Archived—Regulation of the Internet — A Technological Perspective (Page 4 of 18)

2. A Brief History of the Internet

2.1 A Timeline of Events in North America

Hobbes' Internet Timeline, a chronology of the Internet in North America, which is maintained by Robert Zakon of the Mitre Corporation, is the definitive work on key events arid technologies in the history of the North American Internet.Footnote 2, Footnote 3 A summary of key events, based on that timeline, follows. Canadian events are discussed in a subsequent section.

The first research into internetworking technologies occurred in the 1960's at various US universities and research institutions. These efforts were sponsored by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) of the US Department of Defense (DoD). The research dealt with the possibility of developing packet switching networks with no single points of failure, cooperative sharing of computing facilities across telecommunication networks, and designing and building packet switching equipment. This research determined that such technologies were feasible and ARPA issued a request for a proposal to build a prototype in 1968. Awards were made to UCLA for network modelling and measurement, and to a company called Bolt, Bernak and Newman (BBN) for network management and building Interface Message Processors (IMPs).

The initial network called ARPANET had four nodes: UCLA, Stanford Research Instiitute, University of California Santa Barbara and University of Utah. The telecommunications lines, supplied by AT&T, had a bandwidth of 50 Kbps.

ARPANET grew slowly in the early 1970's and membership consisted solely of universities and research labs. Research into network management and protocols continued and in 1974 Vinton Cerf and Bob Kahn published a paper on a protocol for packet network connection which detailed the Transmission Control Program (TCP) standard.

Also in 1974 BBN established the first commercial packet switching network, Telenet.

In the late 1970's as the network grew, electronic mail standards were developed and email networks established among researchers in Computer Science and other disciplines. The growing popularity of email catalyzed network growth and ARPANET expanded.

In the early 1980's other academic networks were established to foster communication and sharing of resources. Two notable examples were BITNET (the "Because It's Time") network founded by City University of New York and Yale in 1981, and CSNet (Computer Science Network), established by a number of institutions with start-up money from the National Science Foundation. These networks expanded into Canadian universities, where BITNET became NetNorth, established by Canadian universities with funding from IBM Canada. Network connections speeds were 56Kbps or less. The primary use was file transfer and email.

Around the same time, ARPA established the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) standard. This open non-proprietary standard permitted the interconnection of equipment from different manufactures across a common network and allowed the first "internet," a connected set of networks, to be formed. This protocol is still the one in use in today's Internet. Establishing open standards for internetworking was one of the seminal events in the Internet's history as it allowed different kinds and sizes of computers to talk to each other. This principle of open interoperability is a fundamental building block of the Internet and is necessary for its existence.

Another important parallel development was the development of name servers. Up to this time it was necessary to know the actual numeric IP address of the destination. These are obscure and have no inherent meaning to a user. Name servers allowed substitution of a name with some meaning rather than an actual address. This is why it is possible, for example, to connect to rather than The Internet would be far less usable without this facility. This led to the introduction of another fundamental Internet building block, the domain name system (DNS).

1986 saw the establishment of NSFNET in the US. This network, funded by the National Science Foundation, interconnected 5 supercomputing centres at American universities over 56Kbps lines. This was truly a national Internet, and regional networks sprang up around these five nodes to allow other institutions to connect to the national backbone. This resulted in a rapid increase in connections from universities and other R&D organizations. It was, however, still a non-commercial network and would remain so for some time.

In the same year, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and Internet Research Task Force (IRTF) were established. Over the next few years, these two organizations would develop new technologies and standards, which allowed the growth of the Internet.

By 1989 the NSFNET backbone had been upgraded to Tl (1.544Mbps) speeds and the number of hosts on the network exceeded 100,000. Networks from Canada and Europe were connected to the US backbone.

Over the next two years, R&D networks flourished in the US and other countries until by 1992 the number of hosts exceeded 1,000,000 and backbone speeds were at T3 (45Mbps). Internet tools such as Gopher, Veronica and Archie appeared. The term "surfing the Internet" came into common usage. Countries from all around the world connected to NSFNET, and the global Internet started to appear.

In 1993, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois released software called Mosaic, the first World Wide Web (WWW) browsing program. By the end of 1993, there were sixty-three Web servers in the world.

1994 was the twenty-fifth anniversary of ARPANET. The Internet was' growing rapidly, and this year saw the connection of the US Senate and House of Representatives, the White House and other government services not only in the US but also Japan, Britain and others. Internet shopping malls or cyber-malls appeared. Community networks or freenets came on the scene, Cyberbanks opened for business. For the first time you could order a pizza online.

In 1995 the NSFNET commercialized the backbone and went back to funding R&D networks. Interconnected commercial network providers now operated the US national Internet backbone and commercial traffic proliferated. The WWW exploded and early in the year became the biggest source of traffic on the Internet. Companies started to see business opportunities, and many Internet related companies went public, resulting in some interesting stock activity. The Canadian government came online, and development of many government web sites commenced. Backbone speeds increased regularly, and by the end of the year the host count was over 6,000,000.

In 1996 growth, driven by the WWW and commercial use, continued exponentially. By the end of 1996 the host count was over 16,000,000. There was much discussion of the governance of domain names, as their commercial value became apparent. Governments in countries such as China, Germany, Malaysia and Singapore attempted to control their citizenry's access to the Internet for political reasons, usually with marginal success. The Communications Decency Act, an attempt to control Internet content through legislation, was passed by the US Congress. It was declared unconstitutional the following year by the Supreme Court.

1997 saw the further commercialization of the Internet, and continued exponential growth driven by the web and the emergence of electronic commerce. Most major companies were developing a web presence. By the end of the year the host count was over 25,000,000.

A major issue in 1998 was the privatization of the domain name system, managed up to that time by the US government. Many countries, including Canada, became concerned about U.S. private sector control over what many have come to see as an international public resource. The issue has still not been resolved. The number of pages on the web exceeded 300 million. The number of hosts reached 40 million. Electronic commerce grew rapidly, and business conducted on the web along with the wealth created by the information technology sector of the economy became a major contributor to GNP.

In summary, over the past three decades, the Internet has evolved from a secret, closed technology used by the academic and military communities to a pervasive, open, uncontrolled, flat system spanning the globe. The fact that it is global makes central control impossible.

The Internet has moved from a military tool to an academic tool to a populace tool to an economic tool. It will continue to grow and evolve.

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2.2 The Canadian Experience (From R&D to Commercial)

The history of the Canadian Internet closely parallels the American experience. In the 1970's, there were regional networks in a number of locations interconnecting Universities in the region. These networks used proprietary communications protocols, and, typically, interconnected large mainframe computers. The main use was for transferring large files of information.

At the start of the 1980's, newer networking technologies started to appear. CDNnet, a research network founded to develop email standards was established and connected a number of Universities in the country. NetNorth, the Canadian equivalent of BITNET in the US, was established with the help of funding from IBM Canada by the University community as a national network, and was connected to similar networks in other countries. Email became a way of life for the academic community.

Towards the end of that decade, the first TCP/IP networks were established in Canadian Universities in Ontario and British Columbia. These were connected directly to the US backbone with cross-border links, and part of the Canadian academic community became members of the burgeoning Internet community.

In 1989 the NetNorth board of directors, made up of representatives from the Canadian University community, developed a strategic plan to carry NetNorth forward and transform it to a TCP/IP technology. Funding was sought from the federal government and a $2,000,000 start-up grant was awarded by the National Research Council (NRC). In-kind contributions were also received from IBM Canada.

The NetNorth community incorporated a not-for-profit organization to operate the network, called CA*Net Networking Inc. The board of directors was made up of one representative from each province in the country as well as representatives from the University of Toronto, the network operator and from NRC. Most of the board members were from the University community.

At the same time, regional academic networks were established in each province:

British Columbia:
New Brunswick:
Prince Edward Island:
Nova Scotia:

CA*Net interconnected these regional networks and provided three connections to the NSFNet in the US through Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. The original connections were 56 Kbps, but the rapid growth of Internet traffic in 1990 and 1991 drove the need for increased network capacity.

In January of 1993, the federal government announced the formation of CANARIE, an organization created to stimulate industrial research and development on broadband network facilities and applications. One of its first initiatives was the upgrading of the CA*Net backbone to T1 speeds, or 1.54 Mbps. Similar upgrades were done in regional networks. At the same time, CANARIE funded the connection of Canada's north by funding links to regional networks in the Northwest Territories and the Yukon.

Internet growth in Canada paralleled the experience in other countries. It became exponential, and further upgrades were required to T3 speeds or 45 Mbps. In some cases multiple T3 connections were needed, particularly on the US links.

In 1995, the University of Toronto stopped operating the network, and, after a tender process, network operations were awarded to Bell Advanced Communications.

In 1996, it became evident to the CA*net board of directors that the Canadian Internet had evolved beyond its origins as an academic research and development network to a fast-growing commercial network. The board then decided the time had come to transition the Canadian Internet to a commercial one, and after another tender process Bell Canada was awarded the network. It now operates as a commercial Bell offering. In recognition of the work of the founding CA*net community, CA*net and Bell Canada created the CA*net Institute, a funding organization dedicated to promoting the use of the Internet in the spirit of the original CA*net.

This organization is in place and the fust awards have been given to a wide variety of Internet-related projects.

At the present time, this backbone network is one of many in Canada. Companies such as Sprint, BCT.Telus, and MetroNet as well as Bell are installing and upgrading national Internet backbone networks, connecting to the global Internet through a number of locations. Speeds of these backbones are up to 655 Mbps, 12,000 times faster than the original CA*net nine years ago. Theoretical speeds using new broadband network technologies are up to 1.5 Tbps, another large increase. Since the unit cost of bandwidth becomes cheaper as overall network speeds increase, the availability of higher speeds encourages network growth and its use by a widening clientele in both the public and private sectors.Footnote 4

These networks are connected to the global Internet through cross-border connections to the US, Europe and Asia. As well, there are many private connections outside Canada for corporate Intranets. While the number of cross-border Internet connections is not easily determined, it is large and growing.

The volume of traffic on the Canadian Internet is growing at typical rates, doubling every 4-6 months. Since there are a number of national Internet backbones, and since such information is proprietary for competitive reasons, determining total traffic is difficult. However, it is certainly now in the hundreds of gigabits per second, and is rapidly approaching terabits per second.

The other fundamental change in the Canadian Internet has been the shift from research traffic to commercial use. Just a few years ago, the majority of the traffic was for research and education purposes. Now, of course, the traffic is overwhelmingly, commercial.


Footnote 2

Hobbes' Internet Timeline ©1993-9 by Robert H Zakon.

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Footnote 3

For a comprehensive history of the Internet, the reader is referred to "Where Wizards Stay Up Late", Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon, Simon and Schuster, ©1996.

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Footnote 4

In BC for example, BCT.Telus, alone, now supports 1.5 million high speed nodes.

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