In Debt to the NSF

Vinton G. Cerf

“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.”


Communications of the ACM, April 2019, Vol. 62 No. 4, Page 5
Cerf’s up : “In Debt to the NSF”
By Vinton G. Cerf

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency launched the ARPANET project in 1968 and the Internet project in 1973.


In 1980, the National Science Foundation (NSF) sponsored the development of CSNET 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 super-computer centers together in a 56 kilobit/second network. 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) protocols were widely thought to be the direction for international computer networking. By 1987, this network had become congested and NSF began a new 1.5 megabit/second development in 1988 through a consortium led by MERIT, IBM and MCI, which would later yield operation to the non-profit organization, Advanced Networks and Services (ANS).

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About the Author:

Vinton G. Cerf is vice president and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google. He served as ACM president from 2012–2014.

Webmaster’s Note: See in particular this article’s footnotes for details on various aspects of the early Internet.