Sunday, August 5, 2012

ARPANET, Government Control And Censorship, DOD Funding Restrictions And The FCC Hindered And Delayed The Internet: Without ARPANET The US Might Have Had The Internet Sooner

From Freeman, November 1998,Volume 48, Issue 11, "Does the Internet Prove the Need for Government Investment? The Real Internet Grew out of a Spontaneous Ordering Process" by Andrew P. Morriss:
Why Was There No “Private ARPANET”?

Government activity generally “crowds out” private activity by absorbing resources that could be used elsewhere. Computer networking is no exception. Not only did the government directly seize resources through taxation and lock up knowledge in classified documents, it also lured many of the best computer scientists to work on its projects, slowing private-sector activity.

Private networks were attempted, but they failed. Setting up a network required permission from the Federal Communications Commission, and existing communications companies like Western Union fought the creation of new networks. Even when a private packet-switching network, Telenet, began operation, “many millions in legal expenses” were required to fight the regulatory battle prompted by RCA, ITT, AT&T, and Western Union. This kept Telenet from making profits for years.11 Regulatory barriers to entry, not a lack of entrepreneurial activity, slowed the efforts to build private networks.

Despite these obstacles, a private network among universities, USENET, sprang up. It resembled today’s Internet much more than ARPANET did. USENET developed because the Defense Department limited ARPANET to a relatively small number of sites. People at other sites wanted a network too, and USENET quickly surpassed ARPANET in usefulness because it lacked the restrictions DOD money imposed on ARPANET. (USENET still exists; it is a collection of newsgroups devoted to every subject imaginable.)

ARPANET Was Not the Internet

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Its constant and rapid growth: There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of connections on the Internet depending on how one defines “connection.” ARPANET, in contrast, grew slowly. In 1969 there were just four host computers connected. By January 1976 there were just 63. ARPANET’s limited scope was due to its restriction to sites with DOD funding.

Its freedom with respect to content: It is nearly impossible to control how individuals use the Internet. Because it was built with government funds, ARPANET users faced a number of restrictions on their use of the network. Commercial use, for example, was banned. Even one of the most popular uses, newsgroups, quickly ran into censorship problems. Although the first newsgroups concerned primarily technical issues about the network, users quickly began to establish groups concerning other subjects of interest. When several users proposed a newsgroup dealing with recreational drugs, those in control of the network rejected it as too controversial. (Drugs weren’t the only subject that was rejected; a proposal for a newsgroup called “gourmand” was also turned down because the creator refused to change the name to “recipes.”)
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Unlike the mythical Internet that sprang forth from the ARPANET, the real Internet grew out of a spontaneous ordering process of the interactions of millions of individual users. The uses we make of the Internet were unimaginable to the researchers and scientists who created the networking protocols and hardware advances we rely on today. Far from being the result of the government’s “strategic” investment in the original Defense Department networks, today’s Internet developed at most accidentally from and often in spite of those investments. The explosive growth in commerce, for example, became possible only when the government’s ban on commercial use of the networks it financed was lifted.

Moreover, the “strategic” nature of the early investment in networking is a myth. No one consciously created the Internet. While an international network of networks undoubtedly would look different today had ARPANET never existed, there is also little doubt that packet-switching and e-mail would have evolved anyway. Dedicated, motivated people with a need to communicate—for commercial and noncommercial purposes—would have surely seen to it.
[HT: John Stossel via Warren Smith via Mark Perry]

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