As Others 'Surf' Net, BBN Corp. Builds It Internet Pioneer Is among 'Backbone' Service Firms

By David Mutch, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, April 25, 1996 | Go to article overview
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As Others 'Surf' Net, BBN Corp. Builds It Internet Pioneer Is among 'Backbone' Service Firms


David Mutch, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


BBN Corp. does not make a lot of newspaper headlines. Yet behind the scenes, it is playing a strategic role in building the fast-growing Internet, the global computer network that has captivated the media and corporate America.

If most people experience the Net as a string of ethereal World Wide Web sites that can be visited electronically at the click of a mouse, BBN sees the view from within the fiber-optic pipeline.

This Cambridge, Mass., company helped build the original forerunner of the Internet 25 years ago. Now it is one of a select group of "backbone" Internet service providers (ISPs), with direct connections to the Net's US access points. Its clients are not individuals but large companies such as Bank of America, Intel Corp., and smaller ISPs, which put individual users on the Net. A big question now, with the Net's rapid growth, is whether companies such as BBN can keep up. BBN maintains that they can. "A new Web site is added to the Internet every 10 minutes of each working day," says Cliff Conneighton, BBN's vice president of marketing. That growth in demand means that the backbone ISPs must expand the Net's physical structure. BBN, through its BBN Planet division, is going into the red to do just that. BBN officials believe, however, that the spending will pay off handsomely down the line. BBN's revenues for the third quarter ending March 31were $71.3 million, up 37 percent from a year ago. Its operating loss of $30.2 million included a reorganization charge of $20.7 million. Reason for red ink But top BBN officials say, in effect, just wait. They are expanding to handle what they see as continuing explosive growth in the use of the Internet for commercial purposes - everything from retail selling to banking to data exchange. "BBN's market potential is massive," says Ted Julian, a professional Internet watcher at International Data Corp., a market-research firm in Framingham, Mass. "The big players don't have to fight each other for business now, so I'd be concerned if they were not making huge investments." BBN makes its money by connecting organizations to the Internet, supplying security features, consulting on electronic-commerce methods, and providing 24-hour monitoring and maintenance services on firms' Internet connections.

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