While it may be difficult to perceive, the internet is a vast communication vacuum for well over half of the world’s population. It connects the busiest cities to villages of only a few people.
Considering the plethora of business transactions that take place, as well as social media interaction and general communication, it stands to reason that the internet as a whole would have some sort of centralized owner keeping everything running. Whether it be a government, corporation, or even a team of overly devoted internet elves.
But the question of who owns the internet is likely more fascinating and nuanced than many people have ever expected.
We all assume one of the tech giants truly owns the internet, right? Like, of course, Google, Amazon, and Facebook oversee the internet. WRONG! As much as we know that these top tech companies dominate the internet, they don’t necessarily own it.
To break down internet ownership, you have to view it in very specific terms. As it stands, the force that is the world wide web is filled to the brim with information and doesn’t have a singular owner. There are obvious benefits of keeping the idea of internet usage free to everyone without prejudice.
But it also makes a few things a tad difficult. For one, the competitive market for internet ownership sometimes has difficulty not lining up with a country’s specified politics. For example, the United States has internet that’s run by specialized companies that charge for setup, usage, connectivity, and data. These are companies known as internet service providers (ISPs). You know them to be companies like AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon.
Other countries like China, have strict regulations and censorship laws aimed at their internet providers in order to stay on good terms with the Chinese government. But on an even smaller scale, we find cable and DSL companies that exist to connect users to an internet provider. These are the people that you generally call up and yell at when your internet isn’t working. That’s the basic structure of the internet with Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) that connect and intertwine some of the larger businesses to make sure there’s full coverage.
Yes, that means lots of big money trading currency in secretive deals. So if those are the companies that effectively own the internet, who is responsible for regulating it?
And for that, we turn to a number of organizations and entities that function both publicly and privately on an international scale making sure that the internet operates properly. These agencies, such as the Internet Engineering Task Force and the Internet Architecture Board each fulfill a certain duty that specializes in internet security or managing the basic structure of websites and online traffic. In a world where hackers and cyber terrorists continue to be a growing threat, these organizations help more local agencies like the FBI track down and neutralize the cyber attacks.
So next time you’re thinking about the endless corners of the universe and are curious just who is behind the strings and how they make their profit, know that the world has effectively come together to provide one of the greatest services possible. And the people or companies that may be making a large profit off of the internet’s maintenance can never officially own it. Profit or no profit, no one owns the internet.