BT ad gets into a muddle about the internet's origins

BT advert Image copyright BT
Image caption BT's advert confused the internet with the world wide web

An advert published by the UK's leading broadband provider indicates confusion within the firm about the internet's origins.

BT's Openreach division referred to the UK as the "country that invented the internet" in the ad, which was printed over the weekend.

However, the US is widely credited as being the net's creator thanks to a Department of Defense project that dates back to the 1960s.

BT has acknowledged the error.

"For most people, the words 'internet' and 'world wide web' are interchangeable," said a spokesman for the firm.

"We accept the language wasn't precise enough for some, but no harm has been done."

The internet refers to the millions of interlinked computer networks used to transmit data. It encompasses information sent via email, chat tools, apps and a range of other online services in addition to websites.

By contrast, the world wide web is a subsection of the internet made up of webpages, documents and other resources connected together via hyperlinks.

Birth of the net

The internet was born out of Arpanet, a US government-backed scheme that initially only connected the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) to the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), 400 miles (644km) away.

Image caption By 1971, Arpanet connected the east and west coasts of the US, but did not go beyond

It was not until 1973 that a university in the UK and a Norwegian research institute were added as the first international participants in the project.

Although University College London subsequently helped test the networking protocols that gave rise to what we now recognise as the internet, much of the original work on them had been carried out at Stanford.

"While Donald Davies and his team at the National Physical Laboratory can lay claim to having developed packet-switching that enabled the technological infrastructure of the internet, Vint Cerf and a number of Americans were the driving forces behind the Arpanet that became the internet," commented Prof Martin Campbell-Kelly, a trustee at The National Museum of Computing.

Common mix-up

It is not clear, however, that the UK can even lay claim to having invented the web.

The English computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee was indeed its creator, but he was working at Cern - the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Switzerland - at the time.

Even so, one computing historian suggested BT's mistake was an easy one to have made.

"People mistakenly conflate the internet and the world wide web all the time," said Tom Lean.

"But while Britain may not have invented the internet, not only was the web co-invented by a Brit, BT themselves rolled out the world's first service that was a lot like the world wide web, Prestel, back in the 1980s.

"Sadly BT closed Prestel in the early 1990s, because they couldn't interest enough people in using it."

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