Edwin Mansfield, who studied the social returns on government-funded research found that the return to society on government funding in basic science was 28% to 40% a year. A string of subsequent studies through 2014 have confirmed that basic science funding yields high returns, not just in the U.S. but also in the U.K., Europe and Japan.
A McKinsey study found that Internet-related expenditures accounted in 2013 for about 4.3% of the U.S. GDP, or about $721 billion a year. Across 13 of the largest economies, the Internet adds about $2.2 trillion dollars a year to GDP.
What is the investment to develop internet? The three most cited contributors responsible for internet are the invention of the TCP/IP protocol (funded by DARPA), the invention of the World Wide Web (at CERN), and the creation of the Mosaic Web browser (at NCSA/University of Illinois). DARPA’s budgets from its formation in 1958 through 2015 come to about $121 billion after adjusting for inflation. The expenses of CERN, whose focus is particle physics, total roughly $50.5 billion. To estimate NCSA budget, a gross overestimate is the entire amount spent by the U.S. federal government on all science and research (including health, climate, energy, and all other fields except NASA) since 1962, and it comes to comes to $372 billion.
So, even if CERN never found the Higgs boson, the National Institutes of Health never saved a child’s life, and all the knowledge we have accumulated from science in the past 50 years was utterly worthless, the discovery of scientific principles behind internet and its development would pay for the tax payers' many times over. That is how the benefits of research are lumpy. They cannot be calculated for every research paper and every research conference and every research laboratory.