When a small business is looking for a complete suite of services to suit their IT needs, typically they require at a minimum computer equipment designed for office and home office use, business mobile services, web hosting, web design and cloud data services.

This will provide a small business with the ability to operate wherever they need to and showcase their services and products to potentially any customer in the world.

Web hosting services have existed for almost as long as the modern internet has, with several smaller services emerging in the early 1990s either as a standalone business or as part of the offerings of early internet service providers.

By 1995, web hosting in one form or another was available to anyone with an internet connection, with platforms such as Geocities, Angelfire and Tripod offering basic website building and page hosting services with both free and paid tiers.

Commercial web hosting would be the big shift that made the modern internet possible, but thanks to a controversy over the purpose of this new online frontier, it very nearly did not happen.


The Controversy Of CIX

The Internet as we know it began with ARPANET, which established technologies such as TCP/IP and was primarily used for defence and intelligence purposes by the United States military before it was split into two parts that together were known as the Internet in 1983.

By this point, however, the main network that was the foundational part of what would become the Internet as we know it today is the National Science Foundation Network (NSFNET), which linked up with a number of regional networks to create an early network of colleges, universities and research facilities.

However, the NSF was only allowed to develop projects “primarily” for research and education, specifically in engineering and the sciences. This was interpreted to mean that commercial use of NSFNET, and by extension, the primary form of the internet at the time, was banned.

Email and Usenet, both decentralised communications systems, were available and even saw early commercial use in the form of advertising emails and discussion posts, respectively. However, this was not the case on NSFNET.

They had a strict acceptable use policy that banned for-profit activities (unless part of a specific acceptable use) as well as extensive private and personal business use.

In the late 1980s up until 1993, this would lead to a lot of confusion as to the extent of which businesses were allowed to use the Internet, and how many complex hoops they would need to jump through in order to do so.

Eventually, commercial internet service providers began to emerge that used NSFNET allegedly in accordance with its acceptable use policy, and three of them (PSINet, UUNET and CERFnet), would create the Commercial Internet eXchange to act as a traffic bridge free from the AUP. 

This workaround would take place in 1991, coinciding with the development at CERN of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee and the creation of another, very controversial for-profit commercial service known as ANS CO+RE.

Advanced Network and Services’ commercial plus research (ANS CO+RE) was formed by IBM, MCI and Merit Network, used the same network backbone as NSFNET but was also allowed to carry commercial traffic on the network.

There were conditions to this; it could not affect NSFNET itself, it needed to recover at least the average cost of any commercial traffic using it, and anything collected above the cost of carrying said traffic would be put into a pool of money used to extend network infrastructure.

Nevertheless, ANS was hugely controversial from a number of standpoints. In the early 1990s, the Internet, in terms of Usenet, NSFNET and the World Wide Web were all seen as largely non-profit endeavours with a focus not on commercialisation.

ANS CO+RE was seen as an evolution away towards an internet that would be primarily focused on the pursuit of research and education purposes and towards a more commercial internet.

On the other hand, others did not have a problem with this, given that for the internet to thrive it must become accessible to everyone, and that includes businesses who want to seek out a global (or at least geographically wider) audience.

However, the problem there is one of fairness, with ANS and its three founding companies effectively getting an advantage in the online space through their acquisition of research money and infrastructure provided by the US government.

The more practical issue was that the CIX and ANS refused to connect to each other until a compromise was reached in 1992, although this only lasted until CIX started to block regional networks that had not paid to be part of it.

Ultimately, this meant that whilst the World Wide Web began in 1991, the worldwide vision of the Internet where any connected network could interact with any other network would take four more years to be completely implemented and would involve turning off NSFNET entirely.

During this time, companies that wanted to run their own website needed to operate their own web server and design a website themselves, which was not necessarily an easy endeavour in an age before every company used computers and the internet.

It could also be prohibitively expensive not just to set up but in unexpected overheads if a business used an internet service provider without a suitable amount of bandwidth to cope with a lot of network traffic.

This led to the organic development of web hosting services, which would host the websites of private users and businesses on their own servers, as well as manage and maintain the infrastructure directly, all for a fee that was far more agreeable than buying the equipment directly.

Whilst initially relatively simplistic and straightforward, web hosts became increasingly sophisticated, and as the internet became more complex and feature-filled, it became all but impossible for all but the most devoted hobbyists to maintain their own web presence.

Even in 1995, the rise of What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) website editors such as those provided by Lycos and Angelfire highlighted the rapid and growing complexity of the internet, a communication medi that appeared to be capable of almost anything.