January 15, 2010
ARPANET diagram (The Computer Museum History Center)

ARPANET diagram (The Computer Museum History Center)

35 Years Ago in News History: The Internet is Coming!

On an NBC News broadcast in 1975, correspondent Ford Rowan reported on a "whole new technology that not many people know about."  

The technology, Rowan said, was government funded, and its widespread use had the ominous potential for Orwellian consequences as predicted in the book, "1984."  

The technology Rowan talked about was ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), a research program developed in 1969 that created the technical infrastructure that eventually became the Internet. Viewers were warned that citizens’ private data could be sent via phone line from one government computer to another. In other words, Big Brother was in the making.   

Before Rowan’s report, there was little television reporting on the early development of the Internet. Now, more than 40 years after the creation of ARPANET, the Internet has dramatically transformed the news and information landscape. The instantaneous availability of the Internet — and its social networking progeny — means news consumers can find almost anything, anytime, anywhere, free of charge.  

These days, the big debate surrounding the Internet isn’t about privacy or secrecy but about whether content should remain open, equal, unregulated and for the most part, free. The new buzzword in this debate is "net neutrality," whose supporters — Google, Yahoo! and other content providers — are pitted against AT&T, Verizon and other broadband providers who argue that free access is simply freeloading.  

The telecoms claim that growing digital content is straining already taxed networks. They want to impose new fees for a new tiered system that would ensure nonstop and quick content delivery for those who can afford it. 

But content providers see Orwellian red flags in the tiered system, with consequences closer to "Animal Farm" than "1984." They fear those who can’t afford the fees would essentially be shut out of the process, resulting in an Internet that’s not accessible to all. 

In an upcoming edition of "The Future of News," Aneesh Chopra, chief technology officer for the White House and Ellen S. Miller, co-founder of the Sunlight Foundation, discuss digital democracy on the Internet — who decides what’s next?  

"The Future of News" is produced by the Newseum for American Public Television and supported by a generous grant from the Ford Foundation. Download a PDF list of participating member stations.  

Rowan’s NBC News report on ARPANET can be seen in the Newseum’s Bloomberg Internet, TV and Radio Gallery.

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