How Did the Internet Get Started?

Thirty years ago, the concept of an Internet was just an idea shared by a few scientists. There were no computer networks anywhere. People at that time used computers as calculators, not to communicate.

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Scientists who needed to share their ideas began to explore ways to expand the computer's role. Those who owned expensive supercomputers also wanted to make it possible for more researchers to use their amazing machines.

It is commonly said, "necessity is the mother of all inventions," and today's Internet is a prime example.

In the late 1960s, researchers and supercomputer users wanted to share information. Funding came from a number of sources, including the U.S. government. The government realized that a network of computers would be valuable in allowing researchers, educators and others to share information and help each other. It also believed that a computer network capable of sending messages along multiple paths would enhance national security. If one part of the network didn't work or was destroyed, the network could still continue to operate. Thus, the President could stay in touch with his advisors even in the event of a nuclear attack.

The grandfather of today's Internet was called the "ARPANET," named after the Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency that developed it in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The Internet doesn't have a birthday like you do because it wasn't "born" on a single day. There were many, many steps needed to make the Internet. Probably the most important step was to get all of these computers to send and receive messages from each other. That happened in 1982, when the standards for sending and receiving messages were adapted by the ARPANET. According to the Hobbes' Internet Timeline, this is when the first real Internet began.

Map of the U.S. Internet

Map of the U.S. Internet

The Internet Today

The network of computers that is today's Internet spans the globe. There are four major connection points in the United States: Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. Communications along the network can be carried on nearly every kind of communications line: telephone lines, wireless, cellular, satellite, submarine cable circuits, private and common carrier fiber, local area networks, ISDN and cable TV lines.

Not surprisingly, the Internet is the best source for information on the Internet. If you're interested in learning more about Internet history, you may want to follow these links:

Who Governs the Internet?

The Internet is truly democratic. It has no owner or executive who says how it should run. Everyone who uses the Internet can voice an opinion on how it should work. Volunteers groups, such as the Internet Society set standards and manage the use of limited resources, such as domain names and e-mail addresses.

If you would like to get involved, you can volunteer for the Internet Society. Or, if you think you have a great idea for improving the Internet, you might consider going to the public meetings of the Society's Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). The IETF handles technical issues, such as computer languages and connections on the Internet. If you want to be heard at these meetings, come prepared to demonstrate your new idea in action. (If they agreed to listen to everyone with a good idea, the meetings might never end.)

The Economist< /I> magazine's 1995 survey of the Internet provides more information on the Internet's unique structure.

Who Pays for the Internet?

Everyone. Individuals who dial in through an "Internet Service Provider" (ISP) pay a fee to use the Internet. Large companies with thousands of employees using the Internet also pay an ISP to connect the company's computer to the Internet.

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Fees collected from users go to the companies who manage the connection between the user and the Internet. These companies then pay for their use of the network.

If you're interested in getting a connection to the Internet near you, check out "" to see what Internet Service Providers serve your telephone area code.

Who Uses the Internet?

It is difficult to know the true number of people who use the Internet. In early 1997, estimates of worldwide Internet users ranged from 25 million to 50 million.

The majority of these users only send e-mail over the Internet, but more and more are using the World Wide Web. Because the "Web" can include images with text, it is now the fastest-growing area of the Internet.

If you'd like to know more about Internet usage, you can follow these links:

What Is the World Wide Web?

The World Wide Web was born in the 1990s. Because the Web allows people to view text AND graphics on the Internet, it has made the Internet very popular.

Tim Berners-Lee at the Physics Laboratory in Cern, Switzerland founded the World Wide Web. His goal was to make sure that information could be reused once it was created. Because books printed on paper get fragile with time, and are hard to update when new information is available, he saw computers as the best way to share knowledge. And, he wanted to make sure that once information was created, it could be used by any person in any country ó no matter what computer or software the person used.

Before the Web was introduced, it was very difficult for someone on one computer system to look at anything (except text) that was produced on a different system. The creation of the Web allows Internet users to display information in a simple way so that anyone can read it. This is true whether you're using a Mac, a Microsoft Windows-compatible computer, or any other type of computer.

University of Illinois Enhances Web's Value

Students at the N ational Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana made it easier to use the Internet when they published the software program, "Mosaic," in February 1993. Mosaic was the first Internet "browser" to allow users to view both text and image files on the Internet.

In fact, the Mosaic browser was the basis for Netscape Navigator and Microsoft's Internet Explorer. These two browsers are used by most World Wide Web users. (You are viewing this document with the Netscape Navigator browser.)

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