The History of the Internet

One of the biggest misconceptions about the Internet is that it was planned. In the mid 1960's, during the Cold War, it became apparent that there was a need for a bombproof communications system. The U.S. Defense Department began the Internet as a military research project.

The government was tired of flying magnetic tapes back and forth between computers. E-mail was comprised of people on roller skates carrying pieces of paper from one cubical to another. Meanwhile, telephones and telegrams continued to use wires to transmit information. The government knew there was a better way of transferring information, so they decided to devise a way to link computers together using cables.

The government created a network that covered a large geographic area and that could withstand a nuclear attack. The first objective the government had when designing a network was to make sure the system was robust. Meaning, if one computer crashed, or was disconnected, the other computers needed to be able to stay connected with no interruptions. They wanted a design whereby they could connect and disconnect computers without disturbing any of the other computers on the network. Anyone who has looked through Christmas tree lights for that one burnt-out bulb can appreciate the design they were looking for.

When the government finally realized the cost of owning and operating a worldwide network of computers, they came to the conclusion that it was too costly for cold-war justification. When examining the problem closer, they noticed that another institution existed worldwide that had the financial capability of assuming the burden of such a huge infrastructure. In every major city, there were colleges that could benefit from sharing information on a global scale. During the late 1960's and early 70's the government transitioned many secondary computer hubs to local universities for private operation. The government then piggybacked on these connections at a much-reduced cost.

Since the early 1980s, when the government began to share their network technology with the world, there has been growth on a scale that is hard to imagine.

No one person or country owns the Internet. Literally millions of governments, corporations, universities, commercial companies and citizens own the Internet jointly. What this means is that no one can control it in its entirety. In the United States there is a group called the National Science Foundation (NSF) that over sees methods of improving the Internet's performance. A group called the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) supports the NSF. This committee has to conform to guidelines that are set by the Internet Architecture Board (IAB).

In reality, there are many groups that manage every facet of the Internet. Unless a person plans to devote their life to serving on one of these committees, most people will live a very prosperous life on the Internet without knowing they exist.


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