An unreliable history of the Internet.

Tom Worthington FACS

Visiting Fellow, Department of Computer Science, Australian National University

For the course Perspectives on Computing (COMP1200), 6 May 2002, Canberra.

This document is Version 2.0 7 May 2003:
2004 Version:
  1. Introduction

  2. The Official History of the Internet

  3. The Internet in Australia

  4. A personal History of the Internet

  5. Future History of the Internet: Broadband Wireless

  6. Postscript: Grid Computing next big thing?


The web is just one aspect of the Internet, which in turn is but an application of computers and telecommunications. Much of it is attributed to the web is really about the older Internet and that in turn comes from 50 years of development of electronic computers. Telecommunications using morse code telegraphy has a history of one hundred years. Many of the issues now confronting us with the web were known in the age of the telegraph.

Technological developments are not inevitable, nor foreseeable. There are currently great uncertainties over wireless broadband. Looking at the history of technology and , more importantly, the way people react to technology, can remove some of the uncertainty.

The Official History of the Internet

Adapted from Hobbes' Internet Timeline v5.5, by Robert H'obbes' Zakon :
ARPANET commissioned by DoD for research into networking
Diagram of the 4-node ARPAnet
First Request for Comment (RFC): "Host Software" by Steve Crocker (7 April)
ALOHAnet, the first packet radio network, developed by Norman Abramson, Univ of Hawaii, becomes operational (July) (:sk2:)
Ray Tomlinson of BBN invents email program to send messages across a distributed network. The original program was derived from two others: an intra-machine email program (SENDMSG) and an experimental file transfer program (CPYNET) (:amk:irh:)
First international connections to the ARPANET: University College of London (England) via NORSAR (Norway)
ARPA study shows email composing 75% of all ARPANET traffic
DCA and ARPA establish the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP), as the protocol suite, commonly known as TCP/IP, for ARPANET. (:vgc:)
Domain Name System (DNS) introduced
Number of hosts breaks 1,000
Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link (WELL) started
Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and Internet Research Task Force (IRTF) comes into existence under the IAB. First IETF meeting held in January at Linkabit in San Diego
CERT (Computer Emergency Response Team) formed by DARPA in response to the needs exhibited during the Morris worm incident. The worm is the only advisory issued this year.
Internet Relay Chat (IRC) developed by Jarkko Oikarinen (:zby:)
Number of hosts breaks 100,000
AARNET - Australian Academic Research Network - set up by AVCC and CSIRO; introduced into service the following year (:gmc:)
First link between Australia and NSFNET via Hawaii on 23 June
Countries connecting to NSFNET: Australia (AU), Germany (DE), Israel (IL), Italy (IT), Japan (JP), Mexico (MX), Netherlands (NL), New Zealand (NZ), Puerto Rico (PR), United Kingdom (UK)
ARPANET ceases to exist
Gopher released by Paul Lindner and Mark P. McCahill from the Univ of Minnesota
World-Wide Web (WWW) released by CERN; Tim Berners-Lee developer (:pb1:)
Internet Society (ISOC) is chartered (January)
IAB reconstituted as the Internet Architecture Board and becomes part of the Internet Society
Number of hosts breaks 1,000,000
US White House comes on-line (
Internet Talk Radio begins broadcasting (:sk2:)
Businesses and media begin taking notice of the Internet
Mosaic takes the Internet by storm; WWW proliferates at a 341,634% annual growth rate of service traffic. Gopher's growth is 997%.
WWW surpasses ftp-data in March as the service with greatest traffic on NSFNet based on packet count, and in April based on byte count
Traditional online dial-up systems (Compuserve, America Online, Prodigy) begin to provide Internet access
A number of Net related companies go public, with Netscape leading the pack with the 3rd largest ever NASDAQ IPO share value (9 August)
Internet phonescatch the attention of US telecommunication companies who ask the US Congress to ban the technology (which has been around for years)
The controversial US Communications Decency Act (CDA) becomes law in the US in order to prohibit distribution of indecent materials over the Net. A few months later a three-judge panel imposes an injunction against its enforcement. Supreme Court unanimously rules most of it unconstitutional in 1997.
2000th RFC: "Internet Official Protocol Standards"
101,803 Name Servers in whois database
Open source software comes of age
Web size estimates by NEC-RI and Inktomi surpass 1 billion indexable pages
Internet2 backbone network deploys IPv6 (16 May)
ICANN selects new TLDs: .aero, .biz, .coop, .info, .museum, .name, .pro (16 Nov)
Australian government endorses the transfer of authority for the .au domain to auDA (18 Dec). ICANN signs over control to auDA on 26 Oct 2001.
Forwarding email in Australia becomes illegal with the passing of the Digital Agenda Act, as it is seen as a technical infringement of personal copyright (4 Mar)

The Internet in Australia

Adapted from A Brief History of the Internet in Australia by Roger Clarke, (5 May 2001):

About the mid-1970s, during the ARPANET's early years, a few Australians made spasmodic connections to it via the international dial-up service offered by the then Australian Overseas Telecommunications Commission (OTC).
From the mid-1970s onwards, Robert Elz at the University of Melbourne, and Bob Kummerfeld and Piers Lauder at the University of Sydney ran the very successful Australian Computer Science network (ACSnet).
In the early 1980s, a permanent Australian email connection to the U.S. ARPAnet was established. In 1984, the Top Level Domain (TLD) .au was delegated to Robert Elz, at Melbourne University.
In the mid-1980s, Geoff Huston at ANU contributed an email gateway from the ACSnet mail delivery system into the DEC VAX/VMS systems that had come to dominate University computer installations.
Geoff Huston was transferred from the ANU to the AVCC in March 1989, as the initial Technical Manager of the network. He worked with Robert Elz, Robin Erskine and Ken McKinnon to prepare a financial, technical and business plan that was acceptable to the AVCC and its constituency.
In May/June 1989, the NASA / University of Hawaii ... on 23 June 1989 in Robert Elz's lab at the Uni. of Melbourne (although it was still 22 June at the other end of the link in Hawai'i), ... The international link was supplemented by a 48Kbps link to the ANU in August 1989, a 9.6Kbps link to the University of Sydney in August 1989, and a 48Kbps link to the University of Adelaide in October 1989.
The emergent scheme was referred to as the Australian Academic & Research Network (AARNet). The participants comprised the universities and the CSIRO. The remaining Australian University and CSIRO connections were completed over a 4 week period in April-May, 1990. Individual sites were responsible for the management of their own connections to the AARNet routers.
In 1990, Geoff Huston became responsible for the second-level domain (passed to AuDA somewhen between 1999 and 2001) and (1990s, passed to the Commonwealth government). Robert Elz continues to manage .au, and the ACSNet domain,, and is also still registrar of the domains (for people) and
Western Australia's DIALix claims to have been offering services commercially in Perth as early as 1989. Pegasus Networks' offered public dialup access to the Internet in Australia, commencing in June 1989 with local access, and moving to nationwide access from 14 September 1989.
In mid-1995, AVCC transferred its commercial customers, associated assets, and the management of interstate and international links to Telstra. Telstra thereby acquired the whole of the infrastructure that at that stage constituted 'the Internet in Australia'.
In 1996, as a response to the explosive growth in registrations, Robert Elz gave a non-exclusive 5-year licence to Melbourne IT, in return for which it undertook to perform the administration of
In mid-1997, AARNet2 (not to be confused with Internet2!) was deployed as a national private ATM-based network, linking the eight RNOs by high-capacity dedicated bandwidth, having the capability of carrying voice and video traffic as well as data. Among other things, AARNet2 enabled, before the end of the decade, the implementation of voice over IP (voIP) within and between universities and the CSIRO.

A personal History of the Internet

On Sat, 19 Mar 1994 09:22:37 GMT I sent an announcement on-line that I was going on holiday. on my return I prepared a web page of my trip, which combined a travelogue and commentary about the developing network. In 1999 I published a book of my first five years working on-line, made up of edited versions of web pages:

This formula worked well and I used it to prepare and disseminate public policy about networking and develop policy for the Defence Department. Most of my work has been web related, or at least used the web since then, including on-line consultant reports and university teaching. The technical travelogues have continued, with "live" web reports transmitted from ships, aircraft and high speed trains.

Most recently I have strayed into the area of Interactive TV, where broadcasters have failed to learn the lessons of history. They are taking a technological path which ignores the social lessons we leant with the Internet and are likely to repeat the crash as a result.

Future History of the Internet: Broadband Wireless

The Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, released terms of reference for an inquiry into wireless broadband technologies on 4 April 2002:

The Standing Committee, chaired by MHR Christopher Pyne, has been asked to conduct an inquiry into the current and potential use of wireless technologies (including wireless LAN, 3G, Bluetooth, LMDS and Wireless Local Loop) to provide broadband communications in Australia.
Broadband technology is widely considered to be a crucial driver in ensuring that Australia derives maximum economic and social benefit from the information economy. It is also clear, both here and overseas, that both fixed and mobile wireless technologies provide a real opportunity to offer affordable broadband solutions for residential and business users, competing strongly with DSL and cable based delivery systems.
From: WIRELESS BROADBAND TERMS OF REFERENCE, Media release 75/02, 4 April 2002

But what are wireless LAN, 3G, Bluetooth, LMDS and Wireless Local Loop and why are they important? How might be better than DSL and cable based delivery systems, and what are they? What is the nation's current broadband strategy? What is broadband? These are issues for future IT professionals, such as students of this course to help decide. For thoughts see: Wireless broadband technologies, IT issues on 666 ABC Canberra Drive with Keri Phillips, Wednesday 8 May 2002 at 5:50pm

Postscript: Grid Computing next big thing?

This material was first preapred and presented in May 2002. By May 2003 it appeared that wireless technology will not be the next big thing in the history of the Internet. While wireless will be used and raises some interesting issues it is not creating a revolution. So what else might create a revolution?

The Grid may be the next Internet. The grid is a small experimental system made up of supercomputers connected together by high speed networks. The Grid was established for support of “big” science: physics, chemistry and life sciences needed large amounts of computer power. In a way the Grid sounds like the early Internet, but will it be successful and be more than just a science experiment?

The Australian part of the Grid is GrangeNet:

GrangeNet (GRid And Next GEneration Network) is a 3-year program that will install, operate and develop a multi-gigabit network to support grid and advanced communications services. The program started on 1 March 2002. ...
The GrangeNet network comprises 10 gigabit backbone linking Melbourne, Canberra, and Sydney and 5 gigabits into Brisbane. A range of advanced services are available to users.
From: About GrangeNet, URL:

GrangetNet is in part located at the ANU. One of the ordinary looking computer science tutorial rooms is to be made into a multimedia GrangeNet node. One of the GrangeNet applications is not about hard science, but the arts:

The Australian Creative Resources Archives (ACRA) is a pilot project which will build into a nationally distributed, standardized, high-bandwidth digital archive that makes “waste” materials from Australian cultural production processes available to researchers, the education sector more generally, and to commercial content developers. This “waste” material is often of very high quality and can therefore be of great value to many people and groups in the community, greatly accelerating the production and quality of Australian broadband content. Access to cultural “junk” would, for example, be very valuable to film, television, and radio producers; musicians; historians; advertisers of all sorts; documentary producers; the IT industries in general—in fact, it will be a valuable resource for anybody wishing to study, understand, or capitalize upon Australia’s creative potential.
From: Australian Creative Resources Archives - Proposal for the pilot phase, 18 May 2002, URL:

Within a few months it may be possible to search video content in the Brisbane ACRA archive from the ANU in Canberra and watch the results as a custom wide screen cinema quality movie transmitted over GrangeNet. That might become the new “killer application” for the next Internet and one ANU students may help make the future history of the Internet.

Tom Worthington 7 May 2003

Personal profile

Tom WorthingtonTom Worthington is a Visiting Fellow in the Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology at the Australian National University. He is an electronic business consultant, author of the book Net Traveller and information technology professional, with 17 years experience.

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Copyright © Tom Worthington. 2002