Inventors of the TCP/IP protocol that the Internet runs through, Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn, are to be awarded the prestigious A.M. Turing Award.

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) has awarded the $100,000 award and prize since 1966. Named after legendary British mathematician Alan M. Turing, past recipients have included mouse inventor Douglas Engelbart and Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie, the creators of Unix.

The 2004 award is the first to be given for work in computer networking, said Virginia Gold, a spokeswoman for the ACM. It will be presented at a 11 June event in San Francisco.

News of the award came as a "huge surprise", Cerf said. "Historically this award has gone to people more involved in fundamentals of computer science. It is a stunning honour to be included in the list of earlier awardees.

"The importance of networking is only just being demonstrated, so this recognition does not strike me as late," he added. "It would not surprise me to find that others who have made fundamental contributions to the networking of computing will be recognised in the future."

Cerf and Kahn developed the notion of an Internet Protocol (IP) while working on a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) project in 1973. The next year they published a paper on the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), which could be used to route messages that were broken up into packets of data.

In 1988, Cerf joined long-distance telecommunications company MCI and has played key roles in many groups that put the Internet on the map, including the Internet Society and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). He is senior vice president for technology Strategy at MCI.

Kahn is chairman, chief executive officer and president for the Corporation for National Research Initiatives, which he founded in 1986.