An unreliable history of the Internet.

By Tom Worthington FACS

Visiting Fellow, Department of Computer Science, Australian National University

For the course Perspectives on Computing (COMP1200), 1 Mat 2006, Canberra (Modified from 2004 version).

Tom Worthington is a Visiting Fellow in the Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology at the Australian National University. He is an electronic business consultant, author of the book Net Traveller and information technology professional, with 21 years experience.


The web is just one aspect of the Internet, which in turn is but an application of computers and telecommunications. Much of it is attributed to the web is really about the older Internet and that in turn comes from 50 years of development of electronic computers. Telecommunications using morse code telegraphy has a history of one hundred years. Many of the issues now confronting us with the web were known in the age of the telegraph.

Technological developments are not inevitable, nor foreseeable. There are currently great uncertainties over wireless broadband. Looking at the history of technology and , more importantly, the way people react to technology, can remove some of the uncertainty.

The Official History of the Internet

Adapted from Hobbes' Internet Timeline v5.5, by Robert H'obbes' Zakon :

The Internet in Australia

Adapted from A Brief History of the Internet in Australia by Roger Clarke, (5 May 2001):

About the mid-1970s, during the ARPANET's early years, a few Australians made spasmodic connections to it via the international dial-up service offered by the then Australian Overseas Telecommunications Commission (OTC).

From the mid-1970s onwards, Robert Elz at the University of Melbourne, and Bob Kummerfeld and Piers Lauder at the University of Sydney ran the very successful Australian Computer Science network (ACSnet).


In the early 1980s, a permanent Australian email connection to the U.S. ARPAnet was established. In 1984, the Top Level Domain (TLD) .au was delegated to Robert Elz, at Melbourne University.

In the mid-1980s, Geoff Huston at ANU contributed an email gateway from the ACSnet mail delivery system into the DEC VAX/VMS systems that had come to dominate University computer installations.

Geoff Huston was transferred from the ANU to the AVCC in March 1989, as the initial Technical Manager of the network. He worked with Robert Elz, Robin Erskine and Ken McKinnon to prepare a financial, technical and business plan that was acceptable to the AVCC and its constituency.


In May/June 1989, the NASA / University of Hawaii ... on 23 June 1989 in Robert Elz's lab at the Uni. of Melbourne (although it was still 22 June at the other end of the link in Hawai'i), ... The international link was supplemented by a 48Kbps link to the ANU in August 1989, a 9.6Kbps link to the University of Sydney in August 1989, and a 48Kbps link to the University of Adelaide in October 1989.

The emergent scheme was referred to as the Australian Academic & Research Network (AARNet). The participants comprised the universities and the CSIRO. The remaining Australian University and CSIRO connections were completed over a 4 week period in April-May, 1990. Individual sites were responsible for the management of their own connections to the AARNet routers.

Early 1990

In 1990, Geoff Huston became responsible for the second-level domain (passed to AuDA somewhen between 1999 and 2001) and (1990s, passed to the Commonwealth government). Robert Elz continues to manage .au, and the ACSNet domain,, and is also still registrar of the domains (for people) and

Western Australia's DIALix claims to have been offering services commercially in Perth as early as 1989. Pegasus Networks' offered public dialup access to the Internet in Australia, commencing in June 1989 with local access, and moving to nationwide access from 14 September 1989.


In mid-1995, AVCC transferred its commercial customers, associated assets, and the management of interstate and international links to Telstra. Telstra thereby acquired the whole of the infrastructure that at that stage constituted 'the Internet in Australia'.

In 1996, as a response to the explosive growth in registrations, Robert Elz gave a non-exclusive 5-year licence to Melbourne IT, in return for which it undertook to perform the administration of

Late 1990s

In mid-1997, AARNet2 (not to be confused with Internet2!) was deployed as a national private ATM-based network, linking the eight RNOs by high-capacity dedicated bandwidth, having the capability of carrying voice and video traffic as well as data. Among other things, AARNet2 enabled, before the end of the decade, the implementation of voice over IP (voIP) within and between universities and the CSIRO.

A personal History of the Internet

On Sat, 19 Mar 1994 09:22:37 GMT I sent an announcement on-line that I was going on holiday. on my return I prepared a web page of my trip, which combined a travelogue and commentary about the developing network. In 1999 I published a book of my first five years working on-line, made up of edited versions of web pages:

This formula worked well and I used it to prepare and disseminate public policy about networking and develop policy for the Defence Department. Most of my work has been web related, or at least used the web since then, including on-line consultant reports and university teaching. The technical travelogues have continued, with "live" web reports transmitted from ships, aircraft and high speed trains.

Most recently I have strayed into the area of Interactive TV, where broadcasters have failed to learn the lessons of history. They are taking a technological path which ignores the social lessons we leant with the Internet and are likely to repeat the crash as a result.

Future History of the Internet: Broadband Wireless

The Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, released terms of reference for an inquiry into wireless broadband technologies on 4 April 2002:

The Standing Committee, chaired by MHR Christopher Pyne, has been asked to conduct an inquiry into the current and potential use of wireless technologies (including wireless LAN, 3G, Bluetooth, LMDS and Wireless Local Loop) to provide broadband communications in Australia.

Broadband technology is widely considered to be a crucial driver in ensuring that Australia derives maximum economic and social benefit from the information economy. It is also clear, both here and overseas, that both fixed and mobile wireless technologies provide a real opportunity to offer affordable broadband solutions for residential and business users, competing strongly with DSL and cable based delivery systems.

From:WIRELESS BROADBAND TERMS OF REFERENCE, Media release 75/02, 4 April 2002

But what are wireless LAN, 3G, Bluetooth, LMDS and Wireless Local Loop and why are they important? How might be better than DSL and cable based delivery systems, and what are they? What is the nation's current broadband strategy? What is broadband? These are issues for future IT professionals, such as students of this course to help decide. For thoughts see: Wireless broadband technologies, IT issues on 666 ABC Canberra Drive with Keri Phillips, Wednesday 8 May 2002 at 5:50pm

Postscript 2003: Grid Computing next big thing?

This material was first preapred and presented in May 2002. By May 2003 it appeared that wireless technology will not be the next big thing in the history of the Internet. While wireless will be used and raises some interesting issues it is not creating a revolution. So what else might create a revolution?

The Grid may be the next Internet. The grid is a small experimental system made up of supercomputers connected together by high speed networks. The Grid was established for support of "big" science: physics, chemistry and life sciences needed large amounts of computer power. In a way the Grid sounds like the early Internet, but will it be successful and be more than just a science experiment?

The Australian part of the Grid is GrangeNet:

GrangeNet (GRid And Next GEneration Network) is a 3-year program that will install, operate and develop a multi-gigabit network to support grid and advanced communications services. The program started on 1 March 2002. ...

The GrangeNet network comprises 10 gigabit backbone linking Melbourne, Canberra, and Sydney and 5 gigabits into Brisbane. A range of advanced services are available to users.

From: About GrangeNet, URL:

GrangetNet is in part located at the ANU. One of the ordinary looking computer science tutorial rooms is to be made into a multimedia GrangeNet node. One of the GrangeNet applications is not about hard science, but the arts:

Australian Creative Resources Archives

The Australian Creative Resources Archives (ACRA) is a pilot project which will build into a nationally distributed, standardized, high-bandwidth digital archive that makes "waste" materials from Australian cultural production processes available to researchers, the education sector more generally, and to commercial content developers. This "waste" material is often of very high quality and can therefore be of great value to many people and groups in the community, greatly accelerating the production and quality of Australian broadband content. ...

From: Australian Creative Resources Archives - Proposal for the pilot phase, 18 May 2002, URL:

Within a few months it may be possible to search video content in the Brisbane ACRA archive from the ANU in Canberra and watch the results as a custom wide screen cinema quality movie transmitted over GrangeNet. That might become the new "killer application" for the next Internet and one ANU students may help make the future history of the Internet.

Postscript 2004: Mobile Computing

The issues of SPAM, content regulation and viruses on the Internet are likely to occur again in the next few years with mobile telephones. A new generation of mobile telephones have sophisticated features for Internet and web-like services. With this sophistication comes the risk of the same social and technical problems which have arisen with the Internet. It appears we will repeat those mistakes with mobile technology.

Further Information

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