The US could have had the beginnings of an Internet as early as 1965 it if it had had not been for Big Business not seeing the potential.
According to Forbes, in 1965, Western Union developed a cunning plan for pioneering what it called a “nationwide information utility” which was supposed to provide “all the information service required and wanted by any and all kinds of customers”.
At the time the electric utilities were trying to come up with ideas to cope with competition from distributed power generation.
If the plan had gone ahead, Western would have anticipated the beginning of the Information Age, and been at the forefront of making it happen. In fact, if the plan had gone ahead Western Union would have been the internet.
To be fair, in the 1970s, Western Union International provided the US Department of Defense with high-speed telecommunications facilities between the US, Hawaii, Germany and Blighty. It was this project which was the test bed for the DOD’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and provided a proof of concept for packet switching technology.
But it was nothing like the glorious plan that Western Digital had in 1965 because the outfit was relying on the electric power grid as its business model.
The 1965 report found by Forbes said that Western thought that using an information utility could provide a service to consumers more economically than they could provide for themselves.
However, what Western Digital was suggesting was building something using the business models of the industrial age which were centrally controlled and governed by standards and processes.
As a result, the internet would be slow, controlled and very dull. It probably would never get the same traction as the decentralised, and rapidly evolving interweb we know and love.
Ironically, it would be exactly the sort of business model that governments would like because it would be easier to control and spy on people.