Myth #36: We pay to access the Internet, which is provided by others.
Bob Frankston

Myth: We treat the Internet as a service we get from a provider or as a place we access. We subscribe, pay to access the Internet and worry about using up data quotas.


Busted: In the spring of 1973, I happened to take a class in which I learned about ALOHAnet in Hawaii, which consisted of just computers and radios. If a packet was lost, the program in your computer would just resend it. A classmate, Bob Metcalfe, used this idea as the basis for his famous networking technology, Ethernet. By the 1960’s computers were fast enough so that we didn’t need to rely on services from a carrier and, if packets were lost, we could quickly resend them. Or we could do streaming and ignore lost packets.

It was not until the 1990’s when I was working on home networking at Microsoft that I fully appreciated that these were not networks in the traditional sense of being one service that assures your messages get through in the same way a railroad assures you your package will reach its destination.

I’ve been fortunate to have friends and colleagues who were tasked with internetworking disparate networks and recognized the power of this technique. The name “Internet” stuck, yet it was no longer a network but rather a way to use existing facilities without depending on a carrier. This allowed the disparate networks to use all available infrastructures including existing telecom facilities and meld them into a common inter-network. The Internet isn’t a place but rather the way we use any available facilities (#35).

Physical analogies fail us when we think of data being sent as freight: Unlike a traditional network we do not necessarily send data (“content”) but rather a reference such as a URL (reference) to a web page. We use this same idea when placing an order with Amazon and it sends the part number to the nearest warehouse instead of shipping from Seattle.

Thanks to using common protocols, the individual efforts can composite into the whole we call “the Internet”. It is not provided but rather emerges out of the shared effort. It is not limited by how much data we can put through a pipe, but rather it grows as we contribute new ideas and make new facilities available.


Truth: The Internet is the way we use our wires and radios and not a service we buy. When we buy a broadband connection, we are paying to get past a gatekeeper. That is not paying for the Internet but getting past a legacy paywall. We need an Internet-native infrastructure.


Source: Jerry H. Saltzer, David P. Reed and David D. Clark, End-to-end Arguments in System Design, ACM Transactions on Computer Systems (TOCS) 2 (1984) 4, 277-288,; Calvin Hennick, How ALOHAnet Helped Hawaii Make Waves in Networking and IT Innovation, StateTech, 30 June 2016,