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Greenstein Explores Myths of the Internet

in Broadband's Impact by

WASHINGTON April 11, 2011  - Professor Shane Greenstein presented a preview of a forthcoming book on the myths of the Internet Thursday at the Information Economy Project at George Mason University School of Law.

Professor Greenstein is one the nation’s leading broadband scholars and the Elinor and Wendell Hobbs Professor of Management and Strategy at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University

Greenstein’s book will be a history of how the Internet was created and then transitioned from a government run academic research network to the commercial internet.

The lecture presented the history through examining six major myths about the creation of the network. While each myth was rooted in some truth, the reality was much more complex.

The most pervasive myth that Greenstein explored was that the U.S. government funded the Internet to design a network that could survive nuclear war.

In reality, according to Greenstein, while the government did want to create a robust new communications network this was not the sole reason.   Greenstein explained that unlike today’s research and development programs that fund narrow research to solve very specific goals, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a research division within the Department of Defense, was given large amounts of latitude to solve problems in the manner they felt was best.

“The researchers were given much more autonomy than they would receive today, this gave them the ability to explore and discover,” Greenstein said.

The other major myth that Greenstein explored was that the Internet led to the death of distance. He found that while it did allow for easier and cheaper communication over long distances however, location still matters. Broadband diffusion has yet to spread equally across the nation making living near an economic center still vital.

The other myths Greenstein explored were:

It was cheap and easy to transition the Internet from government to commercial management.

Government funding accelerated the arrival of the Internet.

Openness made the commercial Internet more innovative.

The commercial Internet is like a highway.


The audio from the lecture is available here and the slides can be viewed here.

Rahul Gaitonde has been writing for since the fall of 2009, and in May of 2010 he became Deputy Editor. He was a fellow at George Mason University’s Long Term Governance Project, a researcher at the International Center for Applied Studies in Information Technology and worked at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. He holds a Masters of Public Policy from George Mason University, where his research focused on the economic and social benefits of broadband expansion. He has written extensively about Universal Service Fund reform, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the Broadband Data Improvement Act

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