[Air-l] Re: Air-l digest, NSF, Science Communication, and Google

Sheri Repucci smr at umich.edu
Mon May 24 08:29:36 PDT 2004

Regarding the conversation Art sparked about how it came about that a 
taxpayer-funded service turned into a commercial venture...

The underlying assumption of this question, that the Internet was solely a 
taxpayer-funded technology, is not strictly accurate.  The NSFNet project 
(the project that transferred the Internet technology from the academic sphere 
to the public sphere between 1987 and 1995) was a partnership between Merit, 
the State of Michigan, IBM and MCI.  Tax dollars certainly funded Merit's work 
as lead on the NSFNet project and Michigan's donation to the NSFNet project, but 
MCI paid for the underlying circuits of the national infrastructure during that 
time and IBM paid for router development and hardware costs.  IBM and MCI's 
financial contributions during the NSFNet project were enormous.  Their part in 
the funding of the Internet's transfer to the larger society was essential and 
should not be discounted.  

A 1990 IBM publication entitled "NSFNET - The National Science Foundation Computer 
Network for Research and Education" quotes Steve Wolff (then Deputy Director at 
NSF, overseeing the NSFNet project) as saying "Merit tells us that the true worth 
of the five-year [NSFNet] agreement is somewhere around $40-$50 million, of which 
only $14 million comes from NSF" (pg 14).

-Sheri Repucci

Andy's response to Art:
>2> Your question - "if the taxpayers paid for it, why do we allow
>corporations and private individuals to get rich off of it?" - forces
>us to confront two fundamental political questions: Who is the "we"?
>And in what ways do we "allow"? Speaking for myself, I pay a
>corporation, Verizon, 50 bucks a month so I can get fast, stable access
>to the Internet. I don't know if they're getting rich off that or not,
>but I do it because they have the equipment and expertise to keep me
>connected. I assume other Verizon customers feel the same way. But this
>is a market-based conception of how we exercise power, probably not
>exactly what you had in mind, but I'm not sure.

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