Who Owns The Internet?

26th July 2018

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Since its initial conception and early development more than 50 years ago, the internet has had a bigger impact on the world than perhaps any other invention…ever.

But the internet is a strange thing. When we really think about it, many of us realise just how little we actually know about it.

We know how to use it, sure. But what is it? How does it work? And who owns it?

We attempted to answer the first question in the first section of our recent article What Would Happen If the Entire Internet Went Down?

We offered at least a partial explanation to the second in Encoded Light: What Is Optical Networking?

Today, we’re going to try to answer the third – who owns the internet?


The Scale of the Internet

The Internet Is Big

Before we get going, it’s worth reminding ourselves how big the internet actually is.

In short, the internet is massive!

Three hundred and twenty-eight million new devices are connected to the internet every month. That means, by the time you’ve read this article, another 3,810 new devices will be online.

And the internet gets a lot of use. In fact, every second, 6,000 tweets are tweeted, 40,000 Google queries are searched and two million emails are sent.

It’s expanding, too. Indeed, the number of active websites grows every second. Today, there are more than a billion and a half sites on the World Wide Web.

Facilitating all of this is a vast network of fibre-optic lines, telephone poles, undersea cables, satellites, microwave links and everything else that comprises the “physical side” of the internet.

So, whoever owns the internet, well, they own something staggeringly huge.


Who Invented The Internet?

Who Created The Internet

If we’re looking for owners, it’s worth finding out who invented the internet.

There’s not really one person to credit. The history of the internet is a complicated one, with many people playing a key role.

Even in the early 1900s, theorists like Nicola Tesla and Marshall McLuhan were envisioning a “world wireless system” that would act like a “global village” where people could access and share information freely.

These ideas began to become a reality in the 60s, when the US Department of Defense created ARPANET, or the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, which used a new method called “packet switching” to link computers up in a network.

Though packet switching had been developed by American computer scientist Paul Baran prior to its implementation at ARPANET, ARPANET was the first time it was properly funded and put to use.

Today, packet switching – which groups data before transmitting it in packets – is still the primary basis for data communications worldwide.

But the story doesn’t end at the invention of package switching. In the early 1980s, Tim Berners-Lee conceived of a project based on the concept of hypertext (interconnected documents connected via hyperlinks) to facilitate sharing and updating information among researchers at CERN.

In 1989, Berners-Lee saw an opportunity to combine hypertext with the internet. The result was the World Wide Web, an “information space” where documents and other web resources are identified by Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) interlinked by hyperlinks.

The World Wide Web is accessible via the internet, but it is distinct from it – it is a way of accessing information over the medium of the internet (that enormous network of networks). But Berners-Lee doesn’t even own the Web, let alone the internet. In fact, he made a conscious choice to give the World Wide Web to society for free. Hero.


So, Who Owns It?

The People Own The Internet

The short answer is no one and everyone – which sounds paradoxical. Let us explain.

No single person or organisation controls the internet in its entirety. Like the global telephone network, no one individual, company or government can lay claim to the whole thing. However, lots of individuals, companies and governments own certain bits of it.

Every telephone pole, cable, satellite, router, datacentre, etc. is owned by someone. But alone they’re essentially useless – it’s only when they’re connected that they form the internet. In this way, the internet is more of a concept than a physical entity. Though people own the infrastructure that supports it, that infrastructure is constantly changing.

It’s hard to own a concept. Copyright only applies to work that is fixed in tangible form (such as written documents, musical recordings and so on). And, though patents protect specific ideas – not just expressions of them – they are not suitable for broad concepts. The internet is a very broad concept.

As such, the internet isn’t really owned by anyone. Its owner is humanity itself. Which means that you own the internet as much as anyone else.

Elite Group is the leading unified communications provider. We provide a comprehensive range of communications and IT services, including telephony, cloud and IT, connectivity and networking and business mobile.