Back in the days of NSFNet, the Internet backbone was a single routing domain. While most customers did not connect directly to the backbone, the intervening providers tended to be relatively compact, geographically – that is, regional – and often had a single primary routing-exchange point with the backbone. IP addresses were allocated to subscribers directly by the IANA, and the backbone forwarding tables contained entries for every site, even the Class C’s.
Because the NSFNet backbone and the regional providers did not necessarily share link-cost information, routes were even at this early point not necessarily globally optimal; compromises and approximations were made. However, in the NSFNet model routers generally did find a reasonable approximation to the shortest path to each site referenced by the backbone tables. While the legacy backbone routing domain was not all-encompassing, if there were differences between two routes, at least the backbone portions – the longest components – would be identical.