Most of this information was harvested from www.anu.edu.au/people/Roger.Clarke
Australia has a long and interesting history surrounding the Internet, but didn’t actually hook up to the global system until 1989, when a 56Kb link was established between the University of Hawaii and the University of Melbourne. Prior to that, various Universities had their own smaller networks, linked by CSIROnet’s resources and the Australian Computer Science Network (ACSnet). There were spasmodic hook-ups to the outside world via satellite using dial-up facilities enabled by OTC.
ACSnet provided a successful medium for information sharing between Australian institutions. Email and news was prolific while the global improvements in technology spearheaded by the massive input of resources by ARPA in the US. By the time the link to Hawaii was enabled, and linked by 48Kb connections to the ANU and University of Adelaide and a 9.6Kb link to the University of Sydney, committees, boards, government agencies and individuals had formalised the Australian Academic and Research Network (AARNet), which connected every academic institution to the US Internet via Hawaii.
By the early 90s, when the World Wide Web boom was coming into full swing, it was quickly realised that it wasn’t just academics that wanted a slice of the on-line action. With chat, ftp, web and the fledgling surge of graphics and multimedia, along with the millions of people across the globe plugging in, AARNet had to allow commercial service providers access to the Net. In 1992, Connect.com.au began operations. The issue of domain names was up in the air for some time, with blocks of names made available from the US and managed locally to cut down waiting time. Eventually all Australian domain name administration was placed in the hands of Melbourne IT – a commercial enterprise of Melbourne University.
By 1994, AARNet was unable too cope with the massive increase in Internet usage, and it was decided to farm out Internet connections to commercial ISPs (Internet Service Providers) who would be charged by the megabyte for traffic, and pass that charge on to their customers. Since Telstra was the sole owner of the hard-wiring through which all Australians accessed the Net, as opposed to the US with its multiple carriers and vast cable systems, Telstra virtually took charge of the entire system, and charged everyone who used it. Later Optus came in as a competitor, and began providing its own backbone to the outside world, and so did a few of the larger ISPs.
At the end of the 90’s Australia had over 1.8 million regular users and 1.5 million casual users, taking advantage of a rich and complex web of service providers large and small. Over half of all Australian homes have computers and the percentage of these homes connecting to the Internet is rapidly increasing. The ‘clever country’ has jumped at the opportunity to explore the rich culture and the possibilities for creative and business endeavour. Not only this, but our big companies and financial institutions are anticipating how comfortable we are becoming with e-commerce that on-line shopping, banking and general business is expanding rapidly.
It is now very easy to set up your own e-commerce site and there are thousands of Australian sites offering direct on-line shopping opportunities. Upwards of 1.5 million people have made at least one online purchase and Internet banking is starting to take off with numbers approaching 200,000. Other service based businesses are providing detailed informational web sites and inquiry forms, whilst media organizations are dishing up rich artistic content. Industry listings, portals, business resources, community groups, charities, churches, sports fans, clubs, councils, artists, schools, and colleges – everyone is finding their place and their own audience.
The current and previous Australian governments have realized the potential of the Internet. There are many incentive schemes providing large amounts of funding for start-up companies and community organizations wishing to establish successful Web Sites. The government themselves are investing large amounts of money streamlining their bureaucracy and slashing red tape to shreds, by providing a large proportion of their forms and general paperwork and documentation over the Web. Once the majority of Australians are well connected, it would be expected that our government will be extremely efficient – though that remains to be seen!
Australia is gearing up for the new millennium in a big way, and though we have a long way to go before we are all completely in control of our on-line lives, mastering the Web is well within our grasp. As software and hardware becomes easier and easier, as our knowledge and understanding of the scope of possibilities increases, and as the services offered to us by the big players become more and more sophisticated, we will all have the opportunity to benefit culturally and financially, and maybe even spiritually from sharing the Australian experience of the On-Line world.