Tuesday, July 24, 2012

No, Mr. President, The Government Didn't Invent The Internet

As part of Obama's dumb "you didn't build that" speech, he also made the comment that "government invented the Internet".  For Obama to say that is like saying that the first person to "buy" an Apple computer was the one who invented it.

We can all thank a high-tech company out of Cambridge, Mass for developing the concept of "packet switching"; which is at the heart of what we know, today, as the World Wide Web or the Internet.  That company, "Bolt, Beranak, and Newman" (BBN) was founded by a bunch of brainiacs who left MIT.  One of their earliest business ideas was to "invent" a network as an alternative to the then-technology of having expensive,  dedicated, high-speed telephone lines between any two computers that needed to exchange data.  At the same time, they wanted their network concept to be "fault tolerant"; meaning that two computers could  still communicate despite having one or more telephone lines out of service.

What they ultimately invented is known today as a "packet switched network".  And, besides being the basis of the Internet, packet switching also allows WIFI and local area Ethernet networks to exist.  But, back then,  the BBN guys needed a customer, and because of the cost, they knew they needed a customer with deep pockets who had a "need" for such a network. They theorized that the military would be  a great target for their idea.  So, they approached the Defense Department with their concept and they ultimately went on to "build" the first packet switched network for the military; called the ARPANET.  This is what Obama mistakenly thinks was the invention of the Internet.  But, ARPANET is only conceptually like the Internet.  Operationally, they were two different animals; with the Internet using a more efficient and ubiquitous form of network switching that is based on Domain Names for its routing.

The fact is that the Internet was built in parallel to the ARPANET.  Eventually, the military dumped ARPANET in 1989 in favor of the widely flourishing and more accessible Internet.  So, you see Mr. President, the government didn't invent the Internet.  The private sector built that!  Government was just the first customer.

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