office joined the network via a cross-country link. Soon other universities started building their own networks.

Other milestones:

Ray Tomlinson, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer engineer, developed e-mail in the early 1970s. Thank him for the @ symbol in addresses.

Also in the early 1970s, a tradition grew of publishing protocols and ideas for Net expansion as requests for comments, or RFCs. Again, without such adherence to openness, the government could never have pushed Net development as fast as it did.

In 1972, the first chat program allowed conversation between Stanford and BBN, and the Telnet protocol standardized the way visitors log on to remote machines.

Around the globe

ARPAnet went worldwide in 1973. Also that year, an early version of what became the File Transfer Protocol arrived.

The first mail lists started in 1974. Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn that same year changed the course of the Net by developing the Transmission Control Protocol, which became the Net standard by the early 1980s. Many more machines could plug in easily, and a national effort began to connect the country's divergent networks. The term Internet came into general use.

By the late 1970s, the Unix-to-Unix Copy Protocol was set up between Duke University and the University of North Carolina, and the first UseNet newsgroups emerged. By then, the National Science Foundation funded network development and research across the country.

With so many machines online, knowing all their identifying numbers got tough. Logical names and the Domain Name System arrived by 1984. Bandwidth problems surfaced, and NSF built NSFnet on a national 56-Kbps backbone.

In 1987, DARPA established the first computer emergency response team after an Internet worm written by Robert Morris crashed several computers.

Jarkko Oikarinen developed Internet relay chat in 1988. ARPAnet was unplugged in 1990 because other networks, especially NSFnet, could carry the traffic load.

Having built a network that everyone now wanted to plug into, NSF in 1991 announced it would lift restrictions on commercial use. It set up InterNIC, the Internet domain registration entity, in 1993 to coordinate commercial registration for domain names and other services.

Tim Berners-Lee in 1993 developed the World Wide Web to share information in hypertext format at the European Particle Physics Laboratory. Shortly thereafter, Marc Andreessen and fellow researchers at the University of Illinois wrote the first viable Web browser that integrated graphics and text. Web use grew 341,634 percent in its first year.

Today, the government still plays a part in Net development, refereeing the battle between telephone carriers and cable over network use for high-bandwidth services.

Shawn P. McCarthy designs products for a Web search engine provider. E-mail him at

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