The Internet is a loosely-organised collaboration of computer networks
that communicate and interconnect via open protocols provided by
the TCP/IP. TCP/IP is a communications
protocol suite that was developed in the 1970's to enable computer
networks to easily interconnect, and become Interconnected
During the development of TCP/IP, the term 'Internet' was used
to describe how it functioned. In 1974, Carl Sunshine, Vinton Cerf
and Yogen Dalal coined the term 'Internet' in RFC 675. The core
protocol of TCP/IP is the Internet Protocol (IP): it creates a numbering
(address) system that enables networks to be interconnected.
While there has been other terms used to describe the Internet
- Cyberspace, Information
Superhighway and The Cloud
- the Internet is the name that has 'stuck'. In 1995, the Federal
Networking Council - a group comprised of members from the DoD,
NSF and NASA (US organisations) - passed a resolution that defined
the Internet as:
Governing and managing the Internet
From 1966-1992, the U.S. government funded the development of the
Internet through a variety of federal agencies. The first wide area
network, funded by ARPA, was ARPANET. During the 1980's more federal
computer networks were created - NSFNET, MILNET, EFNET - and when
these federal networks interconnected in the 1980's, they became
known as the Internet: Interconnected Networks.
The software systems (protocols) developed to make these networks
operational, were likewise, funded by the U.S. federal government.
The creation of TCP/IP was funded by DARPA in the 1970's. TCP/IP
became a defense standard in 1982, and was implemented on the majority
of federally funded computer networks in the 1980's.
DARPA decided that a central authority was needed to continue the
development of TCP/IP. In 1983, the Internet Activities Board (IAB)
was created by DARPA for this specific purpose. By 1987, the IAB
had created the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the Internet
Research Task Force (IRTF).
The software systems (protocols) of the Internet, by their nature,
produced information resources that needed to be managed. The most
obvious information resource that needed to be managed was Internet
numbers. Every device that connected to the Internet was assigned
a number (IP) and the way in which numbers were assigned needed
management. Groups, like IANA and NIC, were created to conduct this
Due to the success and popularity of federally funded computer
networks, like NSFNET, commercially funded U.S. networks wanted
to connect to the Internet. At the same time, more and more international
networks, like NORDUNET, had connected to the Internet. By the late
1980's, it became obvious that a federally funded Internet would
not work for two reasons:
1) The political issues created by allowing commercial companies
to profit from being connected to a federally funded Internet backbone.
2) The demand from international networks wishing to interconnect,
and have a 'voice' in the development of the Internet.
In the early 1990's, the U.S. federal government decided that the
Internet backbone network should be comprised of autonomous commercial
computer networks, and the development and management of it's protocols
and information resources should be administered by an international
Internet protocol development
In 1992, the Internet Society was created
- as a non-profit organisation - to provide leadership for Internet:
development, governance, policy and technology. The Internet Society's
membership is international in scope, and it's development process
is open and aims to be of "benefit to all people throughout
the world". The development of Internet Standards is outlined
in RFC 1336:
The Internet Society replaced DARPA and NSF in providing leadership
to the Internet Architecture Board (IAB). In 1983, the IAB had been
created by DARPA to manage the evolution of TCP/IP. TCP and IP are
now the core protocols of the Internet protocol suite. The Internet
protocol suite is engineered by the following organisations; the
Internet Society provides leadership.
- Internet Architecture
- Internet Engineering
- Internet Engineering Task Force
- Internet Research
- Internet Research Task
The above organisations publish new Internet standards and developments
in Request for Comments (RFC)
documents. RFC documents predate the Internet: it was a document
system created during the development of ARPANET.
Internet information resources management
Alongside the development of Internet Standards (protocols), another
resource that needs to be managed is Internet numbers system. Each
device that connects to the Internet is assigned an IP address:
which is a 32-bit number. How IP numbers are assigned is governed
who are under-contract to the US Department of Commerce. IANA is
a department within ICANN that authorises the assignment of IP number
blocks. IANA provides a block of IP numbers to Regional Internet
Registries (RIR), who then provide smaller blocks of IP numbers
to computer networks within their region.
Alongside assigning IP numbers, ICANN, and by extension, IANA,
maintain ultimate authority over the Domain Name System. IANA coordinates
the DNS root domain, which is the highest authority within the Domain
Name System. IP number blocks and the Domain Name System are the
'heart' of the 'address system' of the Internet; referred to as
the Internet namespace. The US government has been criticised for
maintaining authority over the namespace of the Internet (ICANN
is under contract to the U.S. Department of Commerce) (as of 2014).
The UN has formed a Working Group to discuss Internet Governance
(WGIG). An interesting paper that focused
upon the government of the Internet is: A
Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.
The Internet today (2014) is a global information infrastructure,
but it's history and origins are complex. That said, the origins
of the Internet are intertwined with the development of packet
switching. Packet switching is a method of transmitting data
- in blocks of data called packets - across digital networks. Packet
switching would underpin how the Internet works. The idea of packet
switching was developed/explored by two individuals:
- Donald Davies: working
at the National Physical Laboratory (United Kingdom)
- Paul Baran: whilst working at the
RAND Corporation (United States)
One of the first working examples of packet switching was demonstrated
by the National Physical Laboratory (United Kingdom) in early 1968.
This work eventually evolved into the Mark I computer network (based
in the UK). This network influenced computer scientists in the U.S.,
but Mark I did not evolve into the Internet. It was ARPANET (US
packet switching computer network) that eventually evolved to become
Paul Baran's work in packet switching influenced Joseph Licklider,
who envisaged a 'global' computer network in 1963. Licklider was
the director of the IPTO at ARPA in the early 1960's. In 1966, Robert
Taylor became the director of the IPTO, and it was Taylor, inspired
by Licklider, who created the blueprint for a ARPA 'wide area' computer
network. Robert Taylor received received funding to build ARPANET
in 1966, and hired Lawrence Roberts to manage the creation of ARPANET.
ARPANET was one of the first computer networks to use packet switching;
and was launched in 1969; with procurement initiated in the summer
of 1968. The physical hardware of ARPANET was built by Bolt, Beranek
and Newman technologies; who developed the Interface Message Processor
(IMP) (router) for ARPANET; this technology was outlined in the
first ever RFC document (RFC 1).
ARPANET was first connected to two nodes in the US: between SRI
International (overseen by Douglas Engelbart) and UCLA (overseen
by Leonard Kleinrock). Leonard Kleinrock had conducted early research
into a mathematical study called 'queueing theory'. Queueing theory
proved important in implementing packet switching into ARPANET.
The first message sent on ARPANET, was sent on the: 29th of October,
ARPANET initially operated with four nodes - each was installed
with an identical Interface Message Processor (IMP). The four locations
were: UCLA, SRI, UCSB and the University of Utah. By 1972, there
were over 20 IMPs connected to ARPANET. In 1973, ARPANET was connected
to it's first two international nodes: NORSAR in Norway, and the
University College of London (United Kingdom).
ARPANET initially used the NCP (Network Control Program) to transport
data packets across the network. NCP was devised by Larry Roberts,
Stephen D. Crocker, and the team of graduate students who worked
to create ARPANET. Stephen D. Crocker said that NCP was not created
according to a 'grand plan' but largely occurred accidentally. It
was during the design process of the ARPANET protocols, that it
was concluded that an official document system was needed: which
would become Request for Comments (RFC).
The Defense Communication Agency (DCA) took control of ARPANET
in 1975; ARPANET was, by then, operational, and ARPA's remit was
the development of systems, not the control of them. In the 1980's,
the DCA would split ARPANET into a military and an academic research
network. While the DCA planned to phase out the research network
of ARPANET, DARPA (ARPA was renamed) continued to fund the development
of TCP/IP. TCP/IP would be a defense standard by 1980.
TCP/IP replaced NCP on ARPANET on the
1st of January, 1983. This day is commonly thought of as the day
the Internet was born. ARPANET was phased out from 1985-1989, due
to the creation of NSFNET and the Federal Internet Exchange (FIX).
The National Science Foundation created CSNET (Computer Science
Network) in 1981; the purpose of CSNET was to expand network access
to science departments at U.S. educational institutions. Due to
the Defense Communication Agency (DCA) desire to phase out it's
support for the ARPANET network, it was clear that universities
in the U.S. would have to fund a computer network through another
means. Side note: the computer network JANET
would connect universities in the United Kingdom.
In 1985, the National Science Foundation funded the creation of
NSFNET: NSFNET would expand upon the capabilities of CSNET, and
would use TCP/IP. Dennis Jennings was hired by the NSF to build
NSFNET in 1985. NSFNET was operational in 1986, with six supercomputer
centers forming it's backbone. NSFNET was based on a three-tier
model: 1) backbone; 2) regional networks; 3) campus networks. This
three-tier model was important, as it would evolve to become the
modern day Internet.
From 1987-1991, the speed of the NSFNET backbone was increased
from 56 K-bit/sec to a 45-Mbit/s. In 1987, NSF had given Merit,
IBM, and MCI a five year contract to upgrade the infrastructure
of the NSF backbone. NSFNET was connected to regional networks,
like MIDnet, and federal agency networks, like MILNET, and by 1992
it was connected to over 5000 computer networks. By 1988-1990, it
was clear that the NSFNET backbone had become the Internet's backbone,
and had become a 'network of networks'.
NSFNET was government funded. Commercial use of the backbone of
NSFNET was prohibited, but commercial companies could access the
network under an 'acceptable use policy'. NSFNET was far from being
"open" to commercial organisations. In 1991, the Commercial
Internet Exchange (CIX) was created by three networks (using TCP/IP)
to freely exchange commercial traffic across their networks.
In 1991, Merit, IBM, and MCI created a commercial Internet Service
Provider named ANS CO+RE. ANS CO+RE was able to use the NSFNET backbone
infrastructure: due to it postion of having designed the infrastructure,
and it's apparant 'cosy' relationship with the NSF. ANS CO+RE refused
to interconnect with the Commercial Internet Exchange (CIX).
The controversy of ANS CO+RE - where a federally funded project
was being using for commercial profit - would lead to the decomissioning
of NSFNET. It was decided that the Internet would not be a single
federally funded system, but would be comprised of commercial networks
that voluntarily interconnected; similar to the CIX model.
Network Access Points (NAPs) were created in 1991 to replace the
NSFNET backbone. NAPs would exchange data between commercial backbone
networks. The four original NAP's were: Ameritech, MFS Datanet,
Sprint, and Pacific Bell. Network Access Points were only a strategic
"stepping stone". NAPs were eventually replaced by Internet
NSFNET was decommissioned on the 30th of April, 1995.
NSFNET was U.S. government sponsored, and it's supercomputer infrastructure
formed the backbone of the Internet. NSFNET did not have a commercial
focus, and it was decided by the U.S. government to transition the
Internet from being dominated by the NSFNET backbone to a commercial
The National Information Infrastructure (NII) was a document that
was a product of the High Performance Computing Act of 1991. This
document defined the creation of Network Access Points (NAPs), which
would replace the NSFNET backbone for exchanging data across the
networks of the Internet.
NAPS were eventually replaced by Internet
Exchange Points (IXP): IXPs are commercial companies who provide
the (present day) physical infrastructure that exchanges traffic
between Internet networks. IXPs are a crucial aspect of the current
Internet backbone: allowing networks to reduce their upstream transit
costs and faults.
The Internet is an informal system where networks - using the Internet
protocol suite - voluntarily agree to interconnect and exchange
data across their networks. As stated, IXPs facilitate this exchange
of data. However, not all networks use IXPs. The networks which
comprise the Internet are broadly categorised in a three tier hierarchy.
- Tier One: typically long-distance international telecom companies.
- Tier Two: typically regional Internet Service Providers.
- Tier Three: ISPs who rent access from Tier Two networks.
Tier one, tier two and tier three networks create 'interconnect
agreements' with one another: these agreements decide how data is
transferred and routed on the Internet. There are two types of interconnect
- Transit agreement: data transfer is paid for.
- Peering agreement: data transfer is free.
Tier one networks tend to be telecom companies who own national
and international fiber optic trunk lines. The data routes of the
Internet are similar to the thoroughfares of a country: motorways
are the primary route that cars travel upon, and likewise, tier
one networks are the primary route that data travels upon the Internet.
Tier one networks typically connect to the entirety of the Internet
via peering agreements, and do not pay for their access (transit
of data). Some of the recognised 'tier one' networks are: AT&T,
Verizon, Sprint, and Vodafone. Tier two networks are Internet networks
that have to pay for upstream transit of data (access to tier one
Tier two networks do use Internet Exchange Points (IXP) to reduce
their upstream transit costs and faults, and to improve latency
and bandwidth. Internet Exchange Points use the Border Gateway Protocol
(BGP) to exchange data across networks. Some examples of 'tier two'
networks are: BT, Deutsche Telekom and France Telecom.
Finally we have tier three networks: these networks rent access
to tier two networks, and sell access to Internet users. Tier three
networks can be 'standalone' single-homed networks, or can be multihomed
networks. Multihoming is where a 'tier three' networks purchases
upstream access from multiple 'tier two' networks. This helps to
improve the reliability of their service: in the scenario of a (SPOF)
single point of failure.
At the bottom of the hierarchy is the end user: who pay networks
a fee to access the network (Internet). End users can access the
Internet with either a tier 1, tier 2, or tier 3 network.
Europe and the Internet
The development of the Internet was funded and evolved in the United
States of America in the 1980's. TCP/IP, the software system of
the Internet, was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense in the
1970's. In the 1980's, the nations of Europe typically opposed their
government funded networks from adopting TCP/IP. European governments
tended to support the ISO networking standard.
However, in 1983, the CERN Networking
Group planned to build an external computer network. The CERN
Networking Group decided to adopt TCP/IP instead of the ISO networking
standard. In 1988 and 1989, members of the CERN Networking Group
were present at meetings of the Coordinating
Committee for Intercontinental Research Network (CCIRN). Vint
Cerf was also present at these meetings, and Europeans present at
the meeting were encouraged to create a organisation that would
be responsible for allocating Internet addresses in Europe. The
result was the creation of RIPE (Réseaux
By 1992, the CERN external network was responsible for handling
the majority of Europe's international Internet traffic, and the
development of this network was integral in creating a hub for all
Europe IP networks.