The beginning of commercialization of the NSFnet

How is it that the networks that started out as mostly run by the government grow into the commercial entity that it is today? The answer, surprisingly, does not come entirely from any national policy, but instead from the workings of the National Science Foundation­creator of the NSFnet. Only one year after the network was started, the NSF gave a grant to Merit Network, a non-profit company consisting of University of Michigan schools and the state of Michigan, to administer the network that was being built. Around the time when the NSF contracted Merit to upgrade the network to T1 lines, MCI and IBM collaborated with Merit to form a non-profit service named Advanced Network and Services (ANS ). Later, this corporation was awarded the contract to manage the network when the contract with Merit ran out. As early as 1988 the NSF was looking into commercializing their network through conferences on "The Commercialization and Privatization of the Internet" at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and also on the "com-priv" Usenet list.

In 1991 the debate became more vigorous when congress considered the funding of a National Research and Education Network (NREN). The new network was to be based on existing networks, but was to operate at a much higher speed. While many in the private sector felt that there was already a technologically sufficient commercial network emerging, many in government saw that the U.S. was lagging in technology when compared to other countries.

A formal proposal was submitted to congress for a new network to be built with government funding, but later to be commercialized or be commercially run. After a failure in 1990, the main proponent of the proposal, Al Gore, successfully persuaded congress to pass the High Performance Computing Act of 1991 into law. The new law called for funding of the proposed NREN to link educational institutions. Those arguing against the bill were expressing a growing concern that the government was taking too large a role in the building of the Internet, and that it was giving some an unfair advantage (Fisher July 1991). When ANS began upgrading the network to T3 lines (also in 1991), they received permission from the government to supply more bandwidth than the NSF required for their network. From this extra "space" on the network they were allowed to set up their own commercial network service, ANS CO+RE (Commercial + Research) (Messmer Dec 1991).

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©2000 John Thomson, Jr