Would the Internet exist without US Government sponsorship?

Yet another post based on the muse of Facebook…

I gotta ask, how subsidized is the “internet”? Would this thing be able to operate on a free-market, in your opinion(I would assume yes, as it has massive profits available to it), but, could the start up of the internet, been possible without subsidization? Not sure how clear my question is.  (a Facebook Friend)

My response:

As it is right now, there are no subsidies involved… it’s self-supporting based on domain registration fees and general good-will of the various commercial suppliers involved. To the extent the US Govt is involved at present, it is as a major consumer of bandwidth, and as a content supplier.

Starting out… The Internet (TCP/IP) protocol suite displaced X.25, which was available commercially from the late 1970s (I had an account from May 1978 onwards via Tymnet). X.25 is based on virtual circuits and is closer in conception to telephone switching than to the current Internet.

In X.25 networks, you connected to a single destination, and relied on that destination to provide your content and services. This was the original function of services such as CompuServe, Delphi, Prodigy and AOL. By 1993 the X.25-based services were handling around 20 million subscribers compared to TCP/IP having perhaps 500,000 users. It’s for this reason Windows 95 did not handle TCP/IP very gracefully; there was a good business argument to be made against the whole Internet “fad.”

In ’93 or ’94 the US Govt started to transition out of running the “Internet” – and opened it up to commercial users. Since TCP/IP ran on damn near anything (X.25 required special switches and lots of infrastructure by comparison) and had no messy royalties and such, it began to catch on quite quickly.

On bringing light to the darkness…

Yet another post inspired by Facebook discussion. I think I’m beginning to find my muse…

The web is not quite 20 years old (Dec ’91 was when the concept was published). While for most people the Internet revolves around Internet Exploder or Firefox or Safari, there were other products.

In the beginning, there was Mosaic. And it brought light from the darkness, but it was featureless. It begat Netscape, which had features, but crashed a lot, and eventually was bought by AOL who set about to kill it. Marc A set people free by leading a small band through the wilderness to start Phoenix, but they ran afoul of trademark and thus begat Firefox.

Somewhere along this path, Bill Gate-us of Borg beheld Mosaic, and begat Internet Explorer, which being of parentage foul became the source of much pain and suffering and in derision it is named Exploder.

Thus ends the quick genealogy lesson.


…and if the foregoing largely makes no sense, then here is the deal:

You access the Web by way of specialized software, the “Browser.” It allows you to browse content, in much the same way people [used to?] browse the shelves at the library, looking for something interesting to pull down and read.

NCSA Mosaic, Netscape, Firefox, IE, Safari, etc. are all examples of the “graphical browser.” This is the interface almost everyone uses, and for many people, this is “the Internet.”

It’s only a part of the Internet. There are also text-based browsers; Lynx is the most prevalent of these. Why would anyone use a non-graphical browser? Suppose you’re blind, but still want to make use of the Internet. You don’t need to download the pictures (can’t see them anyway). Or, suppose you have limited bandwidth, but need to get some information. One regular reader of this blog always makes disparaging remarks about the US National Weather Service relying on UPPERCASE TEXT FOR ALL WX MESSAGES – but there are both international treaties as well as good solid engineering reasons for having the all-caps text. [Technical rationale – all-caps can be transmitted as 6-bit code, thus saving 25% of bandwidth; while there is a single source for most WX data there are multiple output streams, at least some of which still use Baudot encoding.]

Back to the story… Browsers convert the user’s simple “woodallrvcc.wordpress.com” to the several lines of commands necessary for the webserver (the other end of the conversation) to find the content the user desires; then the browser interprets the content received and displays it…

It’s important to remember the browser does not represent the entirety of the Internet, and also that browsers are not a one-size-fits-all — except for the moment on so-called “smart phones.”So if you’re looking for that extra edge, try another browser.