The internet is an interconnection of millions of computer and other devices through wired networks and wireless networks. Several decades ago, the network had only a few number of computers connected. Today the internet is one of the largest phenomena in the world. The internet has become a core part in everyday life in that it touches on virtually every sector of the economy. For example, such areas as sales and marketing have fully embraced the use of information and communication technology (ICT). In addition, governments have also sought to enhance service provision to the citizens through the application of electronic government (e-government). The education sectors has also benefited enormously from the use of the internet following the success of such programs as online learning. Other areas of the economy that have also fully embraced the use of the internet include online advertising and online trade. According to Hafner (1998, p. 81), the importance of the internet today is huge and it is definitely the medium of the future. Currently, there are a series of news programmes on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) world service titled superpower. These programmes are looking at the power of the internet and exploring how the 20 years of the web have reshaped our lives. The internet began its fast growth in the mid 1990s as it was celebrating its 30 years of existence. This essay evaluates the factors that limited the growth of the internet in its early years and why eventually, these obstacles did not prevent its widespread growth.
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As part of an effort to develop a communications network that was robust, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) developed the internet in 1969 and it was known as ARPANET. It was developed by the US Department of Defence’s in conjunction with a number of universities to explore the possibility of a communication network that could survive a major military attack. As noted by Ruthfield, “one of its operational technologies called packet switching facilitated this.” (1995, p. 4). In packet switching technology, messages are broken down into pieces known as packets. The packets are then transmitted via various network routes which are available and are then joined together into the original message at the destination.
A number of factors limited the growth of the internet before 1995. One of the reasons was the intentions for which the network was designed. About 25 years ago, not many institutions had comprehended the full magnitude of the use of computers and information technology. Accordingly, the application of the internet was not given the seriousness that it deserves. Majority of the computers were to be found in research laboratories and the corporate information technology (IT). At the time no one thought that the Internet would contribute so much in our daily lives as it does today. According to Bill Gates, “the very idea of a ‘personal computer’ much less millions of them connected by a global network, seems absurd to all but a handful of enthusiasts.” One of the primary reasons for the development of the internet was to enable the various universities and government research institutions to work from any location and to share data. These were the first institutions to get interconnected with each other. In the late 1980’s, it was then switched over to the National Science Foundation (NSF); however, businesses and consumers were not incorporated as part of the network. The number of universities and consumers were very few so the network cover was limited both geographically and in the number of users. Today, the internet is used for more functions. It is used for communication through services like E-mail, dial up telephone calls and chatting. It is used for social networking. E-commerce is also a major use of the internet and not only through major sites such as eBay and Amazon. This utility created demand for the internet and businesses moved in to capitalize on this demand. Today these uses, which were not the intended purposes of the internet, make up most of the traffic that flows over the internet (Gates, 2000, par. 1).
High costs were also a one of the reasons for the slow growth of the internet pre-1995. The cost of a product or service is one of the main factors that affect its demand. Businesses will not adopt high expenditure if it cannot be recouped through sales or other revenue models. Between 1970 (when the internet was only one year old) and the late 1980s the cost of computer hardware, software and networking devices and other networking infrastructure was very high. In the late 80s, there were a few profit making institutions that were involved in internet services. These were companies such as UUNET and PSI (Performance Systems International). Many companies developed much interest to provide Internet services by the mid nineties. Hauben (2004, p. 14) notes that, “it was clear that, what the internet which was once an experimental technology was now a commercially viable business.” The increase in the number of service providers reduced the cost for the services. Also businesses could afford to offer the internet services at lower cost due to the economies of scale. That is, they were offering the services to large number of clients thus lowering the cost for the individual consumer. Another major factor that contributed to lower cost was the improved technologies in manufacture computer hardware and networking hardware. The prices of the standard PC continues to fall while the capabilities are constantly increasing. Therefore, the consumer gets more value for the same or less money. This combined with the vast uses of the internet creates an environment where more people are getting connected to the internet. The prices of web software went down too. Currently there are free web browsers, downloading tools and so on, with software companies getting their income from revenue models such as advertising and donations and affiliation
Another factor that limited the growth of the internet was the limited technological development. The state of hardware and software technology was basic, especially during the creation of the internet. At the invention of the internet and in the next years, the computers that were available were bulky, slow and expensive. For example, the first microprocessor was invented in 1771, two years after the internet, while the first personal computer was produced in 1981 by IBM. Currently, millions of the computers that are connected to the internet are portable devices; laptops, tablet PCs, PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants), and smart phones.
The lowly developed software technologies available during the first decades after the inception of the internet also limited its growth. During this period the networking protocols were being developed. For example, TCP/IP (Transport Control protocol/Internet Protocol) and other protocols were in their basic forms and weaknesses were continually being discovered and improvements being made. The first testing of the internet involved the transmission of only two characters before it crushed, Charley Kline at UCLA sent the first packets on ARPANET as he tried to connect to Stanford Research Institute on 29th October1969. The system crashed as he attempted to type the G in LOGIN. These limitations were solved through continued improvement and innovation. Currently the IP (Internet Protocol) version available is version 6. According to Michael Warfield, a senior researcher at X-Force Internet Security Systems, although Internet Protocol version 6 is not a panacea for internet security it offers a wide range of improved security features such as high resistant to malicious scans, providing inhospitable conditions to automated, scanning and self-propagating worms and hybrid threats (Warfield, n.d., par. 5). This protocol is by far superior to the versions that existed in the 1970s and 80s.
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Presently, the internet still faced by a variety of problems. One is security. The data and application system that are an integral part of the system face threats such as virus attacks, hacking threats and internally caused sabotage. The security problem is compounded by factors like their invisibility and remoteness attackers, the vast amount of time attackers have at their disposal, the automated nature of the threats, the large size of the network and the fact that the sources of the security threats are a part of the entire network. It also faces the problems in legal administration due to the wide geographical areas it covers each with its own laws and because it keeps evolving making it harder for laws to cover all aspects. Currently the internet still faces challenges that limit its spread. For example, costs of internet connections and infrastructure especially in the developing countries. The digital divide, according to Jane Wakefield, a technology reporter at the BBC, is a widening. The gap in access to technology between the world’s highly connected countries and the poor countries is still very wide. According to a graph from ITU that accompanied this Wakefield’s report, only 0.2% of the population in Myanmar is connected to the internet as compared to Iceland’s connectivity of 90.6 % (Wakefield, para 1).
The internet is one of the most encompassing facilities in the world today. It was created in 1969 as a mode of communication that could withstand a major military attack. Its initial use was supporting research between universities and government institutions. At that time, very few people would have expected it to develop into the global network it is today. The internet’s size and usage exploded in the late 1990. Before this, a number of factors limited its spread. The cost of computer hardware, software and networking infrastructure was one of the reasons. This problem was overcome through technological improvements in production and other business factors that lowered costs. Another factor was the undeveloped nature of hardware devices and software technologies. This problem was overcome through continued hardware and software technologies improvement and innovation with time. One major invention was the World Wide Web in the early 90s. The limited use of the internet by government research institutions and universities also hindered the rapid growth of the internet. Currently, the internet still faces a number of challenges such as security threats, problems in application of legal rules, privacy issues crimes and more.
Gates, B. 2000. Shaping the Internet Age. (Online). Web.
Hafner, K., 1998, Where wizards stay up late: the origins of the internet. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Hauben, R. 2004. The internet: on its international origins and collaborative vision. Amateur Computerist, Vol. 12, No. 2, pp. 13-16.
Ruthfield, S. 1995. The internet’s history and development from wartime tool to the fish-cam. Crossroads, Vol. 2, No. 1, p. 3-5.
Wakefield, J.World wakes up to digital divide. (Online). 2010. Web.
Warfield, H. Security Implications of IPv6. n. d. (Online). 2010. Web.