Archive for the ‘Internet history’ Category

The Pegasus Story (from 2004)

October 26, 2012

Background – I wrote this circa 2004, but its previous web address became extinct, so I have been asked to repost it. An interesting bit of early Australian and Asian Internet history

The Pegasus Story

Rainforest Activist becomes Connect Activist

In 1984 I was devoting a lot of time to the Rainforest Information Centre, a radical organization to protect international rainforests. In those days we were trying to get underway a fledgling international network of Rainforest Action Groups, and publishing a periodic magazine called World Rainforest Report.

In December of 1983 in Singapore I had purchased my first computer –an Apple 2 Plus lookalike known locally as a “Pineapple”. It had no hard disk (they came a few years later), a huge 64k floppy disk, a word processor called Wordstar, and no Microsoft software at all (MSDOS appeared on my horizons about a year later to replace the CPM operating system). I began experimenting with modems when a local technician re-wired a Microbee modem to work with my Apple computer.

People kept talking to me about starting a local bulletin board, but I only had one thing in mind – to connect to Econet in the United States. With no tutors, very few Australians using email and modems, and the vagaries of Austpac international connections, it took me some time to get the connection right.

The transition from an environmental activist to a connect activist had begun. It was a natural one for me; the moment I discovered the information processing power of the computer and could begin to envisage its communication power I needed to know more.

By 1985 I was well and truly underway, and when I went that year to India to a regional meeting of environmental organizations, I was very keen to see a regional network established. The United Nations Environment Program agreed, and in 1987 I had my first networking assignment  – to link key environmental NGOs in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Nepal, Hong Kong and Japan to a network.

That was some challenge – only a few of these groups were yet experimenting with personal computers. It was much the same with Australian environment groups in those days – some were just beginning to use computers, and there were no networks to connect to. Modem was not in the vocabulary.

The UNEP DDC network, as it was called, had mixed success, but it did teach me a lot about both the potential and the possibilities.

I remember for instance in 1987 we were organizing global demonstrations on October 31 to support the Penan, a rainforest dwelling tribal group in Malaysia whose homeland was being logged. These forest dwellers had taken to sitting in front of bulldozers and getting arrested, much like their Australian counterparts arguing for protection of the Daintree rainforest in North Queensland and Franklin River in Tasmania. There were some hundreds of demonstrations planned around the world to coincide with court hearings for arrested Penan. But at the last moment the court hearings were postponed, and we had to get a message out to over 100 cities quick.

You have to have lived in a pre-email world to know what email meant to us then. Without email, I would have had to sit through time zones, trying to catch people by phone, including one key organizer who was “somewhere in Europe”. It would have cost a fortune and taken 12 hours – with email it was a matter of 10 seconds and one message to the group. This was useful technology!

In 1988 I was in Costa Rica for a conference organized by the World Council of Churches for South American liberation theologians to talk about a thing called “integrity of creation” (which basically said that since God made the forests we should respect them). Radical stuff. Anyway, as I was in that part of the world, I organized my itinerary to visit Econet in San Francisco. While in Costa Rica I dropped in to visit Barry Roberts at the University of Peace and he told me about the Association for Progressive Communications, and a meeting he, Peter Gabriel, and two people who were later to be come close friends of mine, Mark Graham and Mitra (who doesn’t have a surname) had a year previously. This meeting had decided to set up an international network for non-government organizations, and was active in England and the United States. Their idea was to set up “nodes” in various countries and link them together. They already had a transatlantic network linking GreenNet (in the UK) with PeaceNet and Econet in San Francisco.

That night in my room in the La Selva forest I thought about PeaceNet, Econet and GreenNet – that gave me the PEG of my acronym. I then started to think about who wasn’t covered – Asia, South America, USSR, South Africa – There was my acronym – PEGASUS. The mythology of the flying horse as a messenger and the vision of a global network had totally captured me.

I had been thinking of moving to San Francisco to work with Econet. But during the time there it became very clear to me that what I wanted to do was to set up Australian connections to the emerging international network. APC were establishing a global network, and were doing so by porting UNIX technology which allowed Internet connections to the PCs of the day (then called the 286 chip). Before that, only expensive mini-computers could be used with emerging Internet protocols.

An Australian connection suited everyone I talked to, and I left USA quite sure what I as going to do, and with a lot of information as to what I would have to do to do it.

Starting a business from scratch

The first thing I knew I had to do to start Pegasus was to gather $150,000 – with a personal bank balance of nil, I managed to convince a few close friends to assist me to print some basic material on what I was planning and set off to tell Australia.

Those first meetings in Sydney and Melbourne still sit strongly in my memory – environment groups, aid groups, visionaries, this was new to all of us as I would crawl under desks to connect my laptop and its modem to overseas networks – nobody was too sure that they weren’t getting enormous telephone bills as I was connected to overseas networks, and I wasn’t sure I would be able to pay my petrol to the next stop!

I really thought everyone would be so excited that they would just put in some money and we would be up and going in no time. Not so, I learned there was a lot more to do – and the hardest lesson of the lot was that until I could prove that this thing would work financially there was no chance of it getting off the ground.

With great reluctance, I took on the three month task of writing a business plan. It was the best thing I could have done. The process taught me a lot, refined my thoughts considerably, and led me into contact with many people whose expertise I would need if this was going to succeed.

After three months, I finally thought I had a document that outlined the idea and how it would work. I tested it on a few people, spent the last available $20 to print it up nicely and make a few copies, and just wondered what would happen next.

Not long after that a partnership with Andrew Campbell, principal of a group called Fourth Wave Investments, was sorted out. Timetables to get underway were drawn up, and the real fun began!

Getting started

We moved into the Epicentre in Byron Bay in May 1989 and in June 1989 – coincidentally at the same time as AARNET was commencing operations in Canberra – we signed up our first customers and began operations. Maxine Cole became the first employee of Pegasus. In late July 1989 Mike Jensen from The Web in Canada arrived in Australia armed with the technical equipment we could not purchase here and we scaled up in earnest.

Just to digress here – in the year in which we were planning this and negotiating with overseas colleagues only twice did I telephone overseas, for a total of five minutes, and never did I travel to negotiate agreements. It all happened by electronic mail and conferencing. I was really starting to realise what a powerful and effective business tool this was.

We decided to give Australia wide coverage at a local call dialup cost by using a Telstra service called Austpac. They billed us for use of it, and we billed our users. This enabled 3 speeds of dialup according to your modem speed – you dialed one number for 300 baud, another for 1200, and a third for 2400 baud. You can imagine what it was like with these low speeds – one two-hundredth of todays modems – but as most messages were text only in those days you got used to it.

On September 14 1989 we had out formal launch at Terania Creek in the rainforest, with a laptop computer, solar powered bus, and modem connected to a cellular phone. Some clever technician made the box for us to allow a connection from a cellular phone – and in fact we had to get Telstra to do some last minute changes to allow the connection to Austpac (the data service) from the cellular network. No-one had used data services from a cellular phone before that! The launch was covered by the local media and the ABC’s 7:30 Report.

AARNet was not yet operating in Australia when we first started, so we used to make phone calls overseas every hour or so to collect and send email, and one long off peak call each night to collect newsgroup material. This used a protocol called UUCP – or Unix Universal Communications Protocol. Overseas polling schedules were set up, users started to join, and away we went, innocents cast abroad in a brave new world.

We had a bit of fun getting it together technically. I just set off in our solar powered van with demonstration facilities to sign up Australia, and suggested to Maxine she set up billing software. Very few people could have done that, but Maxine did.

Managing the computers and networks was another issue to be dealt with, with Mike Jensen about to head off for Africa (where he established early Internet networks in a number of countries). We had a series of attempts to get someone to perform this important role, including a famous Australian radical called Albert Langer, and it was great relief a few months later when Paul Wilson joined us and began to stabilise and improve that side of our operations. Paul is still around the Internet business, at the time of writing as Director General of APNIC, one of the three global Internet registries.

Our team was expanding – Keith Stewart, Param Berg, Andrew Garton and Gert Gast all played key roles at a staff level, and Andrew Campbell, Ian Mathieson, Robert Rosen and others provided me with business advice.

How we joined AARNET is an interesting story. In the early days at one of our meetings in Canberra a person by the name of Geoff Huston sat patiently through a demonstration I was doing for environment groups and came up to talk to me afterwards. We were at that time connecting through AARNET’s predecessor, ACSNet. Geoff wanted us to take on a permanent connection via AARNET as soon as it got underway, but there were a few rules we had to get around to get access through AARNET and indeed to the Internet, which did not allow commercial traffic in those days. We sneaked in via sponsorship by University of New England and Melbourne University, and our first permanent connection was underway. Shortly after with a facility called telnet, logging into computers outside Australia became a reality. Geoff Huston did much to foster the early growth of the Internet in Australia, and to encourage businesses such as Pegasus to get underway.

Our attitude from the beginning was that, although we wanted affordable rates, we were going to do so with a quality service. We reasoned that anything less than a quality service would eventually see the larger and more wealthy users leave us for a more sophisticated service – and that that was in neither our financial interests or in line with our higher aspirations for the organization. We therefore concentrated funds quite heavily on improving our reliability and stability, as well as introducing new and more user- friendly facilities. Later on that quality of service broke down as Pegasus became squeezed by its competition, and I believe that that more than anything let to its demise.

At the end of our third year, we returned a small profit, which was re-invested in plans for expanded activities. We had close on 2000 users, a substantial bank loan, a full time staff of 8 people, and an exciting future. We were beginning to fulfil many people’s dreams for use of this media. At this point I stood down as Chief Executive Officer, and Paul Wilson took over. This enabled me to concentrate on forward development of the network.

Virtual communities

We had already established strong activist networks, and the pattern of Australia wide networks with global links was what was impressing people. These later became known as virtual communities – people who would act like communities in the old geographical sense in terms of regular association, but who were separated by distance.

It was probably the only sensible way to bring a lot of people on board in those early days. Now, everyone wants email because everyone else has it, but in those days we had to find people that other people would want to email. So to associations and movements, “virtual communities” made a lot of sense. Some of the pioneering ones were

Earthnet, linking groups working on peace, human rights, environment and development aid issues

Landcarenet, linking rural based groups working on land degradation

Councilnet, launched in October 1992 to link municipal government employees and elected representatives

Artsnet, which also had connections to some early overseas arts networks

AOLIN, the network of the Open Learning movement

ACSLink, the network of the Australian Computer Society (this did not start till September 1994 – it was interesting that the computer professionals were actually not early adopters).

There were other networks, many of which I guess we never knew about anyway. Networks were forming in the ether we were beginning to call cyberspace and new groups were being established each day.

Most of these virtual communities used what we called “conferencing” software. This software could be configured for a number of uses, but the primary ones were public or private discussion rooms, which were very popular and informal, or information databases, which could be indexed to provide links to a wide range of information sources (something like a text only world wide web page with index links).

It wasn’t easy to use networks in those days. Typing on line was awful – people had all sorts of problems with simple things like getting backspace keys to work. You had to set a terminal type for your computer to get the characters to appear properly – modems had to be programmed for the settings of the network – it really was pretty difficult to use those early networks, and training and user support became a big part of out work.

It says a lot for how much people wanted to network that they actually put up with those interfaces.

Global Threads

Right from the beginning we were doing a global network and had gathered a series of global connections from the Electronic Networkers  Association (ENA) which preceded the Internet Society as the forum for network growth. From the beginning Pegasus staff were involved across Asia with non-government organisations, and offered discounts to Asian NGOs to help get them on line. From what I know, Pegasus had a big hand in establishment of early Internet networks in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, many of the Pacific Islands, Mongolia, and probably a few other countries as well. We were actively involved in the UNDP plans to establish networks in South America, and in 1993 I spoke at the first gathering of the Internet Society about the concept of  “sustainable development networks”.

In 1990 Pegasus formed an alliance with various people active in NGO development in the Asian Pacific Region called Pactok. Pactok was originally a Fidonet gateway – in those days Fidonet was on PCs, but software to connect to the Internet wasn’t generally available.  So Pegasus allowed transfer from Fidonet nodes across Asia Pacific to Internet.

By 1992 Pegasus had subscribers dialing in from Japan, India, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Fiji, Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea.

Later, Pegasus became involved through a relationship with CIDA (Canadian Aid) in establishment of networks in Cambodia and Mongolia.

The move to Brisbane and the last four years

By about the end of 1992 it became apparent that Byron Bay posed a few problems for us. Apart from the surf and the laid-back atmosphere, we suffered from unreliable telecommunications and unreliable electricity. After having fried a few computers and lost a few customers, we knew that we had to provide a more reliable service for our growing customer base.

So not without some misgivings, we set out and relocated in Brisbane, first in Fortitude Valley and later when bigger premises became necessary again in Southbank.

The growth of competition

In the early days, Pegasus was virtually on its own in the Internet Service Provider field, and there was a time when Pegasus had 85% of the Internet market in Australia. But not for long – once a market had opened up other players entered.

Some of the significant early players were, started by Hugh Irvine in 1992, which more than any other organisation opened up the business market in Australia, Magnadata, and Ozemail, (which from the beginning had lots of cash). These were all pre World Wide Web.

By the time the www started to take off in Australia in 1995, lots of people were entering this field. Personal computer penetration was rapid, Microsoft had finally adopted Windows software, and modems were now 14400 or 28800 bps – getting pretty quick! All of these factors made for some very rapid growth, and soon there were about 800 Internet Service Providers in Australia. An industry had been spawned.

Many of these were small and regional, only a few maintained Australia wide presence.

During this period Pegasus grew to having 30 staff and 12000 customers, quite a significant business. That growth was very rapid, and Pegasus had a lot of trouble maintaining market share and profile as the field got larger. Pegasus just didn’t keep pace and soon became a target for a takeover.

So in many ways it was probably a relief that a buyer for Pegasus was found in the form of Microplex. Microplex at the time brought out a number of the twelve or so biggest ISPs and eventually sold them all to Optus, a telecommunications carrier. Within a short period of time, all of the major ISPs were brought out by telcos. The end of the electronic frontier was nigh – and the era of the electropolis and the cybermall had begun.

I would probably put the demise of Pegasus down to avoidable lack of capitalization, accompanied by some lack of vision. The capitalization was a continual frustration when growth was needed, investors willing to pay a fair price for shares were available, but the principal shareholder didn’t want to dilute his holding. Thus while others were expanding rapidly, Pegasus started to perform poorly. Just after bringing on board the Australian Computer Society’s national membership, a real coup that could lead to further growth, Pegasus started to suffer from clogged bandwidth and poor system performance. The people who could have helped so much in a next stage of expansion started to leave. The media who had supported Pegasus to that point of time started to compare us unfavourably with others. And we turned down further investment in favour of an attempt at immediate profits.

I came out of Pegasus a little disillusioned, with very little money, but it was a great experience and a fantastic thing to do. To hold memories of the growth of the Internet in its early stages, and to be one of a handful of people who can honestly say “we started the Internet industry in this country” is absolutely terrific.

Internet Governance History (written 2010)

March 28, 2011

Excerpts from A Brief History of the Internet (prepared for Diplo Foundation by Ian Peter, 2010)





Much like the Internet itself, internet governance evolved as needs had to be met, and began to involve stakeholders as they started to make their presence felt.


In the beginning, Internet governance was just the technical community, and the only real issue was development and adoption of technical standards.


And because they figure prominently in early internet governance arrangements, a good place to start is the standards groups. Here, although this is not an exhaustive list, we need to look at the International Telceommunications Union (ITU), the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).


The Standards bodies


The oldest of the standards bodies is ITU, founded in 1865.  Given that telephony infrastructure is what the Internet was built on, and continues to play a key role in internet service provision, many ITU standards are important to internet operation. The ITU originally represented countries, who originally owned telecommunications infrastructure in most countries, but later more industry presence became necessary as telecommunications deregulation and privatisation occurred in most countries.


But the Internet technical community wanted something less bureaucratic and more attuned to their needs. It should be remembered that  most telecommunications companies were not major players in the emerging Internet. They became more involved from 1990 on, as a commercial Internet got underway.

To involve the emerging Internet technical community, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) was founded in 1986.  IETF  evolved from the INWG (International Networking Group, founded 1972), and describes itself as “a loosely self-organized group of people who contribute to the engineering and evolution of Internet technologies specifications”. The IETF is unusual in that it is not a corporation and has no board of directors, no members, and no dues.


Associated with, and preceding the IETF in some cases, are a number of bodies. An early development in 1979 was the Internet Configuration Control Board, (ICCB) which from 1984 underwent a number of name changes but kept the acronym “IAB”  Internet Advisory Board, Internet Activities Board, and then Internet Architecture Board. IAB oversees IETF, and also the Internet Research Task Force (IRTF) and the RFC Editor. The latter is an interesting early development dating right back to 1969 when Steve Crocker developed the First Request for Comments (RFC01). This format for discussion and development of Internet standards has remained to this day in  IETF.


The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is the third “standards body”, and effectively addresses issues with the World Wide Web architecture. It separated from IETF in 1994 as it believed IETF to be incapable of dealing with its particular range of issues. W3C has been particularly active on internet accessibility issues and a range of standards to do with the WWW.


IANA and the DNS


But other administrative needs began to emerge as the Internet grew. And we should start our history here with the mother of all systems, the world’s largest database, the Domain Name System or DNS.

Each host on the Internet has a range of IP (or Internet protocol) numbers. The Domain name system (DNS) maps the numbers to names of hosts or websites (eg, Thus, when a user enters a name, the Internet knows which number to send the query to by looking up the DNS database.

The DNS was introduced in 1984, several years before commercial traffic was able to be part of the Internet.

Associated with the DNS is the WHOIS database, which stores details of the names and addresses of domain owners and technical contacts. It was named after a UNIX operating system command (whois) which gave basic details about system users. Whois was established essentially to allow technical managers of hosts to contact their peers.  Like so much of the early Internet infrastructure, the whois database used the American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII). ASCII doesn’t accommodate non English character sets well, thus setting into play a number of technical issues still being resolved in 2010 to allow a truly multilingual internet.

From the late 1980s and the person most responsible for major  administrative functions in the developing Internet was Jon Postel.

Postel originally looked after names and numbers, and basically is responsible for the early administration of the DNS – or domain name system. It is the DNS adminstration which evolved into ICANN – but the story of how it got there is a fascinating one.  Working from the Information Science Institute (ISI) at the University of South California (USC). Postel was also responsible for allocating blocks of IP addresses to the newly developing  Regional Internet Registries (RIRs), management of domain names and top level generic and country domains, and also , under the auspices of IANA, a system for co-ordinating the Internets root servers (more on these later as well!)

As mentioned before, originally Postel administered the Domain Name System (DNS) himself. But as it became a bit too large, in 1988 he formed the IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority Originally a one person organisation, it soon became clear that something more stable and internationally acceptable was needed.


ICANN evolution


What followed was quite intriguing and involved a group of players who are still involved in  Internet governance  discussions in 2010. To quote Wolfgang Kleinwachter (2009)[i],


His (Postel”s)  first idea was to use the “Internet Society” (ISOC), established in 1992, as an umbrella organization. In 1994 he proposed adding 150 new generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) to the existing Domain Name System consisting of seven gTLDs[7] and 243 ccTLDs in 1994.

Postel’s initiative was not co-ordinated with the US Department of Commerce. Network Solutions Inc. (NSI), a private company based in Herndon/Virginia which managed .com, .net, and .org as well as the A Root Server, was rather angry about such an initiative. In 1992 NSI had been given a contract by the DOC to be the sole domain name registrar for the three gTLDs .com, .net and .org. Based on such a monopoly position NSI saw in the emerging domain name market a grandiose new business opportunity. Consequently, NSI opposed the Postel plan to introduce 150 competitive gTLDs at this early stage in the development of a global domain name market. NSI lobbied the US Congress and the DOC, which finally intervened with Postel’s plan and stopped the handover of the DNS management to ISOC and the introduction of 150 new gTLDs.


Postel’s frustration about this governmental intervention prompted him to look for other options. He approached the Geneva based International Telecommunication Union (ITU)…… Postel’s idea was to create a new form of public-private partnership for Internet Governance by bringing technical organizations, private sector institutions and intergovernmental organizations together, launching a bottom-up policy development process and creating a new form of oversight body for the management of some of the key Internet resources. Postel pushed for the establishment of an “Interim Ad Hoc Committee” (IAHC) which was formed in summer 1996”.


The members of the IAHC were ISOC and Postel’s IANA, the Internet Architecture Board (IAB), the International Trademark Association (INTA), the ITU and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).  In 1997 they signed an MOU proposing a new Geneva based structure.


The US Government was unhappy about this, and within a few weeks began a process to ensure that this plan did not eventuate. Under the Clinton administration, they began a process to establish an alternative mechanism for DNS management, and its successive Green Paper and White Paper outlined a new organization.


Again quoting Kleinwachter,


“ The European Union supported in principle the idea of privatizing the DNS. But it criticized the US centric approach of the Green Paper. In a rather critical comment about the Green Paper the European Commission wrote: “The European Union and its Member States would wish to emphasize our concern that the future management of the Internet should reflect the fact that it is already a global communication medium and the subject of valid international interests.


Ira Magaziner, US President Clinton’s Internet adviser and the main architect of what later became ICANN, replied in a hearing before the US Congress to the European criticism: “The purpose of the Commerce Department proposal is to improve the technical management of the DNS only. The Green Paper does not propose a monolithic Internet Governance system. Frankly we doubt that the Internet should be governed by a single body or plan.”


Jon Postel again changed his plans and took active part in the debate which led to a “White Paper”, published in June 1998 by the US Department of Commerce.” [ii]


The US Government prevailed, and thus ICANN was born.- with a MOU with the US Government Department of Commerce which included in part “ICANN will perform other IANA functions as needed upon request of DOC”. Thus ICANN became a corporation under US law, with a contract to operate from the US government, despite concerns of many stakeholders.


Jon  Postel unfortunately died  in 1998,  just a dew days before ICANN was formally established,


ICANN originally claimed its mission to be technical co-ordination. However, because of the eccentricities and incomplete nature of Internet governance structures, ICANN has consistently worked in areas that cannot be regarded as technical co-ordination.


For instance, in 1999 it succeeded in establishing a Uniform Dispute Resolutions Policy (UDRP) for the top level domains; hardly a technical co-ordination task, but certainly a useful one for development of the new media.


Also there is the role of ICANN in creating a competitive environment in DNS, part of its contract with US Department of Commerce. This would normally be seen as a regulatory body’s responsibilities, not a technical co-ordination task.


Public policy matters where ICANN is active include intellectual property issues and security. Public policy matters where ICANN is not active include spam and consumer protection. The logic of involvement and non-involvement in various issues is not easy to follow except from a historical perspective.


2009 saw another important milestone in Internet governance, in that the long standing Joint Project Agreement (JPA) beween ICANN and the US Government was terminated. However, the US control of the root zone remains, and is the subject of some concerns with the international community.


ICANN related bodies

It is important to realize that ICANN doesn’t control everything in Internet technical co-ordination. An interesting history associated with the early growth of the Internet led to a number of other quite independent structures being established. These include:


  • Country domain administrators, who in many countries were early technical volunteers who have no formal relationship with national governments. In some developing countries, country administrators are located overseas and are not national citizens. Although a form of techno neo-colonialism remains in the administration of some country domains, and some hostility to co-operation with government authorities exists in others, most country domains are now forming appropriate locally defined relationships with their governments and their local constituencies.
  • Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) such as APNIC (Asia Pacific) and RIPE (Europe), which were set up before the ICANN/US Government contract was in place and retain substantial independence while administering the IP numbering system.
  • Root server operators, many of them volunteers. The 13 root servers (plus a number of subsidiary server clusters) are central to the way the Internet finds addresses (eg. Dot com, or dot cn for China etc. The central root server is administered by Verisign Ltd, and any changes need the approval of the US Dept of Commerce, usually on a recommendation from ICANN.  This authority is the centre of some contention among the international community. The Root servers are governed by the Root Server System Advisory Committee (RSSAC), not ICANN, under supervision by the US Government.


ICANN has a series of relationships with these separate bodies.


WSIS and the rise of IGF

The early networkers didn’t see much of a role for governments – but as the Internet grew, it became clear that governmental involvement was necessary, and that, given the transboundary nature of the Internet, global co-operation was a necessary component of governmental involvement. Out of these concerns grew the Internet Governance Forum.


The concerns were first expressed in the lead up to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), during which internet governance became a major issue. At the first WSIS meeting in Geneva in 2003, this subject was discussed, and from these discussions a Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) was formed to discuss possible next steps and report back to the Tunis WSIS summit in 2005.


Not all matters were able to be resolved here, and the US Government in particular refused to countenance any changes to its unilateral control of the Internet’s root zone. However, there was agreement to form an Internet Governance Forum for a period of five years. IGF held its first forum in Greece in 2006, and in subsequent years in.Rio de Janiero (Brazil), Hyderabad (India), Sharm el Sheikh (Egypt) and Vilnius (Lithuania).  As this lesson is being written in 2010, the future of IGF after its initial five year period is under discussion, but there is widespread support for its continuance.


What is clear is that internet governance is still evolving – just as the Internet itself is. Issues such as cybercrime, copyright, privacy and national sovereignty were not on the minds of the Internet pioneers – but in the second decade of the 21st century these are beginning to loom large as new issues that need to be addressed more comprehensively. The Internet and the world are changing, and the rich history of the Internet certainly has some more chapters to be written in the future!


I trust you have enjoyed and gained from this short introduction to internet history.


References and further reading

[i] Wolfgang Kleinwachter, 2009, History of Internet Governance, (accessed April 2010)


[ii] Wolfgang Kleinwachter, 2009, History of Internet Governance, (accessed April 2010)


Milton Mueller, 2002, Ruling the Root, MIT Press



Protocols, devices and applications in Internet history (written 2010)

March 28, 2011

Excerpts from materials prepared for Diplo Foundation in 2010)




Core devices


There is so much to cover with the devices, applications and protocols that made the Internet what it is today, and it’s going to be difficult not to be too technical! But lets start with the processing devices people use to access the Internet.  And although way back in about 3000BC humans invented the abacus as the earliest processing device, we have to wait until the 1940s to see the first computers – the devices on which and for which the Internet was originally built.


One of the key thinkers leading to the evolution of the early computer was Vannevar Bush. His Memex system, one of his innovative designs, also bore a lot of similarity to the Word Wide Web which was to come half a century later.

Not much happened until the 1970s as far as the Internet is concerned. The sort of computers ARPANET and the early research networks were dealing with were monsters with very little power by today’s standards. Only computer scientists used them. Computers with the power of modern day pocket calculators occupied whole floors of buildings. I think at the time IBM predicted the world would only need 13 of them for planet Earth for all time!

Which would have been a pretty small Internet, probably confined to the research community in major universities and computer scientists. The invention on which the internet expanded, and gave it a real chance to reach out to billions of people, was the personal computer. Personal computers, networked over the global telephony infrastructure, is what created the network we have today.


The first personal computer, the Altair 8800, cost 379 US dollars and was shipped in January 1975. Over 1000 were sold. By 1977 The Radio Shack TRS 80, Apple 2, and Commodore PET were also on the market. IBM got the idea by about 1981 and released the first IBM PC. Apple, under the command of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, was the dominant player for a very short time,  but when IBM adopted Bill Gates (Microsoft) MS DOS system, they quickly took over market dominance and kept it for a long while. The early computer programmers called themselves hackers. At one stage Bill Gates would have been proud to be called a hacker. They called the software they created “hacks”.


These early computers were not invented to be networking devices – in fact, Apple thought their first computer’s main use would be  as a home protection system!

Early computers featured a thing called a “command line”. They didn’t yet have a mouse, although joysticks for games machines were starting to appear.  The first mouse was invented by Douglas Engelbart in 1968 but not adopted for PCs until much later.


We had to wait for the 1990s before Windows became popular on the IBM operating system. Windows, along with Ethernet, the tablet PC, and perhaps even the Internet itself, were inventions of the innovative Xerox Palo Alto  Laboratories during the 1970s and 1980s.



The mobile era



In the mid 1990s – and even to a degree up until the mid 2000s – the mobile phone world and the internet were two separate worlds altogether. But as the mobiles starting to adopt text messaging as an alternative to being a voice only device, a demand for a richer experience began to emerge.


As recently as 2000, a mobile phone that could access data services was a rarity outside of Japan, which led the adoption on line information services. But the early services were not internet based.  Also during the same era, a mobile phone with a camera was a novelty device with little or no market penetration.


In the year 2000, in Yokahama Japan, the author attended a presentation from a senior policy maker for a large computer manufacturer that pointed out all the reasons why the Japanese habit of text messaging and on line data services would never take off in the west!  Did they get that wrong – because, only ten years later, the number of mobile phones in use surpassed computers considerably, and a whole new era of mobile and wireless access to the Internet was well and truly established across the world. The internet had moved to a multi device network, in which computers were destined to become a device used by a minority of users.



Core applications


Parallel to the expansion of internet enabled devices was the growth caused by popular applications. And the first of these – even older than the internet itself – was email.



Email is much older than ARPANet or the Internet. It was never invented; it evolved from very simple beginnings.

Early email was just a small advance on what we know these days as a file directory – it just put a message in another user’s directory in a spot where they could see it when they logged in. Simple as that. Just like leaving a note on someone’s desk.

Probably the first email system of this type was MAILBOX, used at Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1965. Another early program to send messages on the same computer was called SNDMSG.

Some of the mainframe computers of this era might have had up to one hundred users -often they used what are called “dumb terminals” to access the mainframe from their work desks. Dumb terminals just connected to the mainframe – they had no storage or memory of their own, they did all their work on the remote mainframe computer.

Before internetworking began, therefore, email could only be used to send messages to various users of the same computer. Once computers began to talk to each other over networks, however, the problem became a little more complex – we needed to be able to put a message in an envelope and address it. To do this, we needed a means to indicate to whom letters should go that the electronic posties understood – just like the postal system, we needed a way to indicate an address.

This is why Ray Tomlinson is credited with inventing email in 1972. Like many of the Internet inventors, Tomlinson worked for Bolt Beranek and Newman as an ARPANET contractor. He picked the @ symbol from the computer keyboard to denote sending messages from one computer to another. So then, for anyone using Internet standards, it was simply a matter of nominating name-of-the-user@name-of-the-computer. Internet pioneer Jon Postel, who we will hear more of later, was one of the first users of the new system, and is credited with describing it as a “nice hack”. It certainly was, and it has lasted to this day.

By 1974 there were hundreds of military users of email because ARPANET eventually encouraged it. Email became the saviour of Arpanet, and caused a radical shift in Arpa’s purpose. The timesharing concept for which it was originally intended had essentially failed, but email created a whole new communications purpose.

Things developed rapidly from there. Larry Roberts invented some email folders for his boss so he could sort his mail, a big advance. In 1975 John Vital developed some software to organize email. By 1976 email had really taken off, and commercial packages began to appear. Within a couple of years, 75% of all ARPANET traffic was email.

Email took us from Arpanet to the Internet. Here was something that ordinary people all over the world wanted to use.

As Ray Tomlinson observed some years later about email, “any single development is stepping on the heels of the previous one and is so closely followed by the next that most advances are obscured. I think that few individuals will be remembered.” That’s true – to catalogue all the developments would be a huge task.



Email drove mass adoption in the pre world wide web era known as the “protocol wars”. Governments continued to argue for some time for a completely different set of standards based on OSI; Hobbyist networks maintained the Fidonet system; various efforts such as APC and UFGate software bridged the Unix and PC based network worlds – and a host of commercial systems such as Dialcom, Compuserve, AOL and other email systems with entirely different operating systems were all seeking an answer to the connectivity crisis. But email exchanges across these systems were already working by a variety of means.

Later on, TCP/IP won the protocol wars on costs and simplicity of adoption. Soon after, the World Wide Web appeared, and the last of the laggards believing they had a separate future began to convert.
These were the days of per-minute charges for email for individual dialup users. For most people on the Internet in those days email and email discussion groups were the main uses. These were many hundreds of these on a wide variety of topics, and as a body of newsgroups they became known as USENET.

With the World Wide Web, email started to be made available with friendly web interfaces by providers such as Yahoo and Hotmail, and later Gmail. Usually this was without charge. Now that email was affordable, everyone wanted at least one email address, and the medium was adopted by not just millions, but hundreds of millions of people.


The World Wide Web


Before the World Wide Web the Internet really only provided screens full of text (and usually only in one font and font size). So although it was pretty good for exchanging information, and indeed for accessing information such as the Catalogue of the US Library of Congress, it was visually very boring.

In an attempt to make this more aesthetic, companies like Compuserve and AOL began developing what used to be called GUIs (or graphical user interfaces). GUIs (such as videotext) added a bit of colour and a bit of layout, but were still pretty boring. Indeed IBM personal computers were only beginning to adopt Windows interfaces – before that with MSDOS interfaces they were pretty primitive. So the Internet might have been useful, but it wasn’t good looking.

Probably the World Wide Web saved the net. Not only did it change its appearance, it made it possible for pictures and sound to be displayed and exchanged.

The web had some important predecessors, perhaps the most significant of these being Ted Nelson’s Xanadu project, which worked on the concept of Hypertext – where you could click on a word and it would take you somewhere else. Ted Nelson envisaged with Xanadu a huge library of all the worlds’ information. In order to click on hyperlinks, as they were called, Douglas Engelbart invented the mouse, which was to later become a very important part of personal computers. So the idea of clicking on a word or a picture to take you somewhere else was a basic foundation of the web.

Another important building block was the URL or Uniform Resource Locator. This allowed you a further option to find your way around by naming a site. Every site on the worldwide web has a unique URL (such as

The other feature was Hypertext Markup Language (html), the language that allowed pages to display different fonts and sizes, pictures, colours etc. Before HTML, there was no such standard, and the “GUIs we talked about before only belonged to different computers or different computer software. They could not be networked.

It was Tim Berners Lee and Robert Cailliau who brought this all together and created the World Wide Web. The first trials of the World Wide Web were at the CERN laboratories (one of Europe’s largest research laboratories) in Switzerland in December 1990. By 1991 browser and web server software was available, and by 1992 a few preliminary sites existed in places like University of Illinois, where Mark Andreesen became involved. By the end of 1992, there were about 26 sites.

The first browser which became popularly available to take advantage of this was Mosaic, in 1993. Mosaic was as slow as a wet week, and really didn’t handle downloading pictures well at all – so the early world wide web experience with Mosaic, and with domestic modems that operated at one twentieth of current internet speeds at best, were pretty bad and really didn’t give much indication of the potential of this medium.  Most engineers thought it was too slow and would never take off.

On April 30, 1993 CERN’s directors made a statement that was a true milestone in Internet history. On this day, they declared that WWW technology would be freely usable by anyone, with no fees being payable to CERN.


This decision – much in line with the decisions of the earlier Internet pioneers to make their products freely available – was a visionary and important one.  It is hard to overestimate the importance of this announcement, which made the WWW a platform for widespread innovation, rather than a proprietary money making software product.


By the end of 1994 there were a million browser copies in use – rapid growth indeed!!  In the same year Marc Andreesen founded Netscape Corporation, and the World Wide Web Consortium, which administers development of Word Wide Web standards, was formed by Tim Berners Lee.

Then we really started to see growth. Every year from 1994 to 2000, the Internet saw massive growth, the like of which had not been seen with any preceding technology. The Internet era had begun.

The first search engines began to appear in the mid 1990s, and it didn’t take long for Google to come on the scene, and establish a dominant market position.

In the early days, the web was mainly used for displaying information. On line shopping, and on line purchase of goods, came a little bit later. The first large commercial site was Amazon, a company which in its initial days concentrated solely on book markets. The Amazon concept was developed in 1994, a year in which some people claim the world wide web grew by an astonishing 2300 percent! Amazon saw that on line shopping was the way of the future, and chose the book market as a field where much could be achieved.

By 1998 there were 750,000 commercial sites on the world wide web, and we were beginning to see how the Internet would bring about significant changes to existing industries. In travel for instance, we were able to compare different airlines and hotels and get the cheapest fares and accommodation – something pretty difficult for individuals to do before the world wide web. Hotels began offering last minute rates through specially constructed websites, thus furthering the power of the web as a sales medium.

And things went even further – in some fields of travel, individuals would outline where they wanted to travel to and from, and travel companies would then bid for the business. All these developments rapidly changed the way traditional markets worked. In some industries, the world would never be the same again.



Core protocols


Now for the really hard part to explain, the core protocols and technical standards on which the Internet operates. Most people couldn’t care less as long as it does what it is supposed to, but in fact a lot of the problems and policy issues of today’s Internet emanate from the nature of the core protocols. So it’s worth trying to understand a little bit about these.

TCP IP (and resultant security issues)


The Internet base protocols and systems were mainly devised in the 1970s and 1980s. Many were established initially as a means to connect mainframe computer systems for timesharing purposes. The system introduced for this fairly trivial purpose has expanded to become a global multimedia information and communications system, connecting PCs, mobiles, and tens of millions rather than the few devices foreseen by the original inventors.

Parts of the system are now over 20 years old, and the Internet is required to perform a number of important functions not included in the original design. Various patches have been applied to base protocols and systems, not always evenly. How well does it perform these tasks? Well that’s a matter of some debate. But for now let’s look at the core systems and how they evolved.

The protocol which they say determines what the Internet is, is TCP/IP, or Transmission Control Protocol-Internet Protocol. Essentially, TCP/IP describes a protocol which will work on any sort of computer and operating system for transportation of data across the internet between different systems.

Invented in the 1970’s, largely adopted in the late 1980s, TCP/IP hit its first big problem in the early 1990s when it became apparent that the numbering system was going to run out of numbers in the foreseeable future. Therefore in 1995, after several years of work, TCP/IP Vs 6 was released to solve this problem. Adoption has been very very slow. TCP/IP has proven to be remarkably robust, but is very basic.

Simple Message Transfer Protocol (SMTP)

SMTP, or the Simple Message Transfer Protocol, is the basic standard for email, and again exists since the 1980s when the Internet was small and honest.

Perhaps more than any other system on the Internet, email has seen a number of improvements and different protocols, each of which has been adopted by only part of the Internet email community. This capacity not to adopt standards is a feature of the Internet, making dealing with change more difficult than it otherwise might be.

There is another thing about SMTP that stands out. SMTP comes from an innocent age, and no-one thought it would be necessary to prove that the person sending a message was who they said they were. The basic flaws in SMTP authentication are now causing significant problems, particularly the ease with which email sender details can be forged. This helps the transfer of some viruses and a lot of the worst spam, and makes Internet fraud a lot easier than it might otherwise be. Now not all viruses and spam can be attributed to problems with protocols, but better protocols sure would help.

File Transfer Protocol (FTP)

Another important protocol which dates from pre 1972 is FTP, or the file transfer protocol. This simply is the way to upload or download a file from an Internet computer. Just about everyone who owns a website uses this one.


Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP)

With the coming of the World Wide Web, we see another powerful protocol – http, or hypertext transfer protocol. HTTP allows us to click on the name of a site and visit it. Simple, but very powerful.

Peer to Peer protocols


Later still in an era where people began to use peer to peer networks – where computers connected directly to each other rather than through central server computers, another important development was BitTorrent (2004). This powerful protocol has become the centre of copyright disputes because of its role in downloading of movies and music, and its particular capacity to contribute to internet congestion. Many a policy issue has arisen from the availability and use of this protocol!

Modems and networks technologies
Modem is a term we are likely to forget soon in the digital age, but for many of us modems were where internetworking began. Modem is short for modulate-demodulate – that’s where it got its name. Modems enable the digital form of matter that a computer uses to communicate by the analogue form of transmission of old style telephone systems.

There were apparently some early modems used by the US Air Force in the 1950’s, but the first commercial ones were made a decade later. The earliest modems were 75 bps (or bits per second). That’s about 1/750th of the speed of current modems, so they were pretty slow! But to early networking enthusiasts, modems were 300 bps. Then came 1200, and by 1989 2400 bps modems.

By 1994, domestic modems had got to 28.8 kilobits per second – which was just as well, because by then we were beginning to send more than text messages over the Internet. This was thought to be an upper limit for phone line transmissions. But along came the 56k modem, and a new set of standards, so the speeds continue to push the envelope of the capacity of the telephone system.

So much so that many of have moved on, into wireless networks, and into “broadband” systems, which allow much faster speeds. But modems made the first critical link between computers and telephones, and began the age of internetworking.

Another of the former Arpanet contractors, Robert Metcalfe, was responsible for the development of Ethernet, which drives most local area networks.

Ethernet essentially made a version of the packet switching and Internet protocols which were being developed for Arpanet available to cabled networks. After a stint at the innovative Xerox Palo Alto laboratories, Metcalfe founded a company called 3-Com which released products for networking mainframes and mini computers in 1981, and personal computers in 1982.

With these developments in place, tools were readily available to connect both old and new style computers, via wireless, cable, and telephone networks. As the networks grew, other companies such as Novell and CISCO began to develop more complex networking hubs, bridges, routers and other equipment. By the mid 1980’s, everything that was needed for an explosion of internetworking was in place.



References and further reading


This lesson was largely compiled from my own writings at


For excellent information on computer history, try the Computer Museum (





Early Internet Developments (2010 writings)

March 28, 2011

A Brief History of the Internet (prepared for Diplo Foundation by Ian Peter)





As Marshall McLuhan notes in his 1960s classic, “Understanding Media”

“It is instructive to follow the embryonic stages of any new growth, for during this period of development it is much misunderstood, whether it be printing or the motor car or TV”. [i]

For instance, the early motor car was called the horseless carriage – and most people of that day saw only that the motor vehicle would do what the horse and carriage had done before it. No-one was envisaging aeroplanes, long distance trucks, high speed highways and cars, intercontinental travel, and the other advances that came from this base discovery – people just looked at this as a way to get to town to go shopping.

We see something similar in the case of the telephone system. In the early days, Alexander Graeme Bell thought it would be good for broadcasting music. So we envisaged the early uses as being of a “broadcast” nature – one way communications. Then people thought it would be good for sending Morse code messages.

However, even back then in 1863 we can see the very beginnings of thinking about how this new infrastructure might be used one day. In that year futurist Jules Verne, without a doubt the king of science fiction writing, told us of a future world where “photo-telegraphy allowed any writing, signature or illustration to be sent faraway – every house was wired”.[ii]

Now that’s as good a description of what was to come as you can get! Jules Verne also anticipated the first trip to the moon, so he often talked of events and inventions well before they happened.

It was some time before people thought the telegraph system would be good for people talking to each other, and the word “telephone” evolved. That idea stuck for quite some time as the dominant purpose of these networks, but by the 1980s we were beginning to see some other uses for networks emerge.
Electronic networks began with the telephone, or telegraph system as it was known in the beginning. Here the origins are pretty clear – the first line was built in 1844 from Washington to Baltimore. By 1858 a transatlantic cable was in place, and by 1861 – a mere seventeen years after the first connection – telegraph wires covered the USA.

Within 150 years of its first beginnings, the telegraph network infrastructure had become the biggest single connected construction on the planet – and off the planet as well! Just think of it: it wields its way across continents and under oceans in a massive encircling web of fibre, cables, wires, satelliture, and wireless connections. These connections carrying our profound thoughts, our wildest fantasies, our financial transactions, news, music, and just about anything we can express in words or written language.

This is the physical infrastructure on which the Internet was built, and on which it relies. This infrastructure also explains the historical role of telecommunications companies in the Internet. Now most of them had nothing or very little to do with the early evolution of the Internet, as we shall see in following sections, but they did control the infrastructure the Internet used for distance communication.

In Lesson 1, we largely concentrated on a number of developments involving large mainframe computers. Usage outside of the scientific community was negligible. It needed the personal computer for interest and usage to take off.

There might have been an Internet without personal computers, but it would have been uninteresting, and probably confined to the research community and computer scientists. The first invention that gave the Internet a real chance to reach out to over two billion people, and to make it the sort of network it is today, was the personal computer. Personal computers, networked over the global telephony infrastructure, is what created the network we have today.

More about that in lesson three, but for now we should note: none of these computers – either the new PCs or the old mainframes – had been designed to be communicating devices (the main objective was thought to be their processing power). So a means had to be found to connect them to networks. Here two more developments became important – the modem, which connected early computers to telephone lines, and Ethernet, a standard which was developed for “Local area networks” or LANs (where computers were really all in the same room or area and could be “wired” together).


At the same time as the academic and research communities were creating a network for scientific purposes, a lot of parallel activity was going on elsewhere building computer networks as well.

A lot of the West Coast computer pioneers (or hackers as they were called) belonged to the Homebrew Computer Club, founded by Lee Felsenstein. Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Steve Jobs (Apple) were both members. Lee had actually begun networking computers before the development of the PC, with his Community Memory project in the late 1970s. This system had dumb terminals (like computer screens with keyboards connected to one large computer that did the processing). These were placed in laundromats, the Whole Earth Access store, and community centres in San Francisco. This network used permanent links over a small geographical area rather than telephone lines and modems.

The first public bulletin board communications system using personal computers and modems was written by Ward Christensen and Randy Seuss in Chicago in 1978 for the early amateur computers. It was about 1984 that the first bulletin boards using the IBM (Bill Gates/Microsoft) operating system and Apple operating systems began to be used. The most popular of these was FidoNet.

In the community networking field early systems included PEN (Public Electronic Network) in Santa Monica, the WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link) in the Bay area of San Francisco, Big Sky Telegraph, and a host of small businesses with online universities, community bulletin boards, artists networks, seniors clubs, womens networks etc. ..

Gradually, as the 1990s began, these networks also began adopting the TCP/IP standard. Now the PC networks and the academic networks were joined, and a platform was available for rapid global development.

By 1989 many of the new community networks had joined the Electronic Networkers Association. When they met in San Francisco in 1989, there was a lot of activity, plus some key words emerging – connectivity and interoperability. Not surprisingly in the California hippy culture of the time, the visions for these new networks included peace, love, joy, Marshall McLuhan’s global village, the paperless office, electronic democracy, and probably Timothy Leary’s Home Page. However, new large players such as America on Line (AOL) were also starting to make their presence felt, and a more commercial future was becoming obvious. Flower power gave way to communications protocols, and Silicon Valley just grew and grew.

PEN (The Public Electronic Network) in Santa Monica,(1989) may be able to claim the mantle of being the first local government based network of any size.

Meanwhile, back in the academic and research world, there were many others who wanted to use the growing network but could not because of military control of Arpanet. Computer scientists at universities without defence contracts obtained funding from the National Science Foundation to form CSNet (Computer Science Network). Other academics who weren’t computer scientists also began to show interest, so soon this started to become known as the “Computer and Science Network”. In the early days, however, only a few academics used the Internet at most universities. It was not until the1990s that the penetration of Internet in academic circles became at all significant.

Because of fears of hackers, the Dept of Defence created a new separate network, MILNet, in 1982. By the mid-1980s, ARPANET was phased out. The role of connecting university and research networks was taken over by CSNet, later to become the NSF (or National Science Foundation) Network.

The NSFnet was to become the U.S. backbone for the global network known as the Internet, and a driving force in its early establishment. By 1989 ARPANet had disappeared, but the Information Superhighway was just around the corner.

Then there’s the commercial networks. They also started to appear in the early 1970s, and probably there were two distinct types – commercial on line databases and information providers, such as Dialog and Lexis Nexus, and messaging service providers, such as Compuserve and Prodigy. To these we can add a little later the services based on Videotext – a sort of early graphical user interface allowing pictures and images on line. Most national telecommunication companies adopted this format initially. Another early and innovative service was French Minitel, with its attractive handsets for a better user experience on line. We should also mention Tymnet, Dialcom and British Telecom services as other pioneers, and America on Line (AOL) a bit later.

Let’s look at the global spread of networks beyond the USA.

Fidonet, the first large network to connect personal computers, was established in 1983. By 1990 there were 2500 hosts all over the world, although mainly in western countries. A lot of these were for computer hobbyists, but meanwhile we were beginning to see some specific types of network appear.

FreeNets were another model, with the most prominent being in Ottawa Canada and Cleveland Ohio. The Freenet model gave free access, and the service was paid for by people such as government bodies who wanted to get information out to the general public. FreeNets played a large role in community building, but the financial model was problematic and the cost of upgrades beyond the under-budgeted operators. FreeNets were important pioneers in many areas and the first introduction to networking for many people.

In addition to these more geographically centered activities, global communities of interest (later to become known as virtual communities) were starting to evolve.

One such network, and a major player in the early growth of the Internet, was the Association for Progressive Communications (or APC). Formed by the joining of PeaceNet and Econet in San Francisco with GreenNet in the UK in 1987, by 1989 the fledgling association had seven foundation countries providing major hubs. These connected to other countries with less established facilities, and through association with similar bodies such as Interdoc, and Poptel in the UK, many contacts and connections were coming on board.

The driving minds of the early network were Mark Graham from PeaceNet and Mitra Ardron from GreenNet. They saw that, by creating low cost host computers for social movements in various countries, they could spread the network quickly to a lot of non profit and activist groups who might otherwise not be able to afford to communicate. With the technical help of Scott Weikart and Steve Fram from Community Data Processing, they set out to create some simple messaging and conferencing software, and to make UNIX available on the IBM personal computer so that low cost hosts could be set up.

Meanwhile the Cold War was breaking down, and APC played an interesting part in that as well. By 1992 the US Government changed legislation to allow the export of computer chips and software to the USSR.(before that they were considered to be illegal exports). Very quickly Glasnet sprung up in the USSR, with satellite networks in many eastern European countries.

The Russian coups became a fascinating global event, with eyewitness accounts. “The tanks are coming, the tanks are coming” on the Internet from independent reporters on the scene. The Internet became part of the Russian people’s struggle. Glasnet, the San Francisco/Moscow Teleport, and other facilities played an as yet undocumented role in the events which were to follow and change the face of global politics.

By the end of 1992, largely due to the pioneering efforts of people like Carlos Afonso in South America and Mike Jensen and Karen Banks in Africa, close to 100 countries were connected to APC networks – just a few more countries than the more mainstream academic and research networks which formed another strong development arm of the Internet. Major UNIX hubs fed information to smaller systems using Fidonet technologies in smaller countries. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) played a major role in South American countries, and APC members assisted the development of networks suitable for smaller countries and regions, such as Pactok in the Asia Pacific region.

As governments started to realize that access to the growing net had social advantages, and that the socially disadvantaged should have special initiatives to encourage access, a number of government and charity sponsored initiatives began. HandsNet in the USA looked to address poverty issues. SeniorNet, naturally enough, encouraged access for senior citizens. In Australia, the Community Information Network, the brainchild of Hr Peter Baldwin, looked to provide access for people on low incomes. Most of these experiments became subsumed as the net grew, but they provided important roles in understanding the implications of access to or lack of access to the net.

Thus, even as early as 1994, there were significant forums arguing the case for universal access, and for access to the powerful information and communication features of the Internet to be regarded as a basic human right. In an age where a powerful communications media existed, the argument went, lack of access was denial of a fundamental human right – the right to communicate. These early initiatives provided the foundation for the digital divide initiatives which began in the late 1990s in an attempt to address the global imbalance in Internet usage.

The trouble was, all of these separate networks didn’t easily connect with each other, and used a range of different formats and standards for email, message forwarding etc. And there was quite a battle between the various standards for several years, with governments originally favouring and often mandating a series of international standards backed by ITU, OSI (or GOSIP as it was often referred to as a set of government standards).

OSI was well thought out and well architected, but was never adopted by the commercial sector. So there was very little hardware and software for it, making it hard to implement. Largely because of this, Internet standards largely took over, with even the laggards adopting by the mid 1990s.

But it was the World Wide Web which gave the newly forming network its great leap forward. In our next lesson, we will look at how the network evolved and grew as the various applications that made it popular took off.


References and further reading

[i] Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (New York, 1964),


[ii] Jules Verne (1963) – “Paris in the 20th Century” (manuscript)

Association for Progressive Communications history page –


A good coverage of early commercial developments by Kim Veltman is at


Much of this lesson was drawn from my own observations and involvements during this period and is also covered in




Origins of the Internet (2010)

March 28, 2011

Excerpts from A Brief History of the Internet (prepared for Diplo Foundation by Ian Peter 2010)



Note – this lesson largely concentrates on the technical developments. Although the Internet cannot be understood from these, it will help to understand the multistakeholder and international origins of certain core elements of the Internet.




In the introduction to this lesson series, we made clear that we believe that the only way to explain the history of phenomena we know as the Internet is to outline the multitude of historical events which together created the Internet. Nevertheless, people will want to continue to look for a single point origin, so in this first lesson we are going to look at the five most common theories for Internet origins.

Leaving aside the wilder theories, in this lesson we will look at five theories of Internet origins, and you can decide for yourself. For me? Well, I’ll tell you how I feel about all of this after outlining the main theories. They are (and excuse the technical terms for now, I’ll explain them as we go)


1. A technique called packet switching represents the origins of the Internet

2. The Transport Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) represents the origins of the Internet

3. A range of telecommunications industry activities in data networks represents the true origins

4. The range of inventions and activities emanating from Xerox Palo Alto Laboratories, including Ethernet and PUP, represent the true beginnings.

5 .The birth of the Internet is best explained through a history of applications rather than the technical protocols above.

All right. Lets examine these theories and why they lead to quite different conclusions. I’ll try to keep this stuff simple.


But firstly – what criteria will we use to determine whether these events represent the beginnings of the Internet? I suggest that an early Internet has to be

  1. a connection between different types of networks (that’s what an Internet is)
  2. involving computers
  3. involving humans communicating with each other
  4. an actual event, not just a theoretical document.




Packet switching is a technique for sending messages across a network. There are a number of varieties, but all intending to ensure that “packets” of data arrive safely and are assembled in the right order.


The Arpanet 1969 claim to Internet origins largely rests on acceptance of the theory that packet switching is the beginning of the Internet, and a belief that this was the first ever packet switching exchange. As we are told,  (UCLA Press Release, 2004) [i]

“On October 29 1969, UCLA computer science professor Leonard Kleinrock led a team of engineers in launching the first Internet message from UCLA to Stanford Research Institute, as part of the Arpanet project. As Kleinrock is purported to have reflected on the 35th anniversary of this event in 2004,

“When we sent that first message, it marked the birth of a new method of global communications that has forever changed the course of business, politics, entertainment, education and social interaction”.



There are a couple of things to note if we follow this theory.


  • It was not the first packet switching event
  • It was not about people communicating over distance
  • It was not a connection relating to “a network of networks” (a commonly held definition of what the Internet is)


However, what Arpanet did in 1969 that was important was to develop a variation of a technique called packet switching. In 1965, before Arpanet came into existence, an Englishman called Donald Davies had proposed a similar facility to Arpanet in the United Kingdom, the NPL Data Communications Network. It never got funded; but Donald Davies did develop the concept of packet switching, a means by which messages can travel from point to point across a network. Although others in the USA were working on packet switching techniques at the same time (notably Leonard Kleinrock and Paul Baran), it was the UK version that Arpanet first adopted.” [ii]


There is another reason it is important to delve into this a little – that is because the theory of nuclear war origins relies on a belief that it was Paul Baran’s version of packet switching which was adopted by Arpanet.


This version of  Internet history was fuelled largely by the PBS television series “Triumph of the Nerds” some years ago, and by the earlier writings of Silicon Valley gossip columnist Robert Cringely in the beautifully titled “Accidental Empires – how the boys of Silicon Valley make their millions, battle foreign competition, and still can’t get a date” (Penguin, 1992),  This belief suggests that the Internet was invented in the Pentagon in 1969. The theory goes on to suggest that the Internet network invented in the Pentagon was designed to survive a nuclear attack.


But this was not so, as confirmed by Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn, as well as Bob Taylor who headed the Arpanet Project.  [iii]
And was it the first packet switching event? Ronda Hauben refers to a 1966 event when Donald Davies in the UK implemented a packet switch connecting a set of host computers. [iv]

Kim Veltman(2002) goes further in exploring this

“We are almost always told that the Internet began solely in America. This is not really true. The earliest pioneers included a Frenchman, Louis Pouzin, who introduced the idea of data grams and an Englishman, Donald W. Davies, who was one of the inventors of packet-switching. Another of the great pioneers in Britain was Peter T. Kirstein, who went to America at the beginning of the Arpanet in 1969 when it was decided that Davies could not go for reasons of national security. … The National Physical Laboratory in Great Britain set up the first test network on these principles [of packet switching] in 1968. Shortly afterward, the Pentagon’s Advanced Research Projects Agency decided to fund a larger, more ambitious project in the USA. Hence an English project of 1968 inspired the beginnings of the US Internet in 1969” [v]

Another pivotal early experiment of note in the origins of packet switching referred to above is the work of Louis Pouzin, whom developed the Cyclades network in France between 1971 and 1975.  That experiment came to an end in 1978, but in the process greatly influenced the work of Arpanet – and the development of the packet switching concept (datagram was Pouzin’s term for a broadly similar development)


What follows from this analysis is that, if we believe that the first trials of packet switching represents the beginnings of the Internet, the Internet may have begun in the UK or France, not USA.


Something else to note about Arpanet – it was not about people using computers to communicate at all in 1969. Arpanet was about time-sharing. Time sharing tried to make it possible for research institutions to use the processing power of other institutions computers when they had large calculations to do that required more power, or when someone else’s facility might do the job better.


So lets remember packet switching as an important development that occurred simultaneously in a few different places – an important building block for the Internet to come, but this was not the Internet.



This widely held theory appears to be that adopted by the US Government when it awarded Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civil honour in that country.

Among today’s Internet community, this is the most commonly held belief, fed largely by the impressive and ongoing role played by Vinton Cerf in particular in the early evolution of today’s Internet and its governance structures.

TCP/IP is the backbone protocol which some people claim is the basis for determining what the Internet is. It was developed in the 1970s in California by Vinton Cerf, Bob Kahn, Bob Braden, Jon Postel and other members of the Networking Group headed by Steve Crocker. TCP/IP was developed to solve problems with earlier homogenous attempts at communication between computers undertaken by ARPANET.

Vinton Cerf had worked on the earlier Arpanet protocols while at the University of California in Los Angeles from 1968-1972. He moved to Stanford University in late 1972. At the same time Bob Kahn, who had been the chief architect of the Arpanet while working for contracting firm Bolt Beranek and Newman, left that firm and joined ARPANET.

In October 1972 ARPANET publicly demonstrated their system for the first time at the International Computer Communications Conference in Washington DC. Following that meeting, an International Networking Group chaired by Vinton Cerf was established.

Bob Kahn visited Stanford in the spring of 1973 and he and Vint Cerf discussed the problem of interconnecting multiple packet networks that were NOT identical. They developed the basic concepts of TCP at that time, and presented it to the newly established International Networking Group. This meeting and this development, this theory suggests, rates as the beginning of the Internet.

By 1975 the first prototype was being tested. A few more years were spent on technical development, and in 1978 TCP/IPv4 was released.

Cerf writes

“We had running code by the middle of 1975 for TCP. We ran this protocol on selected nodes of the ARPANET, the packet radio net and the packet satellite net – all of which were ARPA sponsored. Xerox PARC implemented a version for their Ethernet around 1976 if memory serves – connected it to the nascent Internet by way of packet radio in the San Francisco Bay area”.[vi]

Among those working on this specification were researchers from Stanford University, a range of other universities, BBN contractors, Xerox Parc employees, and researchers from the United Kingdom, France and Norway.

It would be some time before it became available to the rest of us. In fact, TCP/IP was not even added to Arpanet officially until 1983.

So which date do we celebrate if we adopt the TCP/IP origins theory?

We do not yet have a definitive date, but 1975 seems to be the definitive year in which, for the first time, networks connected to each other. But was the first connection between disparate networks a TCP/IP one? Well, you’ll have to read on to find out.

Although we will see that TCP/IP was not the first networking protocol, it was the one that was eventually adopted, and so is our second key development in the emergence of the Internet

But was it the first connection? Let’s explore other theories as well before making a final determination.


The primary proponent of this theory would be Kim Veltman of the McLuhan Institute in Holland. As Veltman states (2002), [vii]

” Since its beginnings …..there have been many stories about the Internet. One is that the Internet was a US invention. The story that officials in AT&T (a large American telecommunications company) were once adamantly opposed to the Internet led to a received wisdom that telephone or telecommunications companies (telcos or telecoms) and the Internet were unrelated. The telephone companies, we are told, were big monopolies, blind to innovation and the Internet was started on the sly by a few scientists and academics. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) version is more subtle: The telcos did infrastructure, while those who developed the Internet did applications.”

As Veltman points out, the AT&T Bell Labs did some of the first digital transmission and switching in 1962, seven years before the “US Internet” began. When the Department of Defense (DoD) commissioned the Advanced Research Project Agency’s Network (ARPANET) to do research into networking, it was AT&T that provided 50kbps lines. In 1969, the year that Arpanet began, AT&T’s Bell Labs developed Unix which was the operating system behind the early Internet, and was one of the key operating systems in the middle and late ARPANET.

Between 1969 and 1972, Bell Labs also developed the C programming language basic to much of Internet software. In 1970, AT&T installed the first cross-country link between the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BBN) in Boston. In 1976, AT&T’s Bell Labs developed Unix-to-Unix Copy (UUCP), which was distributed with UNIX one year later.

All of these were important points of origin of the Internet as we know it, so the telco theory, unpopular as it is in Internet circles, should perhaps be explored in more detail. Certainly the physical infrastructure created by the telcos was central, and certainly telcos had worked out protocols for sending voice data between disparate networks early in the piece. In the examples above, they added the component of computers and networked them. Can we completely eliminate the telco origins and contributions to early developments?

This set of developments is important, because it brings in commercial origins, as well as the academic research/government funded origins of the more popularly espoused theories. With Unix and UUCP, the telcos played a larger part than many would have us believe.



And then we come to the theory advanced by the person who headed the Arpanet project itself, Bob Taylor.

“I believe the first internet was created at Xerox PARC, circa ’75, when we connected, via PUP, the Ethernet with the ARPAnet. PUP (PARC Universal Protocol) was instrumental later in defining TCP.

For the internet to grow, it also needed a networked personal computer, a graphical user interface with WYSIWYG properties, modern word processing, and desktop publishing. These, along with the Ethernet, all came out of my lab at Xerox PARC in the ’70s, and were commercialized over the next 20 years by Adobe, Apple, Cisco, Microsoft, Novell, Sun and other companies that were necessary to the development of the Internet.[viii]

John Shoch, who worked with Robert Metcalfe on the Ethernet developments at Xerox Parc, and who is at great pains to stay out of debates about who started the Internet, has concluded that PUP (the Parc Universal Protocol) was the first complete, operational set of Internet protocols. Schoch was also involved in the development of TCP/IP at a later date. To quote Shoch,

“Starting around 1974, Xerox PARC designed and deployed an internet architecture called PUP; it was up and running on multiple machines and networks when TCP was just a design for byte stream protocols. Input from Xerox’ operational experience helped convince the TCP working group to add the IP packet layer!”[ix]


There is no doubt the important role of Xerox Parc in so many important computing inventions . But in addition to this, they might in fact provide another answer for us – the first Internet connection may not have involved TCP/IP or government funding at all, and may be solely the result of commercial research?


Perhaps answering this line of confusion as to whether the Internet can be represented by either telephony infrastructure or any particular protocol at the transport layer, Mitra Ardron (2004) takes it further with another theory altogether.

“I would suggest that defining the history of the internet by the particular protocol that won is only one way to do it. Ask yourself – would it still be the internet if we were using ATM, or X.25 or any of the other competing protocols? Of course it would.

An alternative view of history tracks the history of the Internet as the ubiquitous use of electronic “online” communications. The history belongs at the applications level – with the development of email, with the progression from proprietary databases to Gopher and Wais to the World Wide Web, and from newsgroups and conferencing (eg BITnet and Usenet) through mailing lists and blogs.

One very significant trend which tends to get ignored is the various online systems, the early Source, Compuserve, Dialcom, and of course APC networks, Fidonet etc. If anything, the history of the use of the Internet, at least from the point of view of the public, owes more to that stream of development than the more common version.

From that perspective, the switch from X.25 to TCP/IP around say ’92 for the transport was just something that was done when cost/benefit of TCP/IP dropped below that of X.25.”[x]

Ardron refers to the existence of an emerging interconnectivity regime between various commercial, non-profit and hobbyist networks which began to emerge from the mid 1980s without necessarily using TCP/IP. During this pre-web era, email began to be exchanged freely between networks according to emerging standards and through various gateways. Newsgroups emanating from academic circles became available on various networks, with only a percentage of the people utilizing the growing global network using TCP/IP.

And there you have it – various theories, various players – I submit they are all important in understanding the Internet.  And paternity suits abound, but , I do suggest,  the mother of the Internet is clear. Necessity is the mother of invention, and whenever we really need something, humans will find a way to have it.

That certainly seems to be the case with the Internet. There had to be an Internet sometime, because we, as a human species, have always had this deep desire to communicate, and to communicate over distance.

Thus, speech and language, our primary and oldest communication tools, have been with us since very early in our evolution. And, not long after, we developed written forms of communication, and began recording our thoughts and history on stone, papyrus, wood, cave walls, and any other means available. This is perhaps our primary activity as humans; in our essence we are communicating beings.

Well before the age of transport, we were looking at ways to communicate over distance. Some of our early methods were carrier pigeons, smoke signals, and morse code flags.

Then, as the age of transport, the industrial revolution and the beginnings of the information age came to us, we set about using the new tools and technologies available to us to further our capacity to communicate and to disseminate information.

The Internet as such couldn’t have existed without the big inventions of the 19th century – electricity and the telegraph. And, to a lesser degree, there was unlikely to be an Internet as we know it before there were the standard electronic broadcast media of radio and television. So the building blocks were the existing communications and broadcasting technologies. We’re not going to go into all of that – there are lots of other sources of information on Marconi, Alexander Graeme Bell, Tesla, and the other pioneers whose inventions the Internet rode on. But let’s focus in on the development of electronic networks, because here we begin to see the future shape of the Internet.



Is there a winner?


Examining these various events, we come to some important findings.


  1. There are a number of valid claims to origins of the Internet.
  2. Although an original date and place might be obtainable for the first networked transmission that could be called an Internet, the result would need by definition to include more than one party or network, and is unlikely to be a satisfactory or useful conclusion.
  3. Not only US projects were involved in the beginnings of the Internet.
  4. Not only government funded US research programs were involved in the beginnings of the Internet.
  5. Not only telcos and the commercial sector were involved in the beginnings of the Internet.
  6. Neither Arpanet nor TCP/IP is present in all valid theories.

These findings are important lest any institution or organisation lays claim to some proprietary ownership of the Internet. Although some governments and organisations played pivotal roles in the evolution of the Internet, nothing in the history of the Internet gives any one organization or person or event any proprietary claim of ownership. As we shall see, that pivotal fact not only helped to create the Internet as the open facility it is, but represents a key aspect of the new medium.


References and further reading


[iv] Michael Hauben and Ronda Hauben, Netizens; On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet, 1997.


[v] Kim Veltman, 2002 American Visions of the Internet Digicult, July 2003.

[vi] private email with author

[vii] Kim Veltman, 2002 American Visions of the Internet Digicult, July 2003.

[viii] Email exchange from 2004 reported at

[ix] Email exchange from 2004 reported at

[x] Mitra Ardron, email reported in Internet History Newsletter, October 2004 accessed from


For a general history of a technical nature on the Arpanet contributions written by many of the major collaborators see also






Questions and tests


Name 5 of the major collaborators on the early beginnings of the Internet and  briefly describe their roles.


What was the primary purpose of ARPANET when it began?


Describe the European contributions to the beginnings of the Internet.


Describe the role of telecommunications companies in the  early days of the Internet.


Internet History writings 2010 – Intro

March 28, 2011

Here (over the next few postings) are some excerpts from articles written in 2010 for Diplo Foundation on Internet History


A Brief History of the Internet (prepared for Diplo Foundation by Ian Peter)



So you think you know a few basic things about Internet history? Then, lets try a simple  true/false test with the following statements.


  1. The Internet was invented in 1969  (and had its 40th birthday therefore in 2009 ) TRUE/FALSE
  2. The Internet was co-invented by Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn TRUE/FALSE


Easy enough? Now lets check your scores.


If you answered TRUE  to Q1, you might be right. Certainly some people think that the Internet was invented in 1969.


If you answered TRUE to Q2, again you might be right. Certainly a lot of people believe that Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn invented the Internet.


But if you answered TRUE to both questions – well, there is something wrong. The events of 1969 did not involve Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn. Their work came a few years later. So both cannot be right.


Alright?  I’ll explain later. So lets try another question;


Q3. The Internet was designed as part of a US military project to survive a nuclear attack TRUE/FALSE


You’ve heard that is true? Well, not according to the person in charge of the Arpanet project that allegedly built the Internet, Robert Taylor.  He says that the Internet was invented in the Xerox Palo Alto Laboratories a few years later, and that the project he headed at ARPANET had nothing to do with surviving a nuclear war, wasn’t an Internet, and didn’t invent the Internet.


Confused? Well, join the club. There are lots of differing theories about how the Internet was invented. The reasons for this are tied up with defining exactly what the early Internet was – and also with the belief that one single invention was the beginnings of the Internet.

As Martin Campbell-Kelly and Daniel Garcia-Swartz (2005) point out [i]


“Most of the current crop of histories of the Internet can be characterized as “teleologies” or “Whig history.” ….Teleological histories seek uncomplicated explanations, often based on a single cause for an historical epoch. ….


The focus on a single cause is plausible and contains a germ of truth, but it can also conceal a greater truth. It is the same kind of history that “explains” the origin of World War I by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. True, the assassination triggered the war, but most historians would argue that there were bigger forces at work, and a great war was probably inevitable. If the Archduke had not been assassinated it is almost certain that some other event would have been the flashpoint for war. The war would have unfolded differently, of course, but a war there would have been. “


So we should ask, would there have been an Internet without the Arpanet of 1969? My answer is yes, because there were so many other Internet events and global events happening about that time. And would there have been an Internet without Robert Kahn and Vint Cerf’s work on TCP/IP? Again, my answer is yes – we would have simply proceeded with one of the other networking protocols coming into being at that time.


By the time the Internet became popular, there were thousands of independent networks in place. That they would come together into a single network was everyone’s wish, and it was only a matter of how or when. When we understand that all these networks are part of the origins of the Internet, we can begin to explore the fascinating history of how the Internet came together.


And its this history of multiple origins, and multiple networks and technologies which came together to create the Internet that we will explore in this course. It abounds with politics, innovation, unintended consequences, and unusual twists and turns.


To do so, we have created four lessons covering


1  The Origins of the Internet. This lesson will explain how the Internet evolved in its early stages.  You will be able to utilize this knowledge to comprehend the nature and complexities of the medium.


2  Early Global Growth. This lesson  will explain how the sociological factors and stakeholders which we recognize as the essential elements of today’s Internet came into play and how their growth informed the nature of the Internet as a medium. This lesson will help you to formulate responses to new issues arising in Internet governance with a deeper understanding of the unique nature of the medium.


3  Applications and Protocols. This lesson will explain the evolution of the protocols, applications and devices that have become central to our understanding of the modern day Internet.  You will be able to apply this knowledge to be able to analyse internet related issues in more depth.


4 A Brief History of Internet Governance. This lesson will explain how the governance of the Internet began and is evolving.  You will be able to draw on this knowledge to recognise the factors at play and the stakeholders involved in today’s evolving governance issues.


Reference Materials


And if you want more information or more detail on any subject, there are some excellent references out there to follow. For now, as our primary references, let us mention


Hobbes Internet Time Line – This is the best of the various Internet history timelines


My Nethistory site – – although largely compiled in 2004, this site contains some good archival material and overall history links. There are some good links to print publications and other materials at


Internet Society history page –– a varied collection of Internet history materials



Or just Google away to your hearts content! There is a lot of material, out there, some better than others.



[i] Campbell-Kelly M and Garcia-Swartz D (2005). The History of the Internet: The missing Narratives Available from

(accessed April 2010)


Early Internets – video

March 28, 2011

This video is from ABC TVs 7.30 Report of September 14, 1989 launch of Pegasus Networks at Terania Creek Australia. Mark D Hayes is interviewing Ian Peter with Mike Jensen. During the interview I suggested a lot of people might be doing this in 10 years time!

Origins of packet switching

April 6, 2009

On packet switching

The following email exchange occurred in April 2009, and was precipitated by a discussion I had with Jovan Kurbalija from the Diplo Foundation in Geneva. The discussion related to the role of Paul Baran in defining Arpanet, and the extent to which that may have reflected a desire to build a network to avoid nuclear war. To help clarify the role I can record the following exchange.

Note: it seems packet switching, and the related datagram concept (Louis Pouzin), emerged in a number of places at once to anyone who thought deeply enough about how to construct a more reliable networking environment. I would also seem that packet switching had a precursor in the non-digital world in torn tape telegraph messaging. (thanks to Larry Press for pointing that out).

Question (Ian Peter)

From what I have read here and elsewhere, it would appear that both Paul Baran and Donald Davies (via Roger Scantlebury) met at times in the Arpanet design phase with various members of the Arpanet team to explain their similar theories on packet switching. I have also read that it was the Davies design which was adopted, not Baran’s.

Can anyone shed more light on this, who met who, and why if both designs were known Davies was preferred?

Vint Cerf

Bob Kahn was a key player in the design of the IMP and the ARPANET

Paul’s principal conceptual ideas related to packetization (message blocks) and hot-potato routing, I believe Donald Davies had a multi-node idea but implemented only one node  owing to funding limits. He or his team via Roger Scantlebury influenced the ARPANET design be convincing Larry Roberts to use 50 kb/s circuits rather than 2.4 kb/s circuits.

Donald also contributed the term “packet” into the literature.

Robert Kahn

Vint, my comments below are intended to amplify on what you briefly summarized. Im not sure what the context for this is, but many folks wrote about networking over a number of years.

You cited some of them. Kleinrock, Baran, Davies, Licklider to mention four early ones. Baran tried to explain how to build a packet net before it was practical to do so. He started out by postulating the use of broadcast radio stations (like normal AM stations) to hopefully get data from place to place “hopping” from radio station to radio station.

There was no available electronics to do so (vlsi had not been created yet), and only big mainframes would have been available for use at great cost. No discussion of protocols and all that involves. His was a fine conceptual start, but hardly a blueprint to build anything. Donald Davies actually tried to raise funds to build a packet net, but was unable to do so. He ended up outfitting a single minicomputer (which had only shortly come into commercial availability) with multiple terminals to demonstrate the packet concept from one terminal in a room to another.

Kleinrock’s MIT thesis provided interesting analytical approaches to evaluating commodity queuing networks and stimulated many follow-on research projects, out of which came many of the students that went into the field. He also pioneered the field of network measurement (and I presume modeling as well).

Licklider was a wonderful spokesman for the possibilities of networking, but never really a practitioner.

With encouragement from Bob Taylor and Charles Herzfield, Larry Roberts set out to create the first packet net – the ARPANET as it came to be called. He outlined the goals and the trajectory for the project sufficient for someone to figure out how to make happen what he outlined. A packet network (actually it was called a message switching network initially and only later replaced by the packet switching moniker) that consided of nodes connected by “high speed” digital lines to be leased from the (then) telephone company. He called for messages to be broken into packets of up to 1000 bits each, and then routed through the net and reassembled into the original message at the destination. Larry’s background would have likely enabled him to build the network himself, or with a small technical team, but he had managerial responsibilities at DARPA that did not directly lend itself to establishing the required level of technical immersion in-house. So, DARPA issued an RFQ to have a contractor design and build the network. BBN won the contract and that successful initiative created the ARPANET IMPS, which formed the basis for the ARPANET (with 50 Kbps lines from AT&T).

The technical task was to figure out how to build such a device, the IMP, to make such a network come into existence.

I was responsible for the system design of the network (and primarily the design of the IMP). Severo Ornstein was responsible for the hardware design and development, Bill Crowther and Dave Walden for the detailed software implementation. Frank Heart was the BBN executive that had managerial responsibility for the effort. Dave and I did the initial field testing and debugging of the initial 4 node-net on the west coast (+ utah). Larry masterminded the ARPANET project from his position at DARPA. I would say the BBN effort resulted in the first demonstrated proof of concept of a packet switching network and the ARPANET project demonstrated the first example of a computer communication network. In parallel with the IMP and packet net development, the effort to develop protocols and host computer applications proceeded and, in many ways, was the required counterpart to the packet switching network piece which made the network concept useful to real users.

Then there was the plan to interconnect multiple heterogeneous packet networks (and their attached computers cum protocols) which demonstrated the concept of Internetting and led to today’s Internet. But, then again, thats an entirely different story.


Vint Cerf

(in reply to a question about torn tape telegraph messaging)

Yes of course we did know about “torn tape” and also about message switching in the form of AUTODIN.

If you look at Len Kleinrock’s book that emerged from his dissertation it was about stochastic flow and delay in message switched systems. An ARPANET innovation was to break messages up into “packets” for purposes of transmission to reduce transmission delay which was significant over low speed backbone trunks available at the time.

Also, for purposes of noise resistance, the shorter packets had a higher probability of arriving intact than long messages.

Communication Nets: Stochastic Message Flow and Delay

This text develops a queuing theory model of communications nets, with realistic assessments that will benefit those working with computers and other communications systems. Topics include optimal channel capacity assignment, effect of priority and other queue disciplines, choice of routine procedure, fixed-cost restraint, and design of topological structures. 1964 edition.

Publisher: Dover Publications
ISBN: 0486458806
EAN: 9780486458809
No. of Pages: 209

Vint Cerf (to Roger Scantlebury)


Is it your understanding that Donald and the NPL team were unaware of the Baran work at RAND during the period of development of the network at NPL? I don’t think this has to do with anyone fighting over paternity. It is just a question about when the various “packet”  efforts became aware of each other.

For example, your interaction with Larry Roberts in 1967 is the key link that drew ARPA and NPL groups into mutual awareness I think.
I had once thought that you might have drawn Roberts’ attention to Baran’s work but I suppose not, if you were unaware of it in 1967.
In fact, it would be of interest to know when and how you (or Donald) might have learned of it?

Roger Scantlebury

Hi Vint

We referenced Baran’s paper in our 1967 Gatlinburg ACM paper. You  will find it in the References. Therefore I am sure that we
introduced Baran’s work to Larry (and hence the BBN guys).

We were unaware of Baran’s work when we started our own design work in 1965, but were given a copy of his paper by one of our colleagues in the UK Ministry of Defense (in 1966) while we were writing the1967 paper. Clearly Donald and Paul Baran had independently come to a
similar idea albeit for different purposes. Paul for a survivable voice/telex network, ours for a high-speed computer network.

I hope this explains the time-line?.


Time to stop talking about net neutrality

February 12, 2009

It’s time we stopped talking about network neutrality and redescribed what we are trying to achieve here. The term has been distorted greatly to become a series of arguments about traffic shaping, network management, carrier profitability, and endless nit-picking technical arguments. This is distorting some important matters about the future of the Internet and only causing confusion. The term has lost its meaning.

And, in fact, there probably never was network neutrality. A few recent postings on the Internet History list have shown that, even in the pre-commercial Internet days of the NSF-Net, engineers were shaping traffic in order to give priority to the interactive telnet application (a precursor to world wide web) over the email and newsgroup traffic. Sensible bandwidth management.

For most of us, the reason for getting involved here was to protect a fundamental principle – the right for users to control which websites they can visit, which access methods, which applications they use, rather than this being forced on them by a carrier or other parties for their commercial gains. If this principle is lost, and we end up with something like a PAY TV model of Internet access where you pay to access certain sites, or content providers pay a premium to get fast access from carriers, something fundamentally important about the Internet will be lost.

The substance here is vitally important, but the terminology has lost its meaning. Perhaps we need to alk about equitable access to carriage for content providers, equitable access to content and applications for end users, and similar principles. It’s important to get this debate back on track.






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Mobile growth outpaces Internet

April 15, 2008


From essentially zero, we’ve passed a watershed of more than 3.3 billion active cellphones on a planet of some 6.6 billion humans in about 26 years.

This is the fastest global diffusion of any technology in human history — faster even than the polio vaccine.

“We knew this was going to happen a few years ago. And we know how it will end,” says Eric Schmidt, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Google. “It will end with 5 billion out of the 6” with cellphones. “A reasonable prediction is 4 billion in the next few years — the current proposal is 4 billion by 2010. And then the final billion or so within a few years thereafter.

“Eventually there will be more cellphone users than people who read and write. I think if you get that right, then everything else becomes obvious.”

“It’s the technology most adapted to the essence of the human species — sociability,” says Arthur Molella, director of the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. “It’s the ultimate tool to find each other. It’s wonderful technology for being human.”

Maybe. But do our mobiles now render us unprecedentedly free? Or permanently tethered?