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    Who owns the Internet?

    There are two answers to the question of who owns the internet:

    • No one
    • Everyone

    No one owns the internet

    If thinking of the internet as a single unified entity, no one owns it. While a few organizations may determine the internet’s structure, they don’t have ownership over the internet itself. No company or government can claim ownership of it.

    The internet is more of a concept than an actual tangible entity, and it relies on a physical infrastructure that connects networks to other networks.

    The concept is similar to being a room full of people who all speak different languages. In order to communicate, you’d need to come up with a standard set of rules and vocabulary so everyone can be on the same page.

    The internet is essentially that—a system that allows different computer networks to communicate with one another using a standardized set of rules. No one entity owns these rules, they are there to help facilitate and standardize communication.

    The internet is a global collection of inter-networked systems that depend on sets of rules known as protocols. These protocols allow computers to communicate across networks. It relies on an expansive infrastructure of routers, Network Access Points, and computer systems.

    It’s one giant system made up of many much smaller systems. While the smaller systems can be owned, the all-encompassing giant system cannot.

    Everyone owns the internet

    At the same time, thousands of people and organizations own the internet. These smaller systems each have an owner, and these owners can control the quality and level of access one has to the internet. They may not own the entire system, but they can impact your internet experience.

    The physical networks that carry internet traffic between different systems is the internet backbone. In the beginning days of the internet, ARPANET made up this backbone. Today, several large corporations provide the routers and cable that make it up. Some of these corporations include:

    • UUNET
    • Level 3
    • Verizon
    • AT&T
    • Lumen Technologies
    • Sprint
    • IBM

    These companies are Internet Service Providers (ISPs), which means that anyone wanting to access the internet must ultimately work with these companies.

    There are also smaller ISPs, such as Cable and DSL companies. These companies are not part of the internet’s backbone, but rather they negotiate with the larger ISP companies mentioned above for internet access.

    Every ISP has its own network. Many companies have Local Area Networks that link to the internet. Each of these networks is both a part of the internet and its own separate entity. If you own a device that connects to the internet, that means your device is part of the enormous inter-network system, making you part-owner of the internet.

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    This article was updated April 2021 by Abby Dykes