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The (Not So Smooth) Road to the Internet

by on July 28, 2011


While Internet history is a hot topic and the subject of numerous books and articles, bits and pieces of the story still come up in the records we review for declassification. The phenomenon and accomplishment that is the Internet has been such a successful endeavor that there have been many parents claiming credit for it. However, as the saying also goes, failure is an orphan. The document we present today is such an orphan (or so we think).

A reviewer at the Joint Referral Center, a component of the NDC that reviews DoD documents exclusively, identified this document as being significant to the story of the Internet. The reviewer was going through a record series known as ARPA Orders in the records of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (Record Group 330). ARPA (the Advanced Research Projects Agency, now known as DARPA with Defense added to the front of the organization title) was (and is) a part of the Office of the Secretary of Defense that dealt with research and development of advanced technologies. ARPA projects (formally called orders) centered on specific topics of research.

The document we present today is the originating documentation of ARPA Order Number 471, Computer Network and Time-Sharing Research, dated April 5, 1963. Joseph Licklider, ARPA’s Director of Behavioral Sciences Command and Control Research, prepared the two component program plans for ARPA Order 471: Computer Network and Time-Sharing Research (Program Plan 93) and Remote Stations and Programs for Computer Networks (Program Plan 95). The Computer Network and Time-Sharing Research was to be performed by UCLA, while the University of California Berkeley researched the Remote Station and Programs for Computer Networks. Program Plan 93 would have been one of several contracts placed under the heading of the California Computer Network.

Both components of ARPA Order Number 471 depended upon the use of the AN/FSQ-32 computer. The “Q-32”, as it became known in Internet lore, already had a mixed history at the time ARPA became interested in its use as a network component. Developed as a solid state replacement for the AN/FSQ-7 system that was the core of the U.S. Air Force Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE), the Q-32 was also used as a compiler for programming the AN/FSQ-31 system that lay at the heart of Strategic Air Command’s Automated Command and Control System (SACCS). The Q-32eventually did not go into series production to replace the AN/FSQ-7. The single Q-32 built was housed at the System Development Corporation at Santa Monica, California. (All of this information is available courtesy of Wikipedia).

An examination of the project folder (in essence a contract management folder) for ARPA Order Number 471 shows that this road to the Internet did not lead anywhere. After the expenditure of more than $5 million, ARPA Order Number 471 ended in 1970 with no results visible in the documentation available to us. Other lines of ARPA research ultimately led to the development of ARPANET, one of the major precursors to the Internet.

This sketch of a small part of Internet history is admittedly lacking in detail. I welcome any blog readers to add context to this document, as contract management files are necessarily limited in the information they provide.

Please note: The record series of which this document is part has not completed declassification processing. Therefore this record series concerning ARPA Orders is not yet available to the public.

ARPA Order 471


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