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The Gore Bill 'Creating the Internet' Became Law On This Date

What do you think of the Gore Bill on its anniversary?

by Countable | 12.4.18

On December 9, 1991, President George H.W. Bush signed the High Performance Computing Act (commonly known as the Gore Bill) into law, which created the “Information Superhighway” and provided $600 million in funding for high performance computing initiatives.

Why did it come up?

Authored by then-Sen. Al Gore (D-TN), the bill was developed in response to a report titled Toward a National Research Network which was provided to Congress by a National Research Council committee led by UCLA computer science professor Leonard Kleinrock.

Kleinrock was one of the creators of the ARPANET, an early precursor to the Internet, and argued that a national computer infrastructure network would “greatly promote U.S. competitiveness in a multiplicity of disciplines.” Gore had an longstanding interest in computers, and drafted the bill to bring the committee’s recommendations to fruition.

What did it do?

The Gore Bill created the National Information Infrastructure (aka the “Information Superhighway”), the National Research and Education Network (NREN), and provided $600 million in funding for supercomputing initiatives at eight federal agencies. It encouraged the private sector to work with agencies and research labs so that the byproducts of the initatives could be available for educational and commercial purposes as quickly as possible.

Introduced in January 1991 with support of 24 bipartisan cosponsors ― including Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), Harry Reid (D-NV), Trent Lott (R-MS), and Mark Hatfield (R-OR) ― the bill passed the Senate on a voice vote in September.

The House amended the bill and passed it on a voice vote in November, and the Senate followed suit to send the finished product to President Bush’s desk, who said :

“The development of high-performance computing and communications technology offers the potential to transform radically the way in which all Americans will work, learn, and communicate in the future. It holds the promise of changing society as much as the other great inventions of the 20th century, including the telephone, air travel, and radio and TV.
This program will help researchers meet the grand challenges in science: To unlock the secrets of DNA, to forecast severe weather events, and to discover new superconducting materials.”

What has its impact been?

In 1993, an initiative at the University of Illinois known as the National Center for Supercomputing applications that was funded in part by the Gore Bill created the Mosaic web browser.

Mosaic popularized the World Wide Web and served as the launching point for the Internet boom of the 1990s. Among the programmers on the Mosaic development team was Marc Andreessen, who founded Netscape and launched the first commercial web browser.

The Gore Bill also had an impact on its namesake’s political career. In a March 1999 interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer (video here), then-Vice President Al Gore responded to a question about why Democrats should support him in the upcoming presidential primaries by saying in part:

“During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.”

Gore’s comment was widely ridiculed and interpreted as if he was saying he had personally invented the Internet. In one of Gore’s presidential debates with George W. Bush, the then-Texas Governor poked fun at him by saying:

“He talks about numbers, I’m beginning to think not only did he invent the Internet, but he invented the calculator.”

Despite the controversy, Gore’s role in the Internet’s creation was defended by Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn ― inventors of the TCP/IP protocol ― who wrote that Gore “deserves significant credit” for being “the first political leader to recognize the importance of the Internet and to promote and support its development.”

— Eric Revell

(Photo Credit: collision.conf via Flickr / Creative Commons)

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