WSJ Columnist Rejects Obama Assertion That Government Invented Internet

Monday, 23 Jul 2012 11:42 AM

By Patrick Hobin

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President Barack Obama’s recent claim that government research created the Internet is misguided and the real story is that government actually hindered the Internet’s progress, according to a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Lost in the controversy following Obama’s dig at entrepreneurs with the line, “You didn’t build that” was an error in fact that the government created the Internet, the column, written by Gordon Crovitz said.

Speaking of Obama, Crovitz wrote, “He justified elevating bureaucrats over entrepreneurs by referring to bridges and roads, adding: ‘The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all companies could make money off the Internet.’”

Crovitz then beats back the myth in detailing the government’s role in the genesis of the Internet, which was modest. “The federal government was involved, modestly, via the Pentagon's Advanced Research Projects Agency Network,” Crovitz wrote. “Its goal was not maintaining communications during a nuclear attack, and it didn't build the Internet. Robert Taylor, who ran the ARPA program in the 1960s, sent an email to fellow technologists in 2004 setting the record straight: ‘The creation of the Arpanet was not motivated by considerations of war. The Arpanet was not an Internet. An Internet is a connection between two or more computer networks.’”

In fact, according to Crovitz, Xerox deserves credit for the Internet.

“Vinton Cerf developed the TCP/IP protocol, the Internet's backbone, and Tim Berners-Lee gets credit for hyperlinks,” Crovitz wrote, “But full credit goes to the company where Mr. Taylor worked after leaving ARPA: Xerox. It was at the Xerox PARC labs in Silicon Valley in the 1970s that the Ethernet was developed to link different computer networks. Researchers there also developed the first personal computer (the Xerox Alto) and the graphical user interface that still drives computer usage today.”

Instead of leveraging the new technology, government allowed it to languish, Crovitz argued, citing economist Tyler Cowen, who wrote in 2005: "The Internet, in fact, reaffirms the basic free market critique of large government. Here for 30 years the government had an immensely useful protocol for transferring information, TCP/IP, but it languished . . .  In less than a decade, private concerns have taken that protocol and created one of the most important technological revolutions of the millennia."

Crovitz concluded that the invention of the Internet is wrongly mentioned as a success of big government. “It's also important to recognize that building great technology businesses requires both innovation and the skills to bring innovations to market,” Crovitz wrote. “As the contrast between Xerox and Apple shows, few business leaders succeed in this challenge. Those who do — not the government — deserve the credit for making it happen.”

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