The internet is a vital service. Billions of people use it every day. But who owns the internet?
Over the last two and a half decades, the internet has evolved and expanded into something barely recognizable from its humble beginnings. Trying to understand what the internet is and how it works can be incredibly confusing.
But who actually owns the internet? this question is quite hard to answer for various reasons however in this article we will look for an answer for the owner of the internet.
What Is the Internet?
The Internet is a huge network of computers. Every computer connected through the internet can send information to other computers on the network. The internet works via a mass of cabling and wireless communication technology (like telecom towers and satellites) connecting all of these computers.
Small computer networks existed in the late 50s and 60s. Then, with the invention of packet switching, much larger computer networks were developed in universities, government institutions, and various companies. By the early 90s, a worldwide, privately accessible internet was available.
This soon led to the internet as we know it today.
Nobody Owns the Internet In Full:
The Internet is, in a way, a concept more than a physical entity. No person has a patent or copyright over the internet. Instead, parts of the internet including stuff like data centers, cabling, satellites, routers, etc are owned by countless individuals, companies, and government agencies. The founder of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, famously declined to patent the internet to keep it free and accessible to everyone.
To answer the question “Who owns the internet?”, we could ask the related question: “Who owns the infrastructure of the Internet?”
So, Who Owns the Infrastructure of the Internet?
The larger Internet Service Providers (ISPs) own and provide the largest portions of internet infrastructure.
This includes network access points, extensive cabling, and routers. Today there are more than 700,000 miles of submarine cables—roughly 28 times around the equator!
Because there’s a lot of overlap in telephone networks and the internet backbone, many telecommunication companies (like AT&T, Spring, and CenturyLink) own massive portions of the internet backbone.
Interestingly, much of the internet’s infrastructure (especially when it comes to phone towers and cabling) was funded by taxes before the privatization of the network infrastructure. However, nowadays, not much is known about the internet’s infrastructure or to put it clearly not much is publicly known about the internet.
Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon have also begun buying and developing intercontinental optical fiber cables. Between them, they now own nearly a 10th of all submarine cables. Some critics view this move as dangerous, potentially allowing already incredibly powerful companies to have too much control over the internet.
Who Controls and Regulates the Internet?
The internet is uncontrolled and self-regulating. There is no single, centralized organization or a group of organizations that controls the internet. The design of the internet’s infrastructure makes it incredibly hard to regulate.
On the hand, Various governments have attempted to regulate the internet for their own jurisdictions for various reasons, usually relating to illegal or harmful content on the internet. These regulations usually either occur at the level of content (i.e., shutting down a website) or at the user level (i.e., criminal charges).
On the other hand, governments regulate the internet via laws. For example, laws against online piracy or illegal content. Some countries also utilize censorship to block certain parts of the internet from their constituents.
But on the contrary this regulation did cause concerns about free speech and freedom of information and how also the authoritarians could withdraw information and communicative capabilities from its citizens.
Another interesting point of control over the internet is the transfer of data through infrastructure owned by different groups. It would be possible for certain large ISPs to disallow data transfers or charge for the service along their routes. Instead, the larger ISPs enter into peering agreements that allow users of each other’s networks to use their network at no cost.
For example, information about your habits online will be collected by websites like Facebook. This data can then be sold to third-party organizations to advertise more effectively.
When asking who owns the internet, it is also important to ask who owns the data produced by the internet since this is a major source of monetization, information, and potentially control of the internet.
Data ownership is complex, and there’s no holdfast rule as to who actually owns any data. But, the person who owns the data-producing platform (like Facebook) probably owns the data, legally speaking.
So, Who Owns the Internet?
In the end The short answer is that the internet is owned by several large companies. The vast majority of the internet infrastructure is owned by a very small number of large communication companies.
When it comes to who has power over the internet, again, the answer is a very small group of companies. While governments attempt to regulate certain aspects of the web, the law hasn’t been able to keep up with the evolution of the internet. This means that now only four or five companies control the majority of the internet.
It’s a lot trickier to determine ownership with data than physical cables, especially since laws are different around the globe. But, again, when it comes to the ownership of data on the internet, the answer is the same companies (at least for the most part).