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The National Science Foundation Network (NSFNET) was a program of coordinated, evolving projects sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) beginning in 1985 to promote advanced research and education networking in the United States.[1] NSFNET was also the name given to several nationwide backbone networks that were constructed to support NSF's networking initiatives from 1985-1995. Initially created to link researchers to the nation's NSF-funded supercomputing centers, through further public funding and private industry partnerships it developed into a major part of the Internet backbone.

Following the deployment of the Computer Science Network (CSNET), a network that provided Internet services to academic computer science departments, in 1981, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) aimed to create an academic research network facilitating access by researchers to the supercomputing centers funded by NSF in the United States.

In 1985, NSF began funding the creation of five new supercomputing centers. Also in 1985, under the leadership of Dennis Jennings, the NSF established the National Science Foundation Network (NSFNET). NSFNET was to be a general-purpose research network, a hub to connect the five supercomputing centers along with the NSF-funded National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) to each other and to the regional research and education networks that would in turn connect campus networks. Using this three tier network architecture NSFNET would provide access between the supercomputer centers and other sites over the backbone network at no cost to the centers or to the regional networks using the open TCP/IP protocols initially deployed successfully on the ARPANET.

As a result of a November 1987 NSF award to the Merit Network, a networking consortium by public universities in Michigan, the original 56-kbit/s network was expanded to include 13 nodes interconnected at 1.5 Mbit/s (T1) by July 1988. The backbone nodes used routers based on a collection of nine IBM RT systems running AOS, IBM's version of Berkeley UNIX.

Under its cooperative agreement with NSF the Merit Network was the lead organization in a partnership that included IBM, MCI, and the State of Michigan. Merit provided overall project coordination, network design and engineering, a Network Operations Center (NOC), and information services to assist the regional networks. IBM provided equipment, software development, installation, maintenance and operations support. MCI provided the T1 data circuits at reduced rates. The state of Michigan provided funding for facilities and personnel. Eric M. Aupperle, Merit's President, was the NSFNET Project Director, and Hans-Werner Braun was Co-Principal Investigator.

In September 1990 Merit, IBM, and MCI formed Advanced Network and Services (ANS), a new non-profit corporation with a more broadly based Board of Directors than the Michigan based Merit Network. Under its cooperative agreement with NSF, Merit remained ultimately responsible for the operation of NSFNET, but subcontracted much of the engineering and operations work to ANS. Both IBM and MCI made substantial new financial and other commitments to help support the new venture. Allan Weis left IBM to become ANS's first President and Managing Director. Douglas Van Houweling, former Chair of the Merit Network Board and Vice Provost for Information Technology at the University of Michigan, was Chairman of the ANS Board of Directors.

(Wikipedia: NSFnet)

NSFnet and the Internet