The Netherlands first in Europe to connect to the public internet 35 years ago

On 17 November, it will be exactly 35 years since the Netherlands became the first in Europe to connect to the public internet. This happened at research institute CWI (Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica) in Amsterdam.

Publication date
15 Nov 2023

17 November 1988: system administrator Piet Beertema received an e-mail that day that CWI had official access to an academic computer network that was part of the internet.

Using the brand-new connection, Steven Pemberton logged on to an American computer from CWI, not knowing he was making history by doing so. For the first time, people could send each other mail directly over the internet. It had previously been possible to send electronic messages, but it was incredibly slow, via a regular phone line. All messages then ended up in a digital mailbox, which forwarded mails to recipients once or twice a day. From 17 November 1988, a new era dawned in which these messages reached the recipient within seconds.

Until then, the Americans and Canadians were the only ones in the world using public Internet. Then the Netherlands followed. First mainly universities and research institutes used the connection, five years later anyone with a computer could go online.

The early years

The CWI became a key player in the early years of the internet era. For instance, Internet pioneers Teus Hagen and Piet Beertema thought it would be useful if you could tell from e-mail addresses and Internet addresses that they came from the Netherlands. Steven Pemberton was also closely involved in developing HTML and CSS, the languages you use to create web pages for example. At the time, he had no idea that the development of the internet would be so rapid, he says. "It wasn't until I was walking in Times Square in the mid-1990s, and saw a poster with a web address on it, that I thought, 'This is for the general public now'."

Present day

Still, part of European internet traffic passes through the Amsterdam Science Park, where CWI is located. This traffic goes through the Amsterdam Internet Exchange (AMS-IX).


For his work, Beertema received the first royal honour ever awarded to an internet pioneer in 1999: Knight of the Order of the Dutch Lion. Teus Hagen was included in the Internet Hall of Fame in 2013, as were former CWI employees Jaap Akkershuis (2017) and Daniel Karrenberg (2012). Steven Pemberton received an ACM SIGCHI Lifetime Practice Award, an award for innovation and leadership in human-computer interaction, in 2022.

Steven Pemberton on 35 years of internet in the Netherlands

Steven Pemberton in earlier years

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