Back around the turn of the millennium, there was a great talk on an @LinuxJournal Geek Cruise, given by a guy named Paul Kunz (here, thanks to @ValaAfshar), about how the Net, or at least the Web, actually took off. Here’s a piece about Paul, and that talk, that I just found on an old Stanford site. Alas, his talk has since disappeared from the Web and isn't in Archive.org.
What’s missing from the account at that link (which thankfully survives) is what Paul said about how high energy physicists were the primary actors in spreading the Web outward from CERN, starting with SLAC, and where Paul was one of those scientists. When Tim Berners-Lee's NeXT machine first made a Web connection outside of CERN, the story went, it was to Paul's NeXT machine at SLAC in California.
Specifically, the physicists in Europe (Tim himself? I don't recall) went to their national phone companies (called PTTs there—the equivalents of what Ma Bell was before the U.S. feds broke her up) and said they wanted to exchange high-energy physics documents with each other, and would it be cool if they used this new HTTP protocol over this other protocol called TCP/IP.
Without knowing the implications, the phone companies said yes. And here we are.
In other words (I'm talking now, not Paul), the phone companies accepted into their midst a Trojan Horse with the whole digital world inside. They did that because they didn’t see that these protocols connected everything digital without restriction and at no cost, obviating their billing-the-shit-out-of-everything business models.
The coup was complete after graphical browsers appeared and the only “backbone” within the Internet (of many nets using the TCP/IP protocol) that specifically forbid commercial activity (in its Acceptable Use Policy)—NSFNet in the U.S.—stood down on 30 April 1995. After that the digital life we enjoy today went through a Cambrian Explosion.
The phone companies, it turned out, were glad to have that explosion, because they still found much to bill. But they couldn’t see any of it at the time because they were blinded by what was overly familiar to them. And the physicists didn’t know what they offered was a Trojan Horse. It was just a nice convenience for them that out to be good for everyone.