First off, the idea came from J.C.R. Licklider, an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the early 1960’s he wrote a series of memos that discussed his idea for a “Galactic Network” with an interconnected set of computers where people could quickly access data and programs from any site. The idea of the Internet did not come from government.
In 1962, Licklider was appointed as head of the information processing techniques office with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a division of the United States Department of Defense. While at DARPA, he spread his ideas of the network sharing computers amongst his colleagues, who eventually built ARPANET in 1967- the “precursor” to what we now call the Internet.
About a year later, ARPANET had been refined and DARPA contracted Bolt Beranek and Newman, Inc. (BBN; which Licklider was once Vice President of) to develop one of the key components of ARPANET, the Interface Message Processors (IMP’s).
So, yes, the government funded the research and the creation of the first inklings of the Internet. I’ll give it its much sought-after glory.
After that, DARPA sought help from BBN, Stanford, and the University of London to implement the newly invented TCP/IP, which led to MIT technologists demonstrating that TCP could work with personal computers- the first was the Xerox Alto (the personal workstation developed at Xerox PARC).
As the government declassified parts of ARPANET, commercial networks began to connect. In 1973, Ethernet technology was developed by Bob Metcalfe at Xerox PARC, which increased the amount of networks one could connect to. From then on, the National Science Foundation took over responsibility and financed the Internet’s infrastructure until 1994, when the Internet was privatized. Private users enjoyed the Internet before its privatization, but not at all like we know it now.
Growth continued to skyrocket with Hotmail, the first e-mail host, launched in 1996. In 1997, the term “weblog” was coined- although blogs had existed before in one form or another. In 1998, the first story to break online instead of traditional media was the Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton scandal, which was posted on the Drudge Report.
And in the same year, Google was invented. Perhaps the greatest company to grace the Internet was invented three years after the Internet went private. And the wonders continue. I don’t think I have to remind you of the magic the Internet has become.
“The real Internet grew out of a spontaneous ordering process of the interactions of millions of individual users…. The explosive growth in commerce, for example, became possible only when the government’s ban on commercial use of the networks it financed was lifted.”
Before there were laws that required the FCC to authorize new networks. Morriss said this slowed down commercial growth until privatization.
So, yes, the government funded and sought after the great minds that invented the Internet. But, like the past 18 years has shown us, the privatization of that information moved faster and did more good for the world than any government could have done.
It took about 30 years for the Internet to make its way into capitalistic hands, and just look at how it has transformed beyond belief. Let’s not dismiss facts, though, the government did invent the internet- but private industry made it better!
[Originally published on Students For Liberty blog]