Q: In his Wall Street Journal column, Gordon Crovitz writes that the federal government’s involvement in the creation of the Internet was modest. Does that jibe with your recollection?
Vint Cerf: No. The United States government via ARPA started the project. (Bob Kahn initiated the Internetting project when he joined ARPA in late 1972. He had been principal architect of the ARPANET IMP (packet switch) while at BBN.
Bob invited me to work with him on open networking in the spring of 1973. We also both worked on the ARPANET project starting in 1968. ARPANET was funded through 1990 by ARPA and other USG agencies. The Internet work was funded from 1973 to about 1995 (and beyond) by ARPA, NSF, DOE, NASA among others. It took 10 years of work to get from the original paper published in May 1974 to the rollout of the Internet operationally on January 1, 1983. It combined the ARPANET, MILNET, some number of Ethernets, two Packet Radio networks, the Packet Satellite network, and other local networks in England and Norway. Note that University College London and the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment were involved in the implementation and testing of TCP/IP as was Stanford and BBN.
The NSF got very involved in 1985 and this led to the design and implementation and subsequent expansion of the NSFNET that became a major backbone for academic access to the Internet. NSF also sponsored more than a dozen intermediate level regional networks. By 1986, router companies such as Cisco and Proteon were selling to academia and the military and to USG-sponsored networking users. By 1989, three commercial Internet service providers were in operation: UUNET, PSINET, and CERFNET.
By 1992, the Boucher Bill make it permissible to carry commercial traffic on the U.S. government-sponsored backbones (notably NSFNET; ARPANET had been retired as of 1990). About that same time, Tim Berners-Lees’ development of the World Wide Web protocols at CERN, 1989-1991, had gotten the attention of Marc Andreesen and Eric Bina at the National Center for Supercomputer Applications leading the development of the graphical MOSAIC browser that led Jim Clark (founder of Silicon Graphics) to start Netscape Communications with Marc.
NSF retired the NSFNET in 1995 but funded Network Access Points to assure commercial network and academic and government network connectivity and then went on to sponsor a new high speed research network called vBNSNET built and operated by MCI. That was joined by the Abilene network developed by the Internet2 academic consortium.
The U.S. government, including ARPA, NSF, DOE, NASA among others absolutely facilitated, underwrote, and pioneered the development of the Internet. The private sector engaged around 12 years into the program (about 1984-85) and was very much involved in powering the spread of the system. But none of this would have happened without this research support.
Any areas where the government fell short?
If the U.S. government were to be faulted, it would be because a different part of the government — NIST as well as DoD’s DISA (then DCA) — abandoned the Internet in favor of the Open Systems Interconnection system that began in Europe in 1978 just as the Internet’s TCP/IP was being finalized and standardized and put into use. For nearly 15 years (from 1978 to 1993) there was a pitched standards battle between TCP/IP and OSI and some parts of the USG (NIST and DCA/DISA) the USG took the OSI side after ARPA, DOE, NASA and DOE invested successfully in the development of the TCP/IP protocols. Ultimately, NIST was asked by the Internet Society in 1992 to evaluate TCP/IP vs OSI and after a year, NIST’s Blue Ribbon Committee agreed that TCP and the OSI TP protocols were equally acceptable for use in USG applications leading to rapid spread of the Internet (which probably would have happened anyway given the modest degree to which OSI was ever implemented).
Crovitz also writes approvingly of this blogger’s quote (from 1999): “The Internet, in fact, reaffirms the basic free market critique of large government. Here for 30 years the government had an immensely useful protocol for transferring information, TCP/IP, but it languished…In less than a decade, private concerns have taken that protocol and created one of the most important technological revolutions of the millennia.” Since you developed the TCP/IP protocol, I’d like to know your reaction.
Cerf: I would happily fertilize my tomatoes with Crovitz’ assertion.
Speaking on CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” the 79-year-old Weill appeared to shock the show’s anchors when he said that consumer banking units should be split from riskier investment banking units. That would mean dismembering Citigroup as well as other big U.S. banks, like JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America.
It’s an idea that’s traditionally more in line with the banking industry’s harshest critics, not its founding fathers. It’s an ironic twist coming from an empire-builder who nursed Citigroup into a behemoth. And it’s directly opposed to the stance of the industry’s current leaders, like JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, who have been trying to convince regulators and lawmakers of just the opposite, that big banks do not need to be broken up.