By bringing together a diverse mix of researchers from different institutions, such federal programs helped the Internet gain widespread acceptance and established it as a dominant mode of internetworking. Government programs such as ARPANET and NSFNET created a large enough base of users to make the Internet more attractive in many applications than proprietary networking systems being offered by a number of vendors. Though a number of companies continue to sell proprietary systems for wide area networking, some of which are based on packet-switched technology, these systems have not achieved the ubiquity of the Internet and are used mainly within private industry.
Research in packet switching evolved in unexpected directions and had unanticipated consequences. It was originally pursued to make more-efficient use of limited computing capabilities and later seen as a means of linking the research and education communities. The most notable result, however, was the Internet, which has dramatically improved communication across society, changing the way people work, play, and shop. Although DARPA and the NSF were successful in creating an expansive packet-switched network to facilitate communication among researchers, it took the invention of the Web and its browsers to make the Internet more broadly accessible and useful to society.
The widespread adoption of Internet technology has created a number of new companies in industries that did not exist 20 years ago, and most companies that did exist 20 years ago are incorporating Internet technology into their business operations. Companies such as Cisco Systems, Netscape Communications, Yahoo!, and Amazon.com are built on Internet technologies and their applications and generate billions of dollars annually in combined sales revenues. Electronic commerce is also maturing into an established means of conducting business.
The complementary missions and operating styles of federal agencies are important to the development and implementation of new technologies. Whereas DARPA supported early research on packet switching and development of the ARPANET, it was not prepared to support an operational network, nor did it expand its network beyond DARPA-supported research institutions. With its charter to support research and education, the NSF both supported an operational network and greatly expanded its reach, effectively building the infrastructure for the Internet.