NSFNET was a network for research computing deployed in the mid-1980s that in time also became the first backbone infrastructure for the commercial public Internet. Created as a result of a 1985 National Science Foundation (NSF) initiative, NSFNET established a high-speed connection among the five NSF supercomputer centers and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and provided external access for scientists, researchers, and engineers who were not located near the computing centers.

Broad access was necessary for a widely dispersed and frequently changing community of users. NSFNET became part of a hierarchical series of networks. Meanwhile, NSF supported the development of regional networks that could carry traffic from individual organizations, such as government agencies and universities, to the national backbone service. NSF commissioned Merit Network, MCI, IBM, and the State of Michigan to manage the NSFNET backbone project.

It was during this critical time that Al Gore entered the picture. Gore was roundly mocked in the press after he claimed that he "took the initiative in creating the Internet" during a 1999 broadcast interview. In fact, during the late 1980s, Gore did give political support to a funding drive aimed at expanding NSFNET. Although Gore's "creation" claim was -- to put it mildly -- an exaggeration, the subsequent expansion helped spur the development of the modern-day Internet.

By the early 1990s, as commercial networks began to build their own backbone infrastructures and their own routing mechanisms, the public service furnished by NSFNET's backbone was turned over to the newer backbones and NSFNET was shut down. The scientific and research network continued as vBNS and, more recently, Internet2.

This was last updated in September 2005

Continue Reading About NSFNET

Dig Deeper on Telecommunication networking