Depending on who you are talking to there were several very different reasons why the Internet was created, whether it was military command and control (Curtis LeMay told me that), to create a new communication and commerce infrastructure (Al Gore), or simply to advance the science of digital communications (lots of people). But Bob Taylor says the Internet was created to [save] money. And since Bob Taylor was, more than anyone, the guy who caused the Internet to be created, well, I’ll believe him.
Taylor, probably best known for building and managing the Computer Systems Laboratory at XEROX PARC from which emerged advances including Ethernet, laser printing, and SmallTalk, was before that the DARPA program manager who commissioned the ARPANet, predecessor to the Internet. Taylor was followed in that DARPA position by Larry Roberts, Bob Kahn, and Vint Cerf — all huge names in Internet lore — but someone had to pull the trigger and that someone was Bob Taylor, who was tired of buying mainframes for universities.
This was all covered in my PBS series Nerds 2.01: A Brief History of the Internet, by the way, which appears to be illegally available on YouTube if you bother to look a bit.
As DARPA’s point man for digital technology, Taylor supported research at many universities, all of which asked for expensive mainframe computers as part of the deal. With money running short one budget cycle Taylor wondered why universities couldn’t share computing resources? And so the ARPANet was born as a digital network to support remote login. And that was it — no command and control, no eCommerce, no advancing science, just sharing expensive resources.
The people who built the ARPANet, including the boys and girls of BB&N in Boston and Len Kleinrock at UCLA, loved the experience and turned it into a great technical adventure. But the people who mainly used the ARPANet, which is to say all those universities that didn’t get shiny new mainframes, hated it for exactly that reason.
In fact I’d hazard a guess that thwarting the remote login intent of DARPA may have been the inspiration for many of the non-rlogin uses we have for the Internet today.