Internet Testimonies

The first internet service providers in Ireland were low-profile operations. The telecommunications line at Trinity College Dublin that connected the country to the internet in 1991 was just another new circuit. Other data communications initiatives were considered much more significant and strategic at the time.

Trinity’s link, however, not only served the university but also supported the country’s first internet service provider. It thus initiated a revolution in the way that people used computers to access and share information. There was a pent-up desire among computer users in the early 1990s for inexpensive and widely accessible online services. The corporate, technical and political establishments failed to meet their expectations. Internet connectivity filled the gap.

In Ireland, as in other countries, academic networks and information technology businesses led the way. But the arrival of the internet also coincided with an unusual national effort to incubate online services based on other technologies. The Irish strands of the European Commission’s Star and Telematique programmes tried to replicate data communications services that had succeeded elsewhere. Their experiments with information gateways and support for industry-specific networks revealed possibilities that subsequently became realities on the internet.

This archive recalls the era of Minitel and X.400, the early internet adopters, service providers with widely different philosophies and the consolidation of the industry that they created.

History of the Irish Internet

For further reading, including reflections on what transpired in the years after 1997, read Niall Murphy’s autobiographical account of all things internet. Online now and highly recommended.

Internet in Ireland – Connections, Communities and Commercialisation

Interactive timeline unavailable. This is the text and image version.

February 1987 Star programme A National Board for Science and Technology (NBST) seminar outlined plans for Ireland’s strand of the Special Telecommunications Action for Regional development (Star) programme, a five-year European Commission initiative to address communications deficiencies in Europe’s less favoured regions.

One strand of the programme aimed to stimulate the adoption of‘advanced telecommunications services’ such as e-mail, voice messaging, PC networks, videotex, videoconferencing and cellular radio.

The NBST became an implementing agency for Star in Ireland, channelling €7.5 million from the European regional development fund into feasibility studies, demonstrations and promotional activities.

Mel Healy led the planning process as manager of the NBST’s electronics and information technology division. Tony McDonald was a member of the programme implementation team.

Read Brian O’Donnell’s testimony

1987 Broadcom established Broadcom Eireann Research was formed to undertake research and development in broadband communications.

A joint venture between Ericsson and Telecom Eireann with collaboration from Trinity College Dublin, Broadcom focused on winning contracts in pre-competitive EU research programmes.

May 1987 UUNET begins UUNET (standing for Unix to Unix NETwork) started operations. The first organisation to sell access to services based on the UUCP data communications suite, it offered e-mail exchange, feeds from the Usenet distributed discussion system and access to a large repository of software source code and related information.

UUNET founder Rick Adams had been a system administrator at the US Geological Survey Center for Seismic Studies. The company dropped its non-profit status in 1989.

May 1987 Cognotec’s Clientlink Cognotec launched its Clientlink service for insurance intermediaries, providing videotex connections into Irish Life and Shield Life. The company supplied free terminals to brokers as a way of encouraging them to obtain quotations or process claims through its system.

Cognotec had been established in 1983 inside the Confederation of Irish Industry (CII). It was the brainchild of CII economist Brian MacCaba, who had previously represented the group in a public videotex trial and become an enthusiast for the medium.

It introduced services for electronic banking and financial information access in 1985, but was hampered by the limited capabilities of videotex and by its own financial difficulties. Cognotec had passed through a succession of investment rounds and ownership changes by 1987.

May 1987 Timas The Travel Industry Multi Access System (Timas), which had offered online reservations options to travel agents since 1982, entered a new era with a series of management appointments. Aer Lingus had built up the service in partnership with the Irish Travel Agents Association. By 1987 Timas connected 136 agencies with fifteen airlines, two sea ferry companies and three packaged tour operators.

From now on Timas employed its own workforce, led by general manager Dick Brennan, instead of relying on staff seconded by the airline. It began to build a country-wide X.25 network that supported multiple communications protocols, including videotex, reducing the use of older protocols that were specific to the aviation industry.

Read Dick Brennan’s testimony

Read Tom Coade’s testimony

1987 Toppsi BBS People Active Through Community Help (Patch) launched the To Operate by Providing People with Services and Information (Toppsi) bulletin board system. Patch employed homeless and displaced people in Dublin. Its first online database was a list of organisations relevant to voluntary groups.

The service expanded into a set of seven online databases that included lists of politicians, funding providers and training courses.

1987 Cosine chooses Baltimore The Cooperation for Open Systems Interconnection Networking in Europe (Cosine) project commissioned Dublin-based Baltimore Technologies to examine network and system security and authentication issues. The telecommunications software specialist was already engaged in the development of X.400 messaging and network management systems.

Baltimore was led by managing director Jim Mountjoy and chairman Michael Purser, a member of the computer science department at Trinity College Dublin.

The Cosine project, a major component in the industry-led Eureka research and development programme, was then at the specification phase.

September 1987 Cognotec buys Patric Cognotec acquired online service pioneer Patric Videotex. Established in 1980, Patric hosted databases for public institutions such as libraries and educational establishments.

Both companies were prominent in the first generation of Irish videotex services that preceded the Minitel initiative.

September 1987 AgriLine An Foras Taluntais (forerunner of Teagasc) launched the AgriLine information service for farmers and agribusiness as a commercial operation. This videotex service was now funded by subscriptions, following two years of trials subsidised by the European Commission.

The most frequently accessed pages featured problem clinics, price information and agri-weather.

September 1987 UUCP gateway HEAnet obtained a UUCP gateway via the University of Kent at Canterbury to the European Unix Network (EUnet) in Amsterdam. This dial-up connection used a specially modified version of UUCP that ran over the X.25 network.

The Irish Unix Users Group also offered network services to its members via EUnet.

HEAnet was officially launched in 1986 to provide computer networking among Ireland’s seven universities.

October 1987 Retix office California-based Retix announced a software development centre in Dun Laoghaire to create communication products based on Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) standards.

Retix, which was just two years old, had risen rapidly to prominence as a supplier of OSI-compliant software, including X.400 e-mail applications. It was perhaps best known among software developers for disseminating colour-coded charts that explained the complicated structure of the seven-layer OSI model.

October 1987 E-mail interworking Nine service providers and twelve IT vendors ran proof-of-concept demonstrations of X.400 interworking across e-mail switches around the world.

The focal point of this exercise was a multi-vendor exhibit at the Telecom 87 event in Geneva.

October 1987 DEC backs EARN Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) announced a programme to support the implementation of OSI protocols by the European Academic Research Network (EARN), which had hitherto been facilitated by IBM.

Dennis Jennings from UCD was president of EARN, which was initiated in 1984 and linked institutions in 21 countries.

November 1987 Star strategy The NBST announced its implementation strategy for the advanced telecommunications strand of the Star programme in Ireland.

The agency proposed the establishment of two online ‘gateways’ that would offer easy access to multiple information providers.

A Business Information Network would provide comprehensive information to Irish industry on the services available from, and information accessible in, state agencies. A Tourist Information Network would link tourists, travel agents and the providers of tourist services.

December 1987 Address scheme HEAnet’s technical group decided to cease using a UK scheme for network addresses that placed the country code at the start of each address. Irish addresses would henceforth use the two letter .ie country code and would not include second level endings like co.ie or ac.ie to differentiate among user categories. The technical group also reversed the previous order of address components.

These decisions established the format hostname.organisation.ie.

Tom Wade produced the new model by adopting the RFC-822 standard for ARPA internet text messages.

Read Tom Wade’s testimony

December 1987 Eirpac Information Services Telecom Eireann launched Eirpac Information Services, enabling users of its two-year-old packet switched network to access international videotex services. The new option was free of charge for dial-up Eirpac users.
January 1988 Telecommunications R&D The first projects commenced in the main body of the European Union’s Research and Development on Advanced Communications for Europe (Race) programme.

By 1992 the participants included 28 organisations in Ireland.

January 1988 Cosine’s grand plan Cooperation for Open Systems Interconnection Networking in Europe (Cosine), EARN, EUnet and Réseaux Associés pour la Recherche Européenne (RARE) issued a joint statement of direction on the creation of an open, integrated networking infrastructure for all European researchers.

The existing networks undertook to migrate to OSI-based services and to implement technical specifications that Cosine planned to release in mid-1988. This agreement discouraged discussion of the TCP/IP alternatives.

Cosine was a project in the industry-led Eureka research and development programme. Irish representatives joined several Cosine working groups.

January 1988 Officially .ie The Network Information Center at SRI International, a research institute in California, approved the allocation of .ie as a top-level domain for Ireland.
1988 National research network A seminar at Eolas – the agency that superseded the NBST – proposed building a national research network for Ireland based on the OSI model. This led HEAnet to consider migrating to OSI and implementing an X.400 e-mail system.
May 1988 Unix gateway moves The closure of the National Software Centre necessitated a relocation of the Irish Unix User Group’s dial-up gateway to the EUnet network.

First established in 1983, this UUCP-based connection was mainly used to access a store-and-forward e-mail service that required users to specify the routing for each message. The ICL Information Technology Centre in Leopardstown took over responsibility for the gateway.

The introduction of addresses in the .uucp top level domain subsequently made its e-mail service more reliable.

1988 First in-house TCP/IP Engineers at Silicon and Software Systems, a Dublin-based chip design company, used TCP/IP routers to transfer data between a network of Apollo workstations and a Digital Equipment VAX system.

This is the earliest known implementation of TCP/IP in an Irish computer installation.

1988 CCS consortium Formation of Cargo Community Systems (CCS), a consortium of airlines and cargo agents, in order to pilot EDI services based on Edifact – a standard sponsored by the UN as a replacement for proprietary protocols. The International Organization for Standardization had recently approved Edifact’s syntax rules as part of the ISO model.

Michael Giblin from Aer Lingus was the project manager for CCS.

September 1988 Transport industry EDI The European Co-Operation in the field of Scientific and Technical research (Cost) programme, which had developed an EDI system, announced a series of pilot projects to encourage data exchange among transport companies in Europe.
1988 DECUS connections The Irish section of the Digital Equipment Corporation Users Society (DECUS) introduced Dinet, a dial-up service that linked the e-mail systems in different member organisations. This project, led by Tom Wade at UCD Computer Centre and Joan Murphy in Bord Failte, employed the PMDF e-mail suite from Innosoft International.

DECUS members that used Dinet subsequently featured among the country’s earliest internet adopters.

November 1988 Videotel begins Allied Irish Bank, Bank of Ireland, Independent Newspapers and Quinnsworth formed the Videotel Eireann consortium to research the feasibility of creating an Irish version of Teletel – the France Telecom network that supported the Minitel infrastructure.

The founders expected that the tried-and-tested Minitel videotex standard could support the information service gateways envisaged in the Star programme. They formed working groups to study the technical, marketing and financial aspects of the scheme and planned to start pilot trials in 1990.

The Videotel initiative was fronted by Mel Healy, who left Eolas to lead it, and by broadcaster Mike Murphy.

December 1988 Posvan study Telecom Eireann and Digital Equipment launched Posvan – a project to evaluate the market potential for electronic value added transaction services in Ireland and overseas.

Pat Kirby, a former a payment systems specialist at the Department of Social Welfare, led the research.

January 1989 Internet host count Mark Lottor, the US-based creator of an internet domain survey, reported that the number of hosts on the internet had risen to 80,000.
1989 Acceptable use The US National Science Foundation (NSF) specified in its acceptable use policy that the Internet Backbone should only be used for research or education, or in support of research or education.

This ruling stated only that a specific backbone network must remain non-commercial. The policy announcement was soon followed by the appearance of other internet backbones that were not subject to the same constraints.

January 1989 Demonstration centre Videotel Eireann opened a demonstration centre for prospective Minitel service providers in Dublin’s College Green.