Did Gore invent the Internet?

By Scott Rosenberg


Salon Staff
October 9, 2000 11:12PM (UTC)

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Rosenberg overlooked another prominent person who gives Gore credit for his role in establishing the Internet -- Newt Gingrich. At a recent political science convention, Gingrich served on a panel discussion and, while discussing the 1996 Telecommunications bill, said the following (courtesy of the Sept. 5 Daily Howler at SpeakOut.com):

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"In all fairness, it's something Gore had worked on a long time. Gore is not the Father of the Internet, but in all fairness Gore is the person who, in the Congress, most systematically worked to make sure that we got to an Internet, and the truth is ... I worked with him starting in 1978 when I got there, we were both part of a 'futures group.' The fact is, in the Clinton administration the world we had talked about in the '80s began to actually happen. You can see it in your own life, between the Internet, the computer, the cellphone."

-- Walter Davis

If you can locate one, get ahold of the July 1991 issue of Byte magazine. The focus of that issue was WANs (Wide Area Networks).

One of the feature articles described -- and argued for -- providing a means for people in the fields of science and technology to have real-time contact with one another. It made a strong case for federal funding of this system, stressing that it was essential to the continued economic leadership of the United States.

As I read it, I was impressed by the vision and the scope of understanding evidenced by the author. When I reached the end, I was flabbergasted: The article was written by (then) U. S. Senator Al Gore.

Yes, Al Gore did, indeed, initiate the process -- at the congressional advocacy and funding level -- in creating what would eventually evolve into the Internet.

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-- Martin Maloney

In the debate about Al Gore's role with respect to the Internet, his most important contribution to the mass popularization of the Web is nearly always ignored. Yes, as a congressman, senator and vice president he championed many funding initiatives that had a direct and positive impact on the technologies that ultimately produced the Web world we know today. But far more significant is leadership in creating the new political economy of the Internet. It was Al Gore who in January 1994 took the lead for the Administration in declaring that new laws should repeal monopoly and create instead competitive markets in all communications sectors. In March 1994 he made a similar declaration of vision and goals in a speech to the International Telecommunications Union in Buenos Aires: All the world, he said, should be wrapped in a great nerve of intelligence (borrowing from Nathaniel Hawthorne) and governments should use competition policy to achieve that end.

Gore's vision and his commmitment to achieving the specific goals of competition produced a new law, the 1996 Telecommunications Act, and a new set of regulations at the Federal Communications Commission, authored under my tour of duty as chairman 1993-97, and my successor Bill Kennard's tour, 1997-present. The law and regulations in numerous specifics (unbundled loops, exemption from access charges, reciprocal compensation and many others) created the lowest cost basis for Internet usage and most competitive distribution of Internet access of any country in the world. Coupled with technological advance this new political economy has driven the Internet into more than 50 percent of all homes in the U.S. -- double the European number and more than three times the Japanese number. Academics now agree that the American competition policy is the single most important reason why the Internet has become a mass market phenomenon in the U.S. more than in any other country. Internationally, Gore's vision led directly to the 1997 WTO Telecommunications agreement that is now recreating the American competition policy in 69 countries. There, too, the Internet will flourish in the new political economy created more by Al Gore than by any other single public official in the world.

Lastly, Al Gore more than anyone else in the world deserves credit for the vision of the Internet in every classroom in every school of the United States. His vision was translated into law by an initiative led by Sens. Rockefeller, Snowe, Exxon and Kerrey. It was put into regulations by the FCC. The result is that American communications companies contribute more than $2 billion a year to school districts that match with that sum another $2 billion -- making the Internet in the classrooms the largest single new national initiative for K-12 in the last 20 years and the first distribution of new technologies to the next generation from the inception (as opposed to high-end consumers or businesses) that has ever been seen.

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As a postscript, perhaps the most important innovation in the public schools of Texas in the last 10 years was their request for about $250 million from the Gore-initiated classroom connections program (often called the "e-rate"). And Gov. Bush never sent a thank you note to the vice president!

-- Reed Hundt,
Former chairman of the FCC, 1993-97

Give me a break. "I invented the Internet" and "I took the initiative in creating the Internet" sound pretty damn similar to me. Rosenberg's theory might stick with your readers at the fourth-grade level, but it won't stick with anyone else.

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-- Aaron Johnson

Scott Rosenberg misses the point when he joins those defending Gore on the Internet issue. A person with a reasonable dose of self-esteem would talk about his involvement in the creation of the Internet in less possessive terms. For example, "The Internet has fascinated me for a long time. I've made a point of giving the folks who worked on it my wholehearted support from its earliest days."

For even if Gore's contribution is as crucial as Rosenberg claims, it was far less important than the brilliance of the engineers and techies who actually figured out how to make it work.

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This arrogance makes it difficult to accept anything Gore says. I find myself immediately assuming that he has blown his achievements way out of proportion. Yes, I will vote for Gore in November. But I will hold my nose when I pull that lever.

-- Ruth Hanna


Salon Staff

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