Aware of All Internet Traditions

The canard that Al Gore claimed to have invented the Internet was so widely circulated and so damaging, one would have thought any politician would sew their lips shut rather than speak the phrase “invented the Internet” in any context other than a tribute to Tim Berners-Lee. But Tony Abbott has just described Malcolm Turnbull as the man who “virtually invented the Internet in Australia”. Either this is (a) a devilishly clever plot to lumber Turnbull with the Al Gore millstone, or (b) it is just about the stupidest thing Abbott has ever said. I’m going for (b)

For the record

* From the late 1980s, Al Gore led the work on the the High Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991, which created the National Information Infrastructure, and was vital to the development of the Internet from its beginnings as ARPANET

* In the 1990s, when the Internet was an established reality in Australia, Malcolm Turnbull made a lot of money investing in an ISP

14 thoughts on “Aware of All Internet Traditions

  1. “stupidest thing Abbott has ever said” – very hard to judge but definitely “amongst the ~”.

    In this new era of encouragement and politeness, it’s best to not attempt a ranking. We should just note it down for Trivia nights.

  2. We once imagined the internet as a democratic, albeit, sometimes unruly realm of horizontal communication. The tradition develops and merges. Now it seems a certain Mr Booz Allen Hamilton, as a paid agent, has determined to implant the politics of fear and hierarchical control, among the former citizens. Booz and his mates do not mix with those who are denizens of the democratic public house. Project Echelon was known before Edward Snowden’s confirmation.

  3. Rudd “saw” Abbott on his Internet bluff and then raised him by suggesting that Abbotts policy of “turning back the boats” would risk a shooting war with Indonesia. That took a lot of nerve on Rudds part, given that he tipped the mess onto this nations lap in first place.

    So not an auspicious start by either of the two leaders.

    Rudd is right to run against Abbott. But he also needs to distance himself from his party machine. The ALP “brand” is on the nose in the electorate, particularly in NSW & QLD.

  4. Pr Q said:

    The canard that Al Gore claimed to have invented the Internet was so widely circulated and so damaging, one would have thought any politician would sew their lips shut rather than speak the phrase “invented the Internet” in any context other than a tribute to Tim Berners-Lee.

    On the subject of fact-checking and myth-busting:

    The Internet, that is the TCP/IP protocol, was invented by military computer scientists – particulalry Paul Baran & Vince Cerf – working for DARPA, that is the R& D agency for the DoD. DARPA also pioneered GPS.

    The USA-USSR Arms Race, which includes the Space Race, was the greatest boon to sci-tech research ever. Period.

    Berners Lee invented Hyper Text Mark up Language which became industry standard for programming World Wide Web sites.

  5. If you watch the clip, it’s obvious that Abbott is just joking, and may even be making an inside joke that riffs on the absurdity of the Gore claim. Did you lose your sense of humour?

  6. @RJL

    I read the claim in text form first, and looked at the clip afterwards – viewed in that light it wasn’t obviously a joke. If this was a joke, presumably so was the broader claim to be leading a strong team, which makes no sense at all.

  7. @John Quiggin
    If it wasn’t a joke, why does every laugh afterward? C’mon. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an Abbott fan at all, but I just don’t think he’s that dumb that he actually thinks Turnbull invented the internet. The claim to be leading a strong team was just one of the necessary lies that politicians must tell.

    But really, it’s obviously jocular hyperbole.

  8. @Jack – It’s Vint (Vinton) Cerf, not Vince. I think he works for google now.

    Anyway – as something of an industry veteran, I don’t find the claim all that outrageous – it’s obviously not literally true, but Turnbull and OzEmail had a huge impact on the Australian Internet in its day. And it’s easy to conflate our history – Pr Q reckons TBL invented the Internet, which to those of us who grew up on FTP, Telnet and Gopher, and X Windows, is an egregious error. I mean, TBL didn’t even invent hypertext! /geek

    So Turnbull may not have invented the Internet, but OzEmail was a very significant player for a long time during the early days of dial up in Australia, and I think they had an indirect impact on all Australians. Telstra was pushing proprietary networking (MSN – which back then was a physical network) so betting on OzEmail was betting against Telstra. There was no certainty at the time that the Internet, as a proper noun, would prevail.

    Since this gaffe, everyone is getting all misty eyed about how AARNet brought the Internet to Australia, but my experience was that AARNet hated commercial ISPs and did all it could to make our lives hell. My recollection is that AARNet did precious little to get the Internet into the hands of regular people. Many commercial operators, myself included, experienced significant … lets say, resistance… to getting changes made to basic infrastructure services run by AARNet. It could take weeks (in one case I heard of, months) to register a domain name – especially if you pissed a particular person off. And I can’t recall any commercial operators using aarnet bandwidth, which was the expensive stuff; aarnet only provided regional services (DNS, some other things) for which there was only a single provider.

    Fast Forward to a few years ago; I was present at the industry conference where Conroy announced version 2 of the NBN. The room went nuts. But the business model, implementation, roll out rate, transparency, rate of change, and in particular the ACCC involvement in POPs – the decisions have been bewildering, and favour only the established players. Many of us in the industry think that NBN in its current form is a boondoggle. It is poorly devised, secretive and unnecessarily expensive to participate in commercially – if you’re not a top 4 player then you probably won’t be playing. The consumer use cases are also terrible – no surprise given that Conroy at the time proudly boasted having only 512kbps at home, which did not even qualify as broadband speed in the OECD, even back then.

    The real story to my mind is that Turnbull has been forced to produce an alternative NBN that’s obviously sub-standard. Nobody questions desirability of fibre to the home. So why would a smart guy like Turnbull, who obviously understands the Internet and appears to be aware of the benefits of fibre, be forced to produce such a lame alternative?

  9. @Mark L
    well, also as an industry veteran, the important thing is that when Malcolm bought into ozemail, AARNET was actually not allowed to service commercial providers. It was supposed to be only for Academic and Research purposes. Some providers (, Internode, Ozemail) found ways around that, until it was finally opened up. Surprisingly, Internode has been the survivor of the three.

    I always think people greatly over-rate turnbull’s understanding of any of this. His contacts in the US would have told him about the money to be made on this new Internet craze (lookup cisco share price 1990-1994). He bought in, and was clever enough to sell at the top. One doesn’t have to understand anything about what the company does to ride a bubble. His cleverness was getting out, not getting in.

    A few years after he sold out, I worked in the same building as UUNET (who took over Ozemail). Their party the day they sacked most of their australian operation was the biggest I ever saw (300 people in a day!)

  10. The central point that is usually overlooked is that, if Telstra had not been privatised, the NBN would not have been necessary.

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