28. The Internet - Nifty 50
Internet technology began with government-funded networking efforts, including the National Science Foundation's NSFNET, that have now matured and spurred vast commercial development.
From the beginning, computer networks were expected to expand the reach and grasp of researchers, providing better access to computer resources and easier transfer of information. NSF made this expectation a reality.
Beginning by funding a network linking computer science departments, NSF moved on to develop the high-speed backbone, called NSFNET, which connected to five NSF-supported supercomputers. NSF support also encouraged the development of regional networks to connect with the backbone NSFNET.
Major research funding
More recently, NSF has funded a new backbone and is continuing to play the major role it has fulfilled historically in developing Internet technology for both scientists and the public. Between 1950 and 1971, NSF made more than 400 awards for computing facilities under the Computer Center Facilities program, totaling more than $60 million.
By the late 1980s, NSF support for computer and information science and engineering amounted to well over $100 million annually.
The first "internet" was the interconnection of unrelated networks consisting of the Advanced Research Projects Agency's ARPANET, run by DARPA, in 1977. Over the next decade, increasing NSF involvement led to a three-tiered system of internetworks that were managed by a mix of universities, nonprofit organizations and government agencies.
By the mid-1980s, primary financial support of the Internet had been assumed by NSF. The increasing demand for advanced networking and research computing capabilities was met by NSFNET and the foundation's Partnerships for Advanced Computational Infrastructure.
In March 1991, the NSFNET acceptable use policy was altered to allow commercial traffic; in a recent cover story, Business Week pointed to this as a seminal moment for the information-based economy, which not altogether coincidentally began its record expansion in that very month.
In 1995, with the private, commercial market thriving, NSF decommissioned the NSFNET, allowing for public use of the Internet. Regional, national and international computer networks became widely accessible because companies began publicly offering gateway service for which NSF had until then been among a handful of customers.
A forerunner, NSFNET, served the research and education community and demonstrated the effectiveness of networking technology. Now, millions use the Internet daily. NSF continues to fund research to promote high-performance networking for scientific research and education, helping to develop technologies that will be the next-generation drivers of information-based commerce.
Original publication date: April 2000