This lead was accomplished through a partnership nearly a half-century old among government, industry and academia. I member of that partnership was the National Science Foundation (NSF). As Strawn noted, early on, scientists and engineers at American universities began to join the young ARPANet, as they worked on basic research funded primarily by the NSF. Acknowledging this, the NSF began supporting national supercomputing centers, in the mid-1980s, as a means of giving American scientists, engineers, and students greater access to high-performance computing that was state of the art, and developed Computer Science Network (CSNET).
Creation of these national supercomputer centers by NSF was critical to the development of the Internet. To further enhance U.S. scientists' access to these centers, NSF established the NSFNET national backbone network that connected the NSF supercomputing centers to U.S. universities. NSF also promoted the creation of regional networks to connect colleges and universities to the NSFNET. When the NSF-supported regional networks sought additional members from the private sector, one of the great technology transfer successes of all time was set in motion (Strawn).
And, as all of this really was instigated with the Soviet Union's early lead in the Space Race, it is not a surprise that NASA too had a hand in development of the Internet.
NASA's Ames Research Center was connected to ARPANET as one of the early IMPs, in 1971.
In 1983, NASA provided seed money to connect the Space Physics Analysis Network (SPAN) to DECnet.
Three years later, NASA provided additional seed money to "connect Earth scientists with TCP/IP to 10 sites with a digital 56-kbps backbone using router technology" ("NASA's Contributions"). And, the NASA Science Network (NSN) was formed.
It would be also in this year that NASA, DARPA, DOE, and NSF partnered to establish 2 Federal Internet Exchanges (FIXes), with NASA providing the seed money. And, by 1989, NSN and SPAN are consolidated to form the NASA Science Internet (NSI), that reaches 15,000 scientists globally, with a 1.5-Mbps multi-protocol routed backbone.
Those truly responsible for the development were the early presidents with the unwavering need to ensure America's technological superiority, DARPA under the direction of the Department of Defense, the NSF, NASA, research institutions, and academic institutions who truly brought the concept to life. These were the individuals and organizations that quickly capitalized on the opportunities presented to them by this new technology. In contrast, it wouldn't be until 1993 that then President Clinton and then Vice President Al Gore even had e-mail address ("NASA's Contributions").
Hardware and Software Differences Between Then and Now:
The very beginnings of ARPANET, and therefore the Internet, and the variety of technology can be seen in the first four nodes connected in 1969.
The Network Measurement Center at UCLA was selected as the first node, due to Kleinrock's early development of packet switching theory. Engelbert's project on 'Augmentation of Human Intellect' including NLS, an early hypertext system, conducted at Stanford Research Institute, became the site for the second node. The final two nodes were added at UC Santa Barbara and the University of Utah, both with unique computing technologies, but by the end of 1969, all four were networked ("A Brief History").
Originally, ARPANET (and thus the Internet) was based on arbitrarily designed multiple independent networks. Today, the Internet still embodies this critical technical idea - open architecture networking. With open architecture, individual network technology is not dictated, but can be selected by the provided and made to interwork with the other networks via meta-level 'Internetworking Architecture'. With an open architecture network, the individual networks can be uniquely designed, with their own unique interface, offering it to their users or even offering it to other providers, such as other Internet providers. In this way, each network can be developed with the specific environment and unique user requirements, of that network, in mind ("A Brief History").
Where the open architecture of networking has remained a constant since the beginning of the Internet, the hardware has changed dramatically.
The first four computers connected to the ARPANET were quite diverse. They included: Honeywell DDP 516 computer at UCLA, SDS-940 computer at SRI, IBM 360/75 at UC Santa Barbara, and DEC PDP-10 at the University of Utah (Bellis).
As an example of the typical computing power, the Honeywell was a professional computer, with a processing speed of 1.1 Mhz, and 32 Kb of RAM ("Honeywell"). Today, personal computers can easily have 2 Ghz processing speed and 1 Gig or more of RAM.
But, perhaps it's the new hardware that is the most significant difference since the beginning of the Internet. As noted, where professional computers used by researchers and academics and the military were the first users of the ARPANET, today's Internet is available to nearly everyone. It is not uncommon to have homes with multiple computers connected to the Internet, with children and adults using them for work, school and pleasure. In addition, a variety of Internet appliances have been developed, making society evermore connected including: PDAs, laptops, and cellular phones, taking the Internet almost everywhere.
The Impact of the Internet:
Increases in computing power, decreases in computing technology costs, and the widespread usage of the Internet has forever changed the way humans conduct business, enjoy their leisure time, and interact in general.
However, despite this pervasiveness of technology and the Internet specifically, there is a Digital Divide that has been created. This Digital Divide refers to the differences between those with easy access to information and digital technology, as Mehra, Merkel, and Bishop note, those who have access to computers and the Internet and those who do not.
Congress has worked hard to bridge this Digital Divide. For four years they've worked on legislation addressing this challenge, and have just recently passed a technology bill for Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). The Minority Serving Institution Digital and Wireless Technology Act authorized $250 million for the first year of a multi-year program to build technology infrastructure and deliver training and resources to instructors and students at MSIs (Dervarics).
Nearly every aspect of life has been affected by the proliferation of the Internet. It is now easier than ever to access information. Literally details on nearly every topic under the sun are now only a few short keystrokes away, making traditional print encyclopedias obsolete. Personal information is easier to access as well, access to bank and other accounts are also available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Shopping, communicating with family and friends, even the advent of telecommuting have all changed because of the Internet. However, with this has also led to challenges as well, as the less scrupulous take advantage of the new technology, with sexual predators and online identity theft new crimes that have arisen along with the advantages of the Internet.
In the end, the Internet was developed out of competition to be the best, when the Cold War was in full swing. Unwilling to let the Soviet Union remain in the technological lead after their successful launch of Sputnik, the United States formed DARPA, whose ARPANET would eventually evolve into today's Internet.
Today, the Internet has changed the way society interacts, forever intertwining technology and everyday life.
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