The Internet’s Owners
So who actually owns the Internet? There are two answers to this question:
Lots of people
you think of the Internet as a unified, single entity, then no one owns
it. There are organizations that determine the Internet’s structure and
how it works, but they don’t have any ownership over the Internet
itself. No government can lay claim to owning the Internet, nor can any
company. The Internet is like the telephone system — no one owns the
From another point of view, thousands of people and
organizations own the Internet. The Internet consists of lots of
different bits and pieces, each of which has an owner. Some of these
owners can control the quality and level of access you have to the
Internet. They might not own the entire system, but they can impact your
The physical network that carries Internet
traffic between different computer systems is the Internet backbone. In
the early days of the Internet, ARPANET served as the system’s backbone.
Today, several large corporations provide the routers and cable that
make up the Internet backbone. These companies are upstream Internet
Service Providers (ISPs). That means that anyone who wants to access the
Internet must ultimately work with these companies, which include:
you have all the smaller ISPs. Many individual consumers and businesses
subscribe to ISPs that aren’t part of the Internet backbone. These ISPs
negotiate with the upstream ISPs for Internet access. Cable and DSL
companies are examples of smaller ISPs. Such companies are concerned
with what the industry calls the last mile — the distance between the
end consumer and Internet connectivity.
Within the backbone are
Internet Exchange Points (IXPs), which are physical connections between
networks that allow data exchanges. For example, while Sprint, Verizon
and AT&T provide part of the Internet backbone’s infrastructure, the
three networks aren’t intertwined. They connect together at an IXP.
Several companies and non-profit organizations administer IXPs.
individual computer networks that make up the Internet can have owners.
Every ISP has its own network. Several nations’ governments oversee
computer networks. Many companies have local area networks (LANs) that
link to the Internet. Each of these networks is both a part of the
Internet and its own separate entity. Depending on local laws, the
owners of these networks can control the level of access users have to
You might consider yourself to be an owner of the
Internet. Do you own a device that you use to connect to the Internet?
If so, that means the device you own becomes part of the enormous
inter-networked system. You are the proud owner of part of the Internet
– it’s just a very small part.
If no one owns the Internet, who is responsible for making sure everything works? Find out in the next section.
IN THE BEGINNING, THERE WAS ARPANET
was a network of computers housed in various universities, government
agencies and research facilities. The people who built ARPANET designed
many of the protocols that the Internet uses today. ARPANET connected to
several other computer networks and the Internet was born. The agency
responsible for ARPANET was the Defense Advanced Research Projects
Agency (DARPA), a branch of the United States Department of Defense
(DoD). Since ARPANET began as a U.S. government-sponsored project, you
could argue that at one time, the U.S. government owned the Internet.
The Internet’s Caretakers
mentioned earlier, the Internet works because of a system of rules
called protocols. By following these protocols, computers can send
information across the network to other computers. If there were no
protocols, then there’d be no guarantee that the information sent from
one computer could be understood by another, or that it’d even reach the
As the Internet evolves, these protocols must
also change. That means someone has to be in charge of the rules. There
are several organizations that oversee the Internet’s infrastructure
and protocols. They are:
The Internet Society: A nonprofit organization that develops Internet standards, policies and education.
Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF): An international organization
with an open membership policy that has several working groups. Each
working group concentrates on a specific topic, such as Internet
security. Collectively, these working groups try to maintain the
Internet’s architecture and stability.
The Internet Architecture
Board (IAB): An IETF committee, the IAB’s mission is to oversee the
design of Internet protocols and standards.
The Internet Corporation
for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN): A private nonprofit corporation,
ICANN manages the Internet’s Domain Name System (DNS). ICANN is
responsible for making sure that every domain name links to the correct
The Internet Society and IETF are open membership
organizations. Both welcome the participation and input of Internet
experts. They shape the way the Internet works and evolves.
on the other hand, is a private organization. The exclusive nature of
ICANN concerns some people. They argue that ICANN holds a lot of power
over anyone who wants to register a domain name. ICANN makes money by
accrediting vendors called registrars. These registrars then sell domain
names to consumers and businesses. If you want to register a specific
domain name, ultimately ICANN decides if you can have it.
none of these organizations own the Internet, they each influence how
the Internet works. The Internet has no central owner. While its
structure remains carefully designed and maintained, the actual content
on the Internet continues to be the untamed cyberspace we all know and
To learn more about the Internet and other topics, follow the links below.