Friday, August 19, 2016

Who Owns the Internet?

     We hear of countries censoring the internet, we hear of people getting arrested for things they put on the internet, and we hear of sites being shut down because of what they have on the internet, but who has the ultimate authority? What even is the internet to begin with, and where is it? Ask someone "how old is the internet?" and they'll likely tell you about 20 years; mid-1990's. They're right, but they're wrong. 
     Around that time emerged the World Wide Web, which is not the internet. The internet came about in the 1960's through a United States military project called APRA-net (Advanced Research Protect Agency). APRA allowed the government to break up messages into packets and send them on designated routes for delivery to a computer system. ARPA-net sent the first cross-network message on October 29, 1969 (the same year we landed on the Moon and inaugurated Richard Nixon). UCLA sent the word "login" to Stanford. While only the "L" and the "O" arrived before the system crashed, it was still seen as a success.
     The World Wide Web, or WWW for short, is not the internet, but it rather uses the internet. The web was invented by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989. Yep, that's right: one men invented the web. The WWW is basically a vast binary library. Content is written in HTML, Java, CSS, and other code, and that code is read and displayed by web browsers such as Chrome, Explorer, and Opera. Web browsers make the encoded content readable, otherwise every web page you visit would look like this. A URL, or Uniform Resource Locator, is the domain name of the website and is how web content is identified. Domains can be purchased and owned. For instance: while you can create your own website, you can't name it "", that's already taken. The links to websites are addressed through HTTP and HTTPS, also known as Hypertext Transfer Protocol.
     Website information is stored on servers. Your Facebook profile? All the movies (or really shows) in your Netflix queue? Your Yahoo emails? They're all sitting in a server somewhere. Whenever you try to access a website via the URL, your computer, which is a client, sends a request through your ISP, or internet service provider (aka the Xfinity you hate so much), to the addressed server for the content. That content from the server is broken down and sent back to your computer in "packets." When you retrieve the content, the packets are reassembled back into the content you requested.
     With billions of users across the world, how do servers know which computer to send the content to? Your IP address. Every single thing that is connected to the internet has a unique IP address. This is how the government is able to find you when you use the internet to do something you probably shouldn't have. Your IP address can provide your true geographic location. This is also how web browsers know where you are when you log on. Creepy isn't it? Routers help direct packet traffic, getting the packets from point A to point B. Routers operate to make sure the content you want comes to you and not someone else. "Who is Mark, and why is his eHarmony profile on MY computer screen!?" Routers keep that from happening. A modem on the other hand is a modulator-demodulater. The modem connects to your telephone (if you still live in 2001), cable, fiber, or satellite line and converts those signals to code that your computer can understand.
     The internet can be accessed through dial-up (yes, still), cable, satellite, optical fiber, and through cellular. Each method carries it's own pros and cons, and each varies in speed. The access type also depends on who's accessing it. If you live the simple life, you're probably fine with dial-up. The average American today prefers broadband (cable, satellite, etc) and cellular. The heavy duties access is typically reserved for companies and the like. Do you really need Infiniband EDR 12x at 300 gigabits per second? No, no you don't. So that's how internet arrives to your home or office, but what about your computer? Well you have two options: wired or wireless. 
     So to answer the original question: who owns the internet? The answer is no one. While ISP's can charge you to access the web and governments can arrest you for your content, no one psychically owns it. We all share the internet and we all share the space. This blog has a unique URL, it's mine. It's my little slice of the internet. That said, Google does technically owns this webpage and since it's sitting on their server.
     The internet and WWW have really come a long way in revolutionizing our lives. We could live without the internet, but then we'd actually have to go to the movies, shop in the store, and check the weather in a newspaper...yikes. Well, no. You can still enjoy those things, and there will be things that the internet just can't replace, but to know what we are capable thanks to the internet, is mind-blowing. Also knowing that no President, dictator, council, or overload can claim it as there's is a precious feeling. Still, we have to be responsible. Terrorism, cyberbullying, invasion of privacy, hacking and stealing personal data, pirating, and other illegal and immoral activities are able to be committed over the web. Stay alert online, watch what you post, and make sure your information is stored in a secure place. Just because the web is not physical doesn't mean it's not dangerous.
     There's already so much we can do with the internet - what's left? Maybe one day we'll be able to actually go inside and travel the information superhighway. Maybe not physically, but maybe in the future we won't need computers. Until then, surfs up. (Get it?)

*photo from Readingielts. Surfeasy, Softmart, Techsmith.

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