WWWho? The Debate over the Internet’s Creation
President Obama recently raised anew the debate over who was solely responsible the invention of the Internet. "The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all companies could make money off the Internet,” he said.
The Wall Street Journal’s L. Gordon Crovitz disagrees and gives three reasons why:
- Government alone didn't create the Internet.
The Internet in its current form is a result of contributions from private researchers, businesses and academics. One of the earliest iterations of the Internet came out of the government's Advanced Research Projects Agency, ARPAnet. This pre-cursor to the world-wide web was taxpayer funded, but BBN Technologies did the development, Honeywell handled the hardware, and AT&T provided phone lines.
Vint Cerf and Steven Wollff, often considered two “fathers” of the Internet, wrote a letter to The Wall Street Journal and said that both government and the private sector had important roles and that "focusing on one element to the exclusion or disparagement of other elements is simplistic, misleading and wrong."
- Government didn't help build the Internet in order to create commercial opportunities.
According to Crovitz, allowing the Internet to go commercial was a highly-controversial move. A handbook on computing at MIT written in 1982 warned students: "It is considered illegal to use the ARPAnet for anything which is not in direct support of government business. . . . Sending electronic mail over the ARPAnet for commercial profit or political purposes is both anti-social and illegal. By sending such messages, you can offend many people, and it is possible to get MIT in serious trouble with the government agencies which manage the ARPAnet."
- Companies that succeed on the Internet do not succeed because of government.
Crovitz notes that the Internet boom that began in the mid-1990s and continues today started when the government severed its oversight and left the Internet to the power of the people.
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