How the Bell System Missed the Internet 1


Colin here. One of the more fascinating twists and turns in corporate history is how the Bell System missed developing the internet. What follows is the story of ACS in 8 parts (in 8 days). It could have owned the internet, except for NIH (Not Invented Here.)

In the mid 1970s I worked at Bell Laboratories in Holmdel New Jersey on a project called “Advanced Communications System” (or ACS.) This was a project destined to become what the internet is today. The Bell System sunk a billion dollars into its development…it was the largest privately financed engineering project in the history of mankind. The Bell System knew how important data was to become and it set out to build a vast data network.

I joined the project mid-way in a special capacity. Officially I worked at Bell Labs to coordinate the acceptance testing of the system before its roll-out across America. But unofficially I was to report back to AT&T Long Lines, which was the division funding the entire thing. Officially I reported to a manager at Bell Laboratories, but unofficially I reported to a senior vice president at AT&T. And, this was no ordinary vice president; it was Billy Oliver.

Billy Oliver was the Steve Jobs of the Bell System He is the man who invented and rolled out 800 service as an automated way to eliminate Zenith and Enterprise calling. He was the man who championed the 4ESS system. He funded the 3B computer that became the processing backbone of the Bell System and which was specifically designed to run Unix. Billy Oliver really was Steve Jobs…Bell

Colin Berkshire