Anthony J. Pennings, PhD


Early Internationalization of the Internet

Posted on | September 18, 2019 | No Comments

A conference was organized in 1972 to bring network engineers and computer scientists from around the world together to discuss the future of data communications. It was held in Washington DC and primarily provided a showcase for the ARPANET, the first data packet network. Funded by the Pentagon’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) and built by BBN in the late 1960s, the ARPANET was struggling with operational costs and was becoming somewhat of an albatross for its handlers. Meanwhile, it was attracting the attention of the research community and some telecommunications operators, primarily from Europe, that saw the potential of connecting computers.

In October 1972, the IEEE’s First International Conference on Computers and Communications began at the Hilton Hotel. Organized by Bob Kahn of BBN and supported by Larry Roberts at ARPA, the conference sparked a major discussion of what the ARPANET could do and where it was heading. A number of ideas were discussed concerning future uses and implementation of the ARPANET, including its integration with other networks around the world. It’s objectives were to show off the ARPANET’s capabilities and perhaps unload the network to a research institute or the private sector.

Researchers from many countries eagerly attended the conference. One of the major concerns was voiced by representatives from those nations who wanted to implement their own packet-switching networks. French representatives for example were planning a packet-switching network called CYCLADES and the British had their own network independently designed by the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in 1971. Even in the US, a group of disgruntled employees had left BBN in July 1972 and formed Packet Communications Incorporated, expressing concerns that BBN was commercializing too slowly.

Like most conferences, graduate students were crucial to its success. Bob Metcalfe was working on his PhD at Harvard (and future inventor of Ethernet and founder of 3Comm) and assigned the task of compiling a list of uses for the ARPANET. He queried the administrators of ARPANET, many of which he knew because of his participation in the project. He then wrote a manuscript called Scenarios, which listed 19 things to do with the ARPANET. The list included activities such as Remote Job Entry (RJE) as well as games and symbolic manipulation of mathematical formulas. Many of which would be demonstrated at the conference.

The ICCC of 1972 was the first major demonstration of ARPANET and Metcalfe was an obvious choice to demonstrate the fledgling computer network at the conference. An IMP was set up in Georgetown Ballroom of the Hilton Hotel and terminals were set up around the room. Kahn had requested participation from the various nodes of the network and universities which ARPA was funding. Together they included some thirty universities such as Carnegie Melon, Harvard, Hawaii, Illinois, MIT, New York University, USC, and Utah, as well as AMES, BBN, MITRE, and RAND. One major objective of the conference was to shop the network to interested private concerns and/or unload the operational aspects of the facilities. They saw its potential as a commercial operation licensed with the FCC as a specialized common carrier and providing packet-switched data communications to corporate and other clients.

An obvious candidate for taking over the ARPANET was AT&T. Ten executives from AT&T scheduled a meeting with Metcalfe that he recounts with visible anger. Partway into the demonstration, the IMP crashed. The AT&T executives appeared visibly pleased and laughed, reassured that this new technology would be no threat to the largest network in the world. Bob Metcalfe never forgave them. He went on to Hawaii to learn the AlohaNet radio packet broadcasting system and then incorporated those ideas into Ethernet at Xerox PARC.

It would was the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) that would play the next important role in the adoption of packet-switching technologies.

To get some perspective of what the Internet has transformed into, view this video by



AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. Before joining SUNY, he taught at Hannam University in South Korea and from 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, Marist College in New York, and Victoria University in New Zealand. He has also spent time as a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.


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