THE DEFENSE ADVANCED Re- search Projects Agency launched the ARPANET project in 1968 and the In- ternet project in 1973.
In 1980, the National Science Foundation (NSF) sponsored the development of CSNETa to connect a number of
computer science departments together that had not already been connected
to the ARPANET. Using a mix of dial-up
phone connections, public X. 25 packet
network services, and access to the ARPANET, the CSNET was the programmatic forerunner of the National Science Foundation Network (NSFNET).
The NSFNET project had an enormous influence on the evolution of
the Internet. The 1985 NSFNET connected five NSF-sponsored supercomputer centers together in a 56
kilobit/second network.b A critical
and controversial decision made by
NSF was to use the TCP/IP protocols
for the NSFNET backbone. Then,
the International Organization for
Standardization’s Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) protocolsc were
widely thought to be the direction for
international computer networking.
By 1987, this networkd had become
congested and NSF began a new 1.5
megabit/second development in
1988 through a consortium led by
MERIT,e IBMf and MCI,g which would
later yield operation to the non-profit organization, Advanced Networks
and Servicesh (ANS).
Taking advantage of the multi-
network architecture of the Internet,
NSF underwrote the creation of eight
regional networksi that would ser-
vice some 4,000 universities in the
U.S. and connect them to the NSF-
NET backbone. In addition, NSF ini-
tiated an International Connections
program to underwrite the cost of
international links between NSFNET
and other research networks around
Also in 1988, the U.S. Federal Research Internet Coordinating Council
approved the interconnection of the
commercial MCI Mail systemj with the
NSFNET, allowing commercial traffic to flow on the U.S. Government-sponsored backbones, including ARPANET, NSFNET, the Department of
Energy’s ESNETk and NASA’s NSINET.l
Federal Internet Exchange (FIX) points
were created to link these networks to
By 1989, three commercial Internet backbone suppliers emerged:
UUNET,m Performance Systems International (PSINETn) and the California
Education and Research Federation
Networko (CERFnet) and they were
interconnected to each other by their
Commercial Internet Exchange analog of the Federal versions and were
also connected to the NSFNET.
Traffic grew dramatically and the
NSFNET backbone was upgraded to
45Mb/s in 1992. The next year, the
High Performance Computing and
High Performance Networking Ap-
i BARRNet, Merit, MIDnet, NCAR, NorthWest-
Net, SESQUINE T, SURAnet, and Westne
plications Act of 1993p was passed
which incorporated provision for
commercial traffic transiting the U.S.
Government backbones. By 1994, it
was becoming apparent that commercial networking was rapidly developing. NSF sponsored the creation of
four Network Access Pointsq (NAP) setting the stage for the termination of the
NSFNET by interconnecting all the intermediate level networks to the NAPs
and thus remaining interconnected to
each other. The notion of NAPs evolved
to become Internet eXchange Points
(IXP) where many component networks could interconnect with each
other and the larger Internet.
In 1995, the NSFNET backbone
was retired. Its network research support functions were taken over by the
Very High Speed Broadband Network
Service (vBNS) operated by MCI and
by Internet2, an academic consortium.r NSF continues its vigorous
support for network research to this
day, spinning off new technologies
leading to new commercial networking offerings. We collectively owe
much to the foresight and nuanced
decisions taken by the leadership of
NSF’s Computer, Information Systems and Engineering Directorates
(CISE) and its Division of Computer
and Network Systems.
q one in New York operated by Sprint, one in
Washington, D.C. operated by MFS, one in
Chicago operated by Ameritech, and one in
California operated by Pacific Bell.
In Debt to the NSF
DOI: 10.1145/3313989 Vinton G. Cerf
Vinton G. Cerf is vice president and Chief Internet Evangelist
at Google. He served as ACM president from 2012–2014.
Copyright held by author.