National Science Foundation role in the development of the Internet

To support his project examining the development and commercialization of the Internet between 1980 and 1996, Douglas Van Houweling, professor of information and associate dean for research and innovation in the School of Information, was awarded a $300,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) EAGER grant.

Start date: 3/1/2014
End date: 2/29/2015

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International competition, intrigue and controversy helped define not only the Cold War conflicts of the 1980s, but also the research efforts that advanced the Internet during the same era.

The findings from the research will lead to a book chronicling the networking story of the 80s and 90s, which includes the so-called “protocol wars” among companies, governments, and international organizations that feared the long-term economic and political consequences that could result from standardization and protocol choices.

Working with Lawrence Landweber from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Van Houweling will analyze the history of the Internet, from its infancy as a packet-switching network that hosted a small number of government and university sites, to its transition to the private sector on the cusp of the late-1990s “dot-com boom.”

From this analysis, Van Houweling and Landweber will seek to capture the importance of the NSF’s role in the Internet’s progression with detailed discussion of the seminal projects the organization funded.

They will identify the reasons why and how the Internet was able to outlast other emerging networks and establish itself as the widespread global system that it is today, and describe how the NSF enabled the Internet to become a commercial reality. Lastly, the researchers will explain how this knowledge can have useful applications for future technologies and capabilities.

Both Van Houweling and Landweber were deeply involved in Internet development in the United States and will rely on personal insight, interviews with key figures and use of original documents from the era to accomplish their research goals and complete the ensuing book.


EAGER: The NSF Role in the Development of the Internet, National Science Foundation: $300,000  


The National Science Foundation is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 "to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…"


Press and Web mentions

Articles related to the history of the Internet and Van Houweling’s role in its development:

“UM Internet Pioneer Honored For Building Web’s First Backbone,” CBS Detroit, 4/8/2014

“Former Internet2 Leaders Mike Roberts and Douglas Van Houweling Inducted Into Internet Hall of Fame,” Internet2 News, 4/8/2014

“Doug Van Houweling: Building the NSFNet,” IEEE Xplore, 4/2014

“Would there be the Internet without the 'U'?” The Michigan Daily, 2/7/2012