An unreliable history of the Internet.

By Tom Worthington FACS

Visiting Fellow, Department of Computer Science, Australian National University

For the course Perspectives on Computing (COMP1200), 26 April 2005, Canberra.

Tom 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 22 years experience.


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. However, knowing what happened before can help anticipate new developments. Three examples of "new" technology with a long history are wireless, radio and voice over the Internet. Looking at the last in more detail, there is a revolution taking place at the moment in Voice over IP (VoIP), which enables telephone calls to be made over the Internet. How does this technology work? Does it work? What business models will it support? What regulation is required? Looking at the history of technology and , more importantly, the way people react to technology, can remove some of the uncertainty.

What is the Internet?

From a technical perspective, the term Internet refers to a particular collection of computer networks which are inter-connected by means of a particular set of protocols usefully called 'the Internet Protocol Suite', but which is frequently referred to using the names of the two central protocols, 'TCP/IP'.

From: Origins and Nature of the Internet in Australia, Roger Clarke, 29 January 2004, URL:

More simply the Internet is a packet switching network, using the Internet Protocol addresses to route packets of data worldwide. It is this simplicity of conceptual design which has helped make the Internet so popular.

The Official History of the Internet

Adapted from Hobbes' Internet Timeline v5.5, by Robert H'obbes' Zakon :

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.

Early 1990

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

Late 1990s

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: VoIP

The Government wants Australians to be able to benefit from the opportunities VOIP offers, while safeguarding the interests of consumers and the wider community...

The Department is now looking at the appropriateness of the broad policy and regulatory framework for voice services in light of the emergence of VOIP. This includes issues such as what policy goals should be pursued in relation to voice services, what types of voice services should be regulated and how they should be defined, and what specific obligations and rights should apply and how the arrangements should be implemented. ...

From: Emerging Voice Services - Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP), DCITA, 16 March 2005, URL:

Voice over IP (VoIP), enables telephone calls to be made over the Internet. Sound is input using a low cost computer, digitized and then broken into packets of data, addressed and routed across the Internet. At the receiver's end the packets are reassembled and then turned back into sound. This is an application which has been available on the Internet (and other networks) for decades. However, it is just becoming practical as a commercial and domestic service as permanent Internet connections have become common in businesses and homes.

If a computer and Internet connection is already available, then VoIP can be added au minimal extra cost. Most personal computers already have provision for sound. Voice calls can be made between computers with a low cost microphone and headset. What is needed for a full service is the ability tow make calls to and from ordinary telephones. This service is now being provided by third party companies.

While VoIP is technically relatively simple and inexpensive, it has major implications for the telecommunications industry and the communitypreviously chanled by a separate thelephone infrastructure. Voice calls carried over the same networks as Internet traffic but up until now have remained charged for and regulated as if they used the old telephone infrastructure. The way Internet technology, business and regulation has developed can provide pointers to how this new issue can be delt with.

Further Information