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NLnet's history started in April 1982 with the announcement by Teus Hagen as chairman of a major initiative by the EUUG to develop and provide network services in Europe under the name EUnet. As the main node of the EUnet[1] EUnet operating out of the Netherlands national center for mathemathics and computer science CWI, NLnet played a vital role in spreading first UUCP[2] and later the ARPAnet throughout Europe[3], earning Hagen and other pioneers a place in the Internet Hall of Fame. NLnet also pioneered the worlds first dial-in and ISDN infrastructure with full country coverage[4] by using the signal wiring[5][6] from the Netherlands rail system owned by Nederlandse Spoorwegen. NLnet was one of the founders of the AMS-ix[7] foundation and the .nl registry SIDN[8].

Stichting NLnet was formally established as a Stichting (Dutch for foundation) in February 1989. In November 1994 Stichting NLnet created NLnet BV (a Dutch Limited liability corporation or BV) as a commercial operating subsidiary and so incorporated the first internet service provider in The Netherlands. In 1997 the internet provision services company was acquired by UUnet[9], which had just became a subsidiary of MFS[10]. MFS was acquired shortly thereafter by Worldcom[11], which then initiated a takeover bid on MCI and later became a subsidiary of Verizon Inc.

The acquisition provided Stichting NLnet with an endowment to transform into an grant-making organization, funding the development of Internet network technology and associated Computer Sciences research and development. The foundation is a recognized public benefit organization (in Dutch ANBI) and runs an open call where anyone in the world can submit proposals to improve the internet[12], as well as several thematic funds[13] such as the Internet Hardening Fund[14]. Results are made freely available to the community in the broadest sense, typically under FOSS licenses and through internet standards, web standards and the like.

NLnet is known for sponsoring open source software and standards work (in areas such as DNS security[15][16], as well as supporting auxiliary activities (such as hackathons and the ODF plugfest[17]), the GPL V3 license drafting process[18], TOR anonymity network[19], the Parrot virtual machine, Namecoin[20], Jitsi etc.

Disambiguation: note that similar named NLnet Labs[21], a well-known research lab that works on internet standards and produces open source software such as NSD and Unbound DNS Server is a legally and operationally independent foundation set up in 1999.

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