The History of the Internet

The Internet was an outgrowth of an effort by the U.S. Defense Department to improve the ability of their research scientists to communicate with one another. In 1969, they established ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency) which created the ARPAnet, a 4-computer network which allowed scientists to transmit information from one remotely located computer to the other.

The ARPAnet grew quickly. By 1971 it linked almost 2 dozen sites, including Harvard and MIT. It had over 200 sites by 1974. The most critical product of ARPA was the communications protocols called TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol) and (Internet Protocol), which allowed computers with different operating systems to communicate with one another. This solved the incompatibility problem which has plagued the computer world and made it difficult for computers to serve as information-transmitting devices up till then.

In the late 1980’s, the National Science Foundation created their own network and made it available to everyone, but its complexity effectively made it usable only by computer science students and university professors. Then in 1991, legislation proposed by Al Gore, then a U.S. Senator, proposed broadening the network to include more schools and colleges and to allow businesses to purchase part of the network for commercial use. This legislation provided the impetus for expanding the Internet for use by society in general.

In 1993, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications released the first graphical Web browser, which meant that commands could be executed by clicking on graphic icons with a mouse, instead of typing long cumbersome codes and commands. This simplified the Internet and made it usable by the public at large.

In 1994, Netscape Communications released the first commercially viable Internet browser, Netscape Navigator. Microsoft Corporation, the 800 pound gorilla of the computer industry, released their Internet browser, Internet Explorer, soon after. These two browsers currently dominate the market, with Internet Explorer gradually increasing its market share. Recent efforts by Microsoft to integrate their Web browser with their Windows operating system and to claim that one requires the other led to charges by the Justice Department that Microsoft was illegally trying to monopolize the web browser market. If one accepts Microsoft’s claim that their browser and operating system are inseparable, how do they explain the fact that one can install their browser on Apple Computers, which have completely different operating systems?

If the court accepts the Justice Departments claim that Microsoft is illegally attempting to monopolize the browser market, this could lead to either sanctions against Microsoft, regulation of them as a type of public utility because of their overwhelming market dominance, or a breakup of the company along the lines of the Standard Oil breakup of the early twentieth century. Any of these outcomes will have huge implications for the Internet.

The Internet in Education

As shown in the 1998 Internet Usage in Public Schools Resource Materials, Internet usage is growing in the public schools in the same manner it is growing in all segments of society. While I think all can agree that the quantity of Internet use is growing in the schools, its quality of use is still the major unknown as school districts all over the country scramble to upgrade their Internet access to keep pace with the ever more rapidly improving technology. In this sense, schools face the same dilemma as businesses and the general public do in that the equipment they purchase is oftentimes already obsolete by the time they purchase it. My school for example has a computer lab with Internet access and most teacher’s computers have Internet access in their respective rooms. However since the school uses a network hub instead of a more efficient network switch, during peak hours, Internet access becomes as slow as molasses and hardly worth using.

In conclusion I believe that educators must utilize the medium in which young people receive most of their information through, namely television, films and the media. I believe that the intelligent use of these mediums in student’s instruction is crucial to the success of public education. The growing convergence between television, film, audio and Internet technologies will hopefully produce a synergy that will provide a much needed boost to education in general.

Peter Honan