Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Internet, net neutrality, regulation and business

I, among many, watched the Internet grow up, or at least portions of it.

In the '80s, when I was first exposed to it, it was mostly ARPAnet. Institutions had to apply to get on it, and to be approved you had to be somehow involved in research benefiting ARPA, the Advanced Research Project Agency (renamed after DARPA dropped 'Defense'). Overnight email was common, and you never quite knew whether an '@' address was going to work, or if you had to revert to a '!' path routing. The web was being thought about, but Gopher protocol worked. Anonymous FTP was allowed and popular for file (and, eventually, virus) dissemination. USENET was the information exchange method getting the most use, and it had some very good science and technology discussion groups and a whole bunch of "flame wars."

In the '90s, rules for hooking up to the nascent Internet were liberalized. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) popped up everywhere. Any geek with a rack of modems and a little business sense could open an ISP shop. The telephone company thought this was great, initially. They couldn't install new phone lines to ISPs fast enough. Nationwide ISPs appeared: America OnLine, Compuserve, Netzero... USENET became clogged with idiots, most of whom seemed to be interested in ASCII-encoded binary porn downloads. (Serious articles were written at the time about how the porn industry is always leading-edge in adoption of new technologies: video tape, DVDs, then the Internet. Ugh.)