Confusion over Who Invented the Internet

I recently read an intriguing article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Who Really Invented the Internet?” As you may be aware, I have been working for some time with Mike Daniels on a book about the role that Network Solutions played in commercializing the Internet. We were fortunate in our research to have interviewed many of the people who were instrumental in the development of the Internet, including Vint Cerf, Bob Kahn, and others.

It seems to me that the author of the Wall Street Journal article has taken personal offense to President Obama’s recent quotation that successful businesses are built on the infrastructure that was put in place or in some cases invented by the government, or with government support and funding. Examples of this infrastructure include the roads that commercial trucks drive on, the airports that cargo and passenger aircraft fly in and out of — and the Internet, through which so much business today is done.

The author of the article makes the assertion that the ARPANet was not the true forerunner of the Internet, and he then goes on to say that the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) invented Ethernet, which he claims was the first Internet. This brings the author to the logical conclusion that the Internet was not invented by the government.

This is news to me, and I believe it would be news to the many people we interviewed for our book on Network Solutions. It is clear from our interviews, our research, and our own personal experience that the Internet had its origins in ARPANet — funded by the Department of Defense — and later in NSFNet, funded by the National Science Foundation. Of course, private contractors and university researchers — along with government employees — were involved in these efforts, but generally under government funding if not direct government supervision.

I don’t have enough space here to get into all the details about why the author of the Wall Street Journal article is wrong in his assertion, but an article in Monday’s Los Angeles Times titled “So, who really did invent the Internet?” does a decent job of that.

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I see on the calendar that I have a birthday coming up this week. Although I’m not yet sure what I will do to mark the occasion, I would not be surprised if it involved a visit to the Beach and Tennis Club for dinner.

— Bob