The Internet of the 21st Century is the product of many years of technological evolution; however it is not the result of technology born in the public sector. The Information Highway was once the sole property of the United States military forces and under the control of the Department of Defense. In 1957 the USSR took the United States by surprise when they launched the first of many artificial satellites into space, the Sputnik. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his administration became frustrated after the launch, as officials had dismissed all communication surrounding this monumental event as “mere propaganda.” (Saco, 2002, p. 87) Fearing the Soviet Union would once again get the upper hand, the United States Department of Defense established ARPA (Advanced Research Product Agency).
ARPA was a complex network created by “institutional concerns and national security motives” during the era of the Cold War. (Saco, 2002, p. 87) This network was intended to fund ventures that were considered too risky for the private business sector as well as provide an environment for “defense research on Command-and-Control Program.” (Saco, 2002, p. 87) The purpose was to locate a solution that allowed government institutions to connect with their various suppliers and researchers. This particular organization was “pioneering packet-switching” technology – the act of transferring large blocks of information between computers. (Goldstein, 2005, p. 57)
In the 1960s technology was becoming more complex and its power was increasing. Military scientists were beginning to give consideration to applications outside of the traditional realm of simple numerical calculation. (National Academy Press, 1999, p. 170) Computers were very costly, large in size and most often contained various specialties that would not allow one to work effectively with the other. One particular computer’s strengths may lie in graphics while another would specialize in databases and the distance between the two machines could be thousands of miles making it impossible to connect. The Department of Defense researchers began to ask for computers to conduct their research and as a result it became clear to ARPA that something had to be done to improve their current system. The vision was to enable users to access various computers from one terminal no matter their location. (Jordan, 1999, p. 33)
In 1967 Lawrence Roberts, an IPTO Program manager, gave a presentation at the first Association for Computing Machinery Symposium on Operating Systems Principles that illustrated a new concept of the packet-switched network. In addition Roger Scantlebury presented the NPL work that cited earlier work of Paul Baran, another founding father of the Internet. The reaction was positive and as a result Roberts “Issued a request for quotation for the construction of a four-note network.” (National Academy Press, 1999, p. 198) As a result the vision of ARPA became a reality when the military institution created the first cyberspace was created ARPANET. (Jordan, 1999, p. 33)
ARPANET consisted of a process to process communication between computers, known as the Network Control Program. For approximately seven years this technology was used to establish a connection between two host computers. Though this technology allowed the communication between hosts the Department of Defense felt that it “lacked a degree of flexibility.” (Held, 2003, p. 53) The military organization decided to further its research through educational institution as provided funding to the University of California, Stanford Research Institute as well as other well known universities. As a result, the Transmission Control Program and the Internet Protocol, this would later become known as TCP/IP. (Held, 2003, p. 53)
In 1972 the TCP/IP model was introduced to the public sector and by 1973 this technology allowed the first international connection to take place between the United States, England and Norway. The entire network had grown and included approximately 50 United States Universities as well as United States Military. (“Internet, The,” 2004)
In the mid-80s the United States Department of Defense had used its technology to create a large number of networks. These networks had various capabilities such as the Southeastern Universities Research Association Network (SURANnet), which represented the association of universities located in a specific geographical area and other networks were developed by commercial corporations. Each network was established using the US Military’s TCP/IP protocol. During this stage of the Internet’s development other emerging technologies began to surface that would ultimately remove the complete power over the Internet from the United States military. (Held, 2003, p. 32)
In 1986 the National Science Foundation established the NSFnet for the purpose of connecting five “super-computer sites.” (Held, 2003, p. 32) This network went through a series of changes for the first few years and by July 1988 NSF had upgraded from its original state to 1.544-Mbps T1 circuits. By strengthening the network various regional networks began to connect to NSFnet. Though the National Science Foundation was a non-commercial organization many commercial connections were established to NSFnet through locations called Commercial Internet Exchanges (CIXs). This technology would later become the origin of the connecting points of the various internet service providers. (Held, 2003, p. 32)
By 1989 the United States Department of Defense found that operating the original ARPANET was too expensive. NSFnet provided a much faster infrastructure and basically mirrored ARPANET’s image. The Department of Defense decided to put an end to the ARPANET and as a result the NSFnet increased. (Held, 2003, p. 32) Technology would continue to progress over the years and establish what we know to be the Internet.
The Cold War Era produced many moments in history that were the product of political tensions. The war between the USSR and the United States was not one of hand to hand combat; a large part of it was a battle of technology. In order to maintain control of the evolution of technology and increase national security the United States Military bore the sole responsibility of taking the country’s communication abilities to a new level. As a result, this government institution created an intricate communication system that in the end brought the world together in Cyberspace.
Funding a revolution government support for computing research. (1999). Washington, D.C: National Academy Press.
Goldstein, F. R. (2005). The great telecom meltdown. Boston, MA: Artech House.
Held, G. (2003). The ABCs of TCP/IP. Boca Raton: Auerbach Publications.
Internet, The. (2004). In The Columbia Encyclopedia (6th ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. Retrieved February 27, 2007, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=101250904
Jordan, T. (1999). Cyberpower the culture and politics of cyberspace and the Internet. New York: Routledge.
Saco, D. (2002). Cybering democracy public space and the Internet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.