Early NZ internet a different beast

It seems strange to imagine a world without the internet or email, but in 1986 the concepts and the technology behind it were unknown to most people. It was only in universities and government research institutes that the forerunner of the web as we know it today was in use.

It seems strange to imagine a world without the internet or email, but in 1986 the concepts and the technology behind it were unknown to most people.

In New Zealand, as in the US where it was pioneered, it was only in universities and government research institutes that the forerunner of the web as we know it today was in use.

John Hine, professor of computer science at Victoria University, who was involved in the early development of the internet in New Zealand, says back in 1986 New Zealand already had "an interconnection of networks", though it was limited to universities, some government departments such as the DSIR and a few commercial organisations.

The only commercial use, Hine says, was then-state-owned enterprise Telecom's Pacnet, through which Starnet, an email service, was available, though users had to log on to a central database to receive messages.

In 1986 New Zealand universities were linked by Spearnet, an Australian-initiated networking method, and Victoria University had email connections via Unix's UUCP (Unix-to-Unix copy protocol) to Australia and North America and the Usenet "bulletin board" service. In February that year Victoria connected with ACSnet (Australian Computer Science Net), an Australia-wide university network. The university then connected to the existing government networks in New Zealand, DSIRnet and MAFnet, which served the DSIR and MAF.

Later that year the universities started using the Coloured Book Protocols, which allowed access to JANet, a British academic-centred network which then linked more than 1000 hosts in the UK. The protocols allowed Victoria further links to Australia, Hine says. The coloured book protocols soon went the way of the beta video cassette format, due to limitations Hine points out in a 1987 report, titled Research Networks in New Zealand. TCP/IP took their place.

Hine says in 1986 the internet was used largely for email and file transfer. Limitations at the time were that "we had dial-up links and leased line at 4.8 and 9.6Kbit/s and international charges were $25 per megabyte". But the benefits were still obvious. "The cost was still only 5c for a 2K email, a lot better than the post."

Even in those early days, Hine could see the potential of the net. "The moment I sent my first email, in 1983, I recognised the potential, especially for New Zealand.

He believes the future is even brighter. "Of course, wait until you see what Internet2 will do."

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