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Correcting the Record: the Government's Role In the Internet 257

TwobyTwo writes "Yesterday, Slashdot posted a piece titled Who Really Invented the Internet?. It quoted a Wall Street Journal article with the same title by Gordon Crovitz. Crovitz makes the claim that government research did not play a key role in driving the invention of the Internet, giving credit instead to Xerox PARC. Unfortunately, Crovitz' article is wrong on many specific points, and he's also wrong in his key conclusion about the government's role. In a wonderful piece in the LA Times Michael Hiltzik corrects the record. Hiltzik, who is the author of an excellent book about PARC called Dealers of Lightning, makes clear that government funded research was indeed the foundation for the Internet's success."
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Correcting the Record: the Government's Role In the Internet

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  • Funded with tax payer dollars. You're welcome government. But your still not allowed to steal my freedoma!
  • by cpu6502 ( 1960974 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @09:31AM (#40748461)

    Government is good for funding basic R&D and jumpstarting new technology and ideas. But then it should step out of the way, and handover the task to thousands of private businesses in the open market, rather than continue to hold a monopoly.

    The internet is an example of a well-managed government project where the government stepped-aside when the time was right. (As opposed to other government projects like the Amtrak Monopoly that should have been sold to Conrail or some other profitable rail company years ago.)

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by SJHillman ( 1966756 )

      "a well-managed government project"

      Gave me shivers down my spine.

      • "a well-managed government project"

        Gave me shivers down my spine.

        Hey, even a one in a million chance will come through now and then...

      • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @09:53AM (#40748715) Homepage

        Although this may seem hard for conservatives to believe, there is such a thing as a government program that does its job well: The VA, for instance, manages health care with less overhead than either private insurers or Medicare. The US Coast Guard does a great deal of lifesaving and policing while operating on a shoestring budget. The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau recently published information on bad credit card companies with probably about 2-4 people (1 web developer, a webserver in a datacenter they probably already had, and a couple people to analyse the complaints).

        Of course, contrary to what some liberals believe, not all government works well: DoD procurement is ridiculous ($5000 hammers aren't totally uncommon), highway projects are notoriously corrupt, and some agencies accomplish very little. But saying that all government is mismanaged is just as wrong as saying that all government is well-managed.

        • by nbauman ( 624611 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @10:10AM (#40748949) Homepage Journal

          Not only does the VA manage health care cheaper than private industry, they do it better in terms of the results that count: keeping people healthier.

          For example, the VA system does a lot of prostate cancer surgery. They just published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine (367:203 if you want to look it up) in which they found that surgery for prostate cancer (radical prostatectomy) in most cases doesn't really do any good. The price you pay is that half the men who get prostate cancer surgery wind up sexually impotent.

          The VA system does a lot of research on outcomes of different treatments. For a lot of surgery, if you want to find out whether a procedure does any good, and you look up the research, it turns out that the VA did it. And some of the VA hospitals have the best results in the country.

          In the private health care system, there are surgeons who rush everybody into surgery, whether they need it or not, because they make $10,000 or so for every procedure. In the VA hospital, they only perform surgery on those vets who actually need it.

          • I remember arguing with people over "Obamacare" when it was working it's way through Congress. My friends on the right side of the spectrum had a hard time believing that the VA ranked number one in terms of patient satisfaction, Medicare was ranked second, and private insurance/health care was last. Cross reference that with the amounts of money spent for each one of those programs and it seems obvious that government does a pretty good job of providing health care.

            Granted, the reputation the VA had earn

            • by nbauman ( 624611 )

              Patient satisfaction is a soft endpoint. Patients can't always tell whether their treatment did them more good than harm. Patients get unnecessary and devastating surgery (for prostate cancer, for example) and insist that the surgery saved their life.

              The VA did scientific medicine. They were doing a lot of surgery, etc., and they wanted to find out whether the treatments were actually effective. When they did surgery for prostate cancer, colon cancer, or heart disease, did the surgery actually extend the pa

        • by sohmc ( 595388 )

          Although this may seem hard for conservatives to believe, there is such a thing as a government program that does its job well...

          Yes, this is very true. However, these tend to be the exception and not the rule.

          The VA works well because the customers are limited. The US Coast Guard does a great job because their mission scope is small (compared to the other service branches). But when the government gets into anything that has a wide scope, that's when things get inefficient.

          My parents own a carry-o

          • But they can't help but wonder how many of these people would still require food stamps if they sold their car.

            And once the money from the car runs out, they're right back on food stamps. Except that they now either lack a car, which makes it far less likely that they'll find a job, or drive an older car which gets worse mileage and higher maintenance costs.

            Insisting that people exhaust all their resources before they are eligible for receiving help is understandable, but it's also stupid.

          • But they can't help but wonder how many of these people would still require food stamps if they sold their car.

            Most of them. A static $20,000 can buy certain things, but is a poor investment vehicle. It is not larger enough to earn actual income (since even with good work, rate of return isn't usually above 12%, or a $2400/year salary). The best bet would be to start a small business, but the failure rate of small businesses is 85% in the first year. The time commitment would mean they would probably need to leave whatever job they have. They might be able to sidestep this by using the money as an infusion into

          • But when the government gets into anything that has a wide scope, that's when things get inefficient.

            That's still not true. Take Social Security: They pay out to 61 million people spending less than 0.5% on overhead. Or Medicare, which despite its many flaws provides health care to 47 million people with less than 5% overhead (the private insurers were upset with the rule that they couldn't have higher than 20%).

            Some possible answers to your "food stamps but nice cars" situation:
            1. They bought a car when they had a good job, but took out a loan to do it. If they sell the car, they lose the car, but the ent

        • by tomhath ( 637240 )
          VA is a lot better at providing care and managing costs than they were about 20 years ago. They also have a couple of built in advantages over other healthcare providers, a large part is that VA hospitals and physicians don't need malpractice insurance because they're immune from malpractice lawsuits.
    • task to thousands of private businesses in the open market, rather than continue to hold a monopoly.

      yeah, businesses don't eventually end up being a monopoly.
      http://johncarlosbaez.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/the-network-of-global-corporate-control/ [wordpress.com]

      • by garett_spencley ( 193892 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @09:56AM (#40748769) Journal

        There are two types of monopolies:

        1) A company is so good at satisfying it's customers that it eliminates it's competition by providing value in the marketplace.

        2) A company gets special privileges and favours from the government, including increased regulations of it's own industry. Because when you're a huge corporation with billions in annual revenue and a team of lawyers and lobbyists on staff full-time, complying with regulations that cost mere millions per year is a small tax in exchange for an environment in which it's impossible for start-ups - who only have mere millions in start-up capital to begin with - to enter the market and compete with you. Best part, your team of lawyers and lobbyists can actually be the ones to suggest specific regulations to the politicians who are in your pocket, so you get rules that are cheap for you to follow but prohibitively expensive for others. And those regulations are extremely easy to pass because as well all know, corporations aren't regulated enough!

        • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

          Any company that can't be ignored or is too big to fail is a problem. It's a strategic national interest problem as well as being a menace to consumers.

          It doesn't matter if you want to pretend that it represents some sort of twisted meritocracy or not.

        • I think you could add #3

          A company is the first player in a market with a very high barrier to entry.

        • There are two types of monopolies:

          Smells like free market fundemantalism here.

          To translate into English: either companies are so awesome they become monopolies or the evil government forces monopolies from bad companies. Either way, it's the corporations awesomeness when it is good and the government's fault when it is bad.

          That is, of course bullshit.

          Large companies, like, for instance Intel and Microsoft that are in a dominant position can force out the competition using unfair business practices which mer

    • by Schmorgluck ( 1293264 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @09:53AM (#40748713)

      (As opposed to other government projects like the Amtrak Monopoly that should have been sold to Conrail or some other profitable rail company years ago.)

      What's the point in turning a government monopoly into a corporate monopoly?

      You're aware that there can't be two railway networks on a given territory, right?

      Opening the trains to competition, okay, but the tracks are a natural monopoly, and should remain under control of the People, through an entity that is accountable to it. A corporate monopoly isn't accountable to the People.

    • by cwgmpls ( 853876 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @10:03AM (#40748843) Journal

      f handing manufacturing over to private business is the right strategy, then Obama was on the right track when he tried to move solar panel production out of government-funded research labs and into private business production. While initially funded with start-up grants, Solyndra was to eventually produce and sell solar panels in the open market. Of course, nobody could have predicted that China would flood the solar panel market with Chinese-government subsidized, Chinese-made panels that no open market firm could compete with.

      Still, Obama was on the right track to try to move production into private industry rather than create another federal agency to make solar panels. If solar panel production had remained a federal agency project, the production likely would have continued long after the Chinese dumped their own panels on the market, costing U.S. taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars more as the federal-run production would continue even when the market was unprofitable. As it was, Solyndra folded, as any private business in an unprofitable market should, and the loss to the taxpayer was minimized. Moving producing to Solyndra was exactly the free-market strategy that everyone asks for, and was the right thing to do.

    • Amtrak is the opposite: passenger rail in the U.S. was private for years (well, quasi-private, if we ignore the land grants used to build the rail lines). But with the decline of intercity rail travel, the rail companies wanted to get out of the business, and Amtrak was set up to consolidate and operate a rump service, mainly focused on keeping rural areas connected. The biggest proponents were actually the private rail companies, who wanted a clean exit strategy (aka dump the mess on the government). Congressmen/Senators representing rural areas were also large proponents of the plan at the time, as they were worried about losing their town's stop.

      Conrail has no interest in running passenger rail, since freight is far more profitable. There are more or less three options.

      One is to shut it down entirely.

      A second is to break it up, leaving it to states to operate local portions if they want. This is slowly being done to some extent on the funding side, as Amtrak cuts routes but has a program where they'll agree to keep operating a cut route if a state wants to pay for it. For example, the Vermonter in Vermont, and two routes in California are now operated by Amtrak as contractor on behalf of the respective states.

      A third is the Scandinavian option, of a publicly funded but privately operated system: the government draws up what routes it wants operated and at what fares, and then opens it up for companies to bid how much of a subsidy they would need to operate the system as proposed (this is the arrangement under which, e.g., Movia operates the Copenhagen bus system).

    • LOL. Trying to repair your karma after spouting just the opposite sentiment yesterday in the other article's discussion? Today the government is good at kickstarting things yet yesterday you were telling us how terrible the government was. I see you also dropped your nonsense about the airlines since it was pointed out how they've been bailed out and are heavily subsidized.

  • by windcask ( 1795642 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @09:33AM (#40748509) Homepage Journal

    ...you didn't build that!

  • The technical community may have invented the Internet, but it was the users who made it valuable by entrusting to it their time, money, and content. The users made a huge investment, and while that investment has paid off handsomely, let's not pretend that technologists invented all that valuable content.
    • I don't know of anyone that is arguing the government invented the full internet. The argument is that the internet would not exist in its current format if not for government (or, more accurately, government investment). And the format that it would exist in would not be even close to the current implementation in its usefulness and ability to spur the economy (efficiency boost).

      The reason this argument started is that conservatives have been arguing that all productivity and innovation comes from capita

    • For the better part of two decades the Arpanet/Internet connected largely government and academia. The majority of users were, one way or the other, having some or all of their salaries and duties covered by the governments of several countries, though the US government was the biggest contributor.

      The Internet was already well established by the time regular consumers started connecting to it in the early 1990s.

  • by zlives ( 2009072 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @09:36AM (#40748539)

    as James Holmes would say "government is bad... mkay" (he is from Colorado (the tea party guy, I am looking at you ABC), and what i know about Colorado is from south park)

    lets keep our politics about vaginas, homosexuality and god... leave technology out of it, because unlike religion and politics we actually have facts and historically accurate records of technology.

  • WSJ and Gartner (Score:5, Insightful)

    by querist ( 97166 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @09:55AM (#40748741) Homepage
    It looks like both WSJ and Gartner have both long since jumped the shark. I was in university in the 80s. Anyone who was at large university in the 1980s would have been there to "watch the Internet happen", so to speak. BITNET, ARPANET, MILNET - how can these "reporters" (and yes, I used 'scare quotes' intentionally) hope to be taken seriously when there are plenty of people still alive who were there when the whole thing started? At least wait until most of us have died off before trying to rewrite history like that. Amateurs.
  • I think it is pretty obvious that ARPANet was the precursor to the internet and government funded research is responsible for the internet. But I do recall being sold home access to the internet as early as 1994, perhaps it was even earlier. By commercialization they must mean Al Gore's bill that allowed unsolicited advertising over the internet. Can anyone clarify this for me?

    Were the merchants of internet connectivity in the early 1990's breaking some regulation?

    PS I can't really say the WSJ Editorials ha

    • Are you possibly remembering services like CompuServe, AOL, Prodigy, GEnie, or the like? While they provided "online" access they weren't the internet. They were more like gated communities.

  • by DaMattster ( 977781 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @10:10AM (#40748947)
    My guess is that the article that was written in the Wall Street Journal might have had an ulterior motive but I cannot fathom why the author would want to plug for Xerox - could Xerox have offered some money to the author for such statements? Does Rupert have a vested interest in Xerox somehow?. I've noticed a disturbing trend over the last decade towards revisionist history. Some of this behavior is engaged in by politicians as well as leaders of racist and paramilitary cults. As an example, Iranian President Ahmadinejinad denies the Holocaust ever happened. Hitler used to have a saying that a lie repeated often enough becomes a truth and this is quite an accurate observation. This is particularly scary. I used to think that much of this was just poor journalism but now I'm not so sure. It is fairly widely known that the TCP/IP protocol was developed by DARPA.
    • by Trepidity ( 597 )

      My guess is that he was grasping for straws and Xerox PARC inventing Ethernet was the only remotely plausible thing he could come up with that actually originated in a private-sector research lab. There just weren't many corporations involved the early internet development, which was mainly a DARPA/NSF/university affair.

      BBN did have a significant role, and is a private company. But its role was as an ARPANET contractor, not only funded on a grant but working in close collaboration with national labs, ARPA,

  • by nbauman ( 624611 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @10:12AM (#40748973) Homepage Journal

    Gordon Crovitz lives in lower Manhattan around Wall Street. In fact, he lives near Zuccoti Park that Occupy Wall Street was camped out in.

    During the occupation, Crovitz appeared in the local Community Board hearings to argue that OWS should be kicked out because they were making too much noise and disturbing his sleep. Most of the people who came before the Community Board supported OWS (First Amendment and all that), and the Community Board voted to support OWS and let them stay in the park, although they asked OWS to try to keep it quiet at night. Crovitz published a whiny editorial page essay complaining about it.

    So Crovitz actually did say, "Hey you kids! Get off my lawn!"

  • Like other public goods, it makes sense for the US government to pay for basic research. And in the case of the Internet, the US government did. Unfortunately, that's a tiny fraction of the overall federal budget. In fact, while the US government paid for some of the research that formed the basis of the Internet, it also did a lot of damage. Packet communications, wireless communications, and digital online communications were being widely used by people such as ham operators and hobbyists for a long tim
  • by RogueWarrior65 ( 678876 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @10:12AM (#40748981)

    The key point here is that government didn't make it what it is today. Up until the mid 1980s, the commercial activity on the internet wasn't allowed. And for the next 25-30 years (hopefully longer) taxation stayed out of the equation. Anyone recall a government proposal to charge people for every e-mail sent? Just imagine where we'd be if that had be crammed down our throats. Government produces nothing. If you want to understand the real issue, ask yourself how many monthly fees you pay for things you don't use. Really look at all your monthly bills and add up the fees. And look at "basic charge" for stuff you don't use. Say you go on vacation for a month (6 weeks if you live in Europe). Even if you turned off the main breaker, main water line, main gas line to your house, you still pay those basic charges every month even though you're not using the product. Now imagine that a group of people comes along and says to you "We're going to start billing you every month for stuff you don't need and will never use. You have extra money. Suck it up." And then a year later they come to you and say "Remember that thing we're billing you for that you never use? Yeah, well our costs have tripled." "But why should I keep paying for that?!" you scream. "Well, we can't fire all those people we hired because unemployment will go up. And we can't cut their salaries or benefits either." "But I didn't agree to hire all those people or give them a raise!" you yell. "Tough. Cough it up."

  • While we're giving the government credit for its role in the Internet, let's not forget to give them credit for IP laws, censorship, taxation, regulation, email snooping, surveillance, and all those other wonderful benefits we get from the government.

  • Most people misunderstand Gordon Crovitz. They all assume he want to show that Xerox paid for the internet, not the government. That is not true. His main purpose is to provide a reference. Now many people will quote Crovitz to claim that it was private companies that built the internet. Initially it will be of the form, "there are some people who hold the view that the internet was built primarily by private companies". Slowly as it gets retold, and referenced and cited and sliced and diced, it will eventu
  • Private Corporations wrote the Constitution.

    Seriously, we're now at the point where any fool can print a story and it gets accepted as truth by those willing to believe anything that fits their worldview/ideology.

    Why don't these right wing nuts just combine their two religions into one and say "Private Companies Wrote the Bible and God is Private Companies" ?

No extensible language will be universal. -- T. Cheatham