Chemical & Engineering News,
March 27, 1995

Copyright © 1995 by the American Chemical Society.

The Internet: Networks joined together

The Internet, once wholly financed by the government, is now almost wholly privatized. It connects more than 59,000 networks and 2 million host computers in 92 countries globally, and it adds about 1 million new users a month.

The Internet is not one place. It is a set of computer networks that, according to one report by the General Accounting Office, are "joined together by gateways that handle data transfer and the conversion of messages from the sending network to protocols used by the receiving network." The Internet has no "manager," no central office. It does have representation, though, through the Internet Society based in Reston, Va.

The Internet might seem free to many users, but it really isn't. Everyone with access to the Internet purchases that access through a so-called network service provider that covers a specific area. If a user works for an organization, that organization usually pays the Internet bill. Direct connections usually require a one-time, up-front capital investment in hardware and software from between $10,000 to $20,000. Mid-level networks also have fees.

Scientists and engineers use the Internet to transmit on multiband frequencies the computational graphics of supercomputers. They pay about $15,000 a month for the privilege. The public at large can get on the Internet for the simple transmission of words for about $25 a month per user.

Some networks, like the National Science Foundation's, continue to be subsidized by the government, however. That is why scientists, researchers, and the education community may think the service is free.

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