The Internet

Today, the United States leads the world in many of the technologies that make the information superhighway possible--semiconductors, fiber optics, high-speed switches, supercomputing, advanced software, etc. One reason for this is the billions of dollars that the Federal government, especially the Defense Department and NASA, have invested in information technology over the last forty years. Many of the most important technological breakthroughs in computing and communications are due in part to a Federal research grant or a Federal contract.

The very first electronic computer, the ENIAC, was the product of Federal funding. There are dozens of similar examples. A recent study by the National Research Council on the High-Performance Computing and Communications Program documented how Federal research and development funding played a key role in the development of timesharing, computer networking, workstations, computer graphics, the mouse, the windows interface, VLSI circuit design, RISC computing, parallel computing, and digital libraries.

There has been a very effective partnership between government, academia, and industry. By providing funding, the Federal government enables academic researchers to do the kind of long-term research that businesses can't afford to do. Even more important, that funding makes possible the training of the next generation of scientists and engineers. The research results and the talent from our universities are then applied by the private sector to develop the new products and new processes that they need to stay competitive in world markets.

The Internet provides an excellent example of how the Federal government can work with universities and industry to develop new technologies that can create whole new industries--and thousands of new, high-paying jobs. The ARPANET, the precursor of the Internet, began as a research project funded by the Defense Department's Advance Research Project Agency in 1969. The goal was to develop a robust, computer network that could function after a nuclear attack. Initially, the ARPANET linked a few dozen computers at speeds of 56,000 bits per second. During the 1970s and early 1980s, the ARPANET expanded as computer science researchers at universities and laboratories around the country were connected to the network. ARPA and other Federal agencies funded the network and the development of better, faster networking technologies. In 1986, the National Science Foundation started the NSFNET program in order to expand the ARPANET and connect more university researcher to the network. The network grew in both size and speed. By the early 1990s, the NSFNET backbone network was operating at 45 megabits per second, almost 1,000 times faster than the original ARPANET.

In the past five years, the NSFNET has evolved into the Internet, a network of thousands of networks, most funded by the private sector. Today, thousands of companies offer Internet services and tens of millions of people around the globe use the Internet on a daily basis. According to conservative estimates, the Internet could be a billion dollar business in just a few years.

There is a similar story for the World Wide Web, one of the most popular applications of the Internet, which enables users to access a huge variety of information--both text and imagery--from thousands of sites around the world. According to the latest figures, there is a new Web page being created every four seconds. The Web was developed at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, in Switzerland. In 1993, researchers at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois, one of the supercomputer centers funded by the National Science Foundation, developed an easy-to-use software package called Mosaic, which made it possible to use the World Wide Web to view not only text, but images, video, and audio as well. In less than a year, there were more than a million copies of Mosaic in use and Internet usage was sky-rocketing. This new technology has made possible companies like Netscape and Spyglass and fundamentally changed the way the Internet is used.

Funding for the development of Mosaic came from the High-Performance Computing and Communications Initiative, a Federal R&D program authorized by the High-Performance Computing Act of 1991, which then-Senator Al Gore first introduced in 1988. That program provides over 1 billion dollars a year to ten participating agencies that fund research in universities, Federal laboratories, and industry. The HPCC Program has pooled the talent and resources available throughout the Federal government to ensure effective coordination between agencies and ensure the efficient use of tax payers' dollars. In many ways, the HPCC Program is a model of how government, industry, and academia can work together to ensure that the U.S. stays at the leading edge of technology.


24 Hours in Cyberspace

Rachel Carson

Excerpt from Earth in The Balance

The Internet

The Dangers of Carbon Pollution on the Environment

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