Without ARPA’s funding, vision, and project management, there would have been less R&D in computer networking, but even so, there would have still been many pockets of work in the field. What would have been absent is the role of government as a neutral steward of the evolving network. So in my imagined scenario, information networks, instead of being designed by the users themselves, empowered by the open TCP/IP platform, are designed by the telecommunications industry. Now, instead of an Internet, there is a balkanized tapestry of many competing proprietary systems largely controlled by telco service providers.
Each country has its own system, and the browser and the World Wide Web never evolve as such. Telephones have built-in displays and log in automatically to the local service provider, where users immediately encounter an enormous tree of menus. Fees are charged by the bit and for selected interactions, so the service is relatively expensive and usage is sparse. With the low participation, regionalization, and tight control of information services, national brands do not emerge—no Google, Amazon, or Facebook.
Well, all this seems like a bad dream, but in truth such a scenario would have been very unlikely. My own belief is that something akin to today’s Internet would have been so compellingly attractive that it would have emerged from some alternative pathway through the swirling chaos of actions and interactions.
But we’ll never know. (Source)