It's been a rather bizarre few days. On Sunday, Gordon Crovitz published an opinion article at The Wall Street Journal, claiming that the US government's involvement in the creation and launch of the Internet was quite a bit more modest than we've been led to believe. "It's an urban legend that the government launched the Internet," Crovitz wrote, sparking a debate that spans numerous blogs and news sites. Now Vinton Cerf, whose work helped developed TCP/IP networking protocols, has attempted to set the record straight in an interview with CNET, saying that the government was indeed very involved in the creation of the Internet.
In the interview, Cerf says that it was government funding for ARPANET that eventually led to the creation of the Internet. According to him (and it seems like he should know), he says that the ARPANET project was "funded through 1990 by ARPA and other USG agencies" and that work on the Internet was funded from 1978 to 1995 by "ARPA, NSF, DOE, NASA among others." So, it appears that the government did have quite a big stake in the creation of the Internet since there were so many government agencies providing funding for the development of it.
"The U.S. government, including ARPA, NSF, DOE, NASA among others absolutely facilitated, underwrote, and pioneered the development of the Internet," Cerf said. "The private sector engaged around 12 years into the program (about 1984-85) and was very much involved in powering the spread of the system. But none of this would have happened without this research support."
As for Crovitz's claim that Xerox PARC Labs should get "full credit" for the Internet, Cerf says that while Xerox does deserve some credit for its work on things like Ethernet, the laser printer, the Xerox Network System, and PARC Universal Packet, the credit actually belongs to a larger group of people and organizations that helped make the Internet a reality. "Articles like Crovitz' distort history for political purposes," Cerf said, "and I hope people who want to know the real story will discount this kind of revisionist interpretation."
Even if you already knew all of this stuff, the interview with Cerf is still pretty fascinating, if only because you're hearing the Internet's history recounted by a guy who was actually there throughout most of the process. Hopefully Cerf's interview will help put this silly debate to rest, but many who follow politics know that history is sometimes considered open for interpretation, so we're not all that confident Cerf's testimony will be final thing said on the subject.
[Photo via Joi]