Ronda Hauben on Thu, 22 Apr 1999 21:47:41 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Role of government in Internet development

    The Role of Government in the Development of the Internet
                           Paper Proposal

                          by Ronda Hauben

     There are many myths about the role that government has 
played in the development of the Internet. The most prevalent 
myth is that government has played no role, beyond funding the 
early research to build the Internet.

     This is a serious misrepresentation of the actual history 
and development. This misrepresentation also has important 
political consequences. There is a need to determine how to solve 
a number of problems for the continued development of the Internet 
and if the proper role for government is not determined, then the 
problems become very difficult or impossible to solve.

     Also, the U.S. government is currently making an effort to 
change its role in how it relates to Internet development. 
However, if there is a lack of knowledge of what the role of 
government has been, then there are serious consequences that can 
result from the U.S. government changing that role without taking 
into account the problems that will develop.

     The Internet has basically developed under government and 
university support and activity. However, the form of government 
and university support is often not obvious nor well documented.

     In 1945, Vannebar Bush, an MIT scholar, was invited to 
advise the President of the United States on how to apply the 
lessons that had been learned about wartime scientific research 
to solve the social and technological problems for peacetime 
conditions. His work set a basis for an important form of 
government structure that would nourish scientific and 
technological development.

     In my research, I plan to explore the influence of Bush's 
work on the later creation and development of the Information 
Processing Technology Office (IPTO) of the Advanced Research 
Projects Agency (ARPA). This office was created in 1962 and 
existed until 1987. During this period the work done by those 
working for this office made it possible to create and develop 
the Internet.

     The Internet was developed between 1972 and 1987 under the 
support and actions of people, often working under conditions 
created by or more directly working for the IPTO. After 1987, 
ARPA and the National Science Foundation continued to play an 
important role in the development of the Internet. So I plan to 
also touch on the role played after 1987, but will focus my paper 
on the role of government between 1972 and 1987.

     ARPA was created as a civilian agency in the U.S. Department 
of Defense. Those who were part of ARPA worked hard to provide a 
supportative environment that made it possible for the initial 
research creating the Internet to be done and also provided 
support for the actual development of the Internet. I 
want to study how this was done, and how various pressures that 
would have interferred with research and development were 

     Also I plan to examine how Usenet was helpful in the 
development of the Internet during the 1981-3 period and to 
explore if there are lessons to be learned from the linking up of 
Usenet and the ARPANET during that period which can be helpful in 
solving the problems that the Internet is facing now.

     The process of building the Internet involved a number of 
procedures that made it possible for the grassroots to 
participate in the design and development of important aspects of 
the Internet. However, this was possible because there was a line 
of responsibility and accountability provided by the government 
processes involved in building the Internet. Once this line of 
responsibility and accountability has been taken away by the U.S. 
government, as in the privatization of the domain name system 
(DNS) and other essential functions of the Internet, it has 
become similarly impossible for there to be any grassroots 
processes available to those online. Instead, those who are most 
powerful are active trying to seize control of the public 
functions and powers so that they will control the Internet.

     In 1996 the U.S. government announced that it was planning 
to privatize certain key functions of the Internet. This 
announcement was made at a meeting of the Federal Networking 
Council Advisory Committee.

     Then in 1997-1998 there was a Report of the Office of the 
Inspector General of the National Science Foundation (OIG of the 
NSF) which opposed the privatization of the DNS. And there were 
hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives about the plans to 
carry out the privatization of these key functions.

     The Office of the Inspector General Report did focus on 
determining what would be an appropriate government role in the 
continued development of the Internet. The hearings in Congress, 
however, in general did not raise or examine this key question.

     In the 1970's there were conferences and books about the 
need to prepare to deal with the developing computer network as a 
public utility. These articles and books stressed the need for a 
social focus for the developing network. And they described how 
the U.S. government would be unprepared to deal with the needed 
social problems that the developing network would create if such 
issues were not treated seriously by government support for 
needed research and study. Also one of the writers pointed out 
that the power struggle that would go on behind the scenes would 
be very fierce, but that those who hoped for a democratic 
development of the communications network might be blinded by 
that hope from recognizing and properly dealing with the fierce 
power battle. And most recently a similar concern was raised by a 
political scientist from the Kennedy School of Government about 
the need to have a government regulatory structure rather than a 
private nonprofit corporation as a model for the operation and 
protection of the essential and controlling functions of the 
Internet. She also pointed out that there were procedures in 
government like doing an FBI check on someone being appointed to 
a regulatory commission position and holding them responsible
for honest activity or else subjecting them to criminal 
charges. These kinds of structures were created to protect those 
whose economic livelihood is dependent upon the regulators who 
have great power. Thus she noted that the kind of situation being 
created with regard to the Internet will give great power to 
those who have no means of oversight to stop their abuse of such 
power. The kind of private nonprofit corporation now being 
created to regulate the Names and Numbers functions of the Internet 
(ICANN) will make it possible for certain individuals to exercise great 
economic power over people around the world while there are none of 
the historically developed protections that governments have been 
created to provide.

     The research I am proposing will be to examine the role 
played by government (especially the U.S. government, but if 
possible other governments as well) in the development of the 
Internet. And there will be an effort to identify the role needed 
to continue that development. Also I will try to examine the 
kind of political forces at play which are either trying to 
determine the proper government role or to thwart these efforts.

     Other draft papers about the development of the Net and of UNIX are 
online at 
    For NSF Office of Inspector General Report, see:

           Netizens: On the History and Impact
                of Usenet and the Internet
        and in print edition ISBN # 0-8186-7706-6

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