Internet History of 1990s


ARPANET formally shuts down. In twenty years, ‘the net’ has grown from 4 to over 300,000 hosts. Countries connecting in 1990 include Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Greece, India, Ireland, South Korea, Spain, and Switzerland.

Several search tools, such as ARCHIE, Gopher, and WAIS start to appear. Institutions like the National Library of Medicine, Dow Jones, and Dialog are now on line.

More ‘worms’ burrow on the net, with as many as 130 reports leading to 12 real ones! This is a further indication of the transition to a wider audience.


The net’s dramatic growth continues with NSF lifting any restrictions on commercial use. Interchanges form with popular providers such as UUNET and PSInet. Congress passes the Gore Bill to create the National Research and Education Network, or NREN initiative. In another sign of popularity, privacy becomes an ‘issue,’ with proposed solutions such as PGP (Pretty Good Privacy).

The NSFNET backbone upgrades to T3, or 44 Mbps. Total traffic exceeds 1 trillion bytes, or 10 billion packets per month! Over 100 countries are now connected with over 600,000 hosts and nearly 5,000 separate networks.

WAIS’s and Gophers help meet the challenge of searching for information throughout this exploding infrastructure of computers.


The Internet becomes such a part of the computing establishment that a professional society forms to guide it on its way. The Internet Society (ISOC), with Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn among its founders, validates the coming of age of inter-networking and its pervasive role in the lives of professionals in developed countries. The IAB and its supporting committees become part of ISOC.

The number of networks exceeds 7,500 and the number of computers connected passes 1,000,000. The MBONE for the first time carries audio and video. The challenge to the telephone network’s dominance as the basis for communicating between people is seen for the first time; the Internet is no longer just for machines to talk to each other.

During the summer, students at NCSA in University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign modify Tim Berners-Lee’s hypertext proposal. In a few weeks MOSAIC is born within the campus. Larry Smarr shows it to Jim Clark, who founds Netscape as a result.

The WWW bursts into the world and the growth of the Internet explodes like a supernova. What had been doubling each year, now doubles in three months. What began as an ARPA experiment has, in the span of just 30 years, become a part of the world’s popular culture.