Who owns the Internet?

I already talked about how the Internet works, but it might surprise you to know who actually owns the Internet.

You can own the Internet?

Yes, and it stems back to telegraphs. I wanted to do a whole history here, but it’s really complex and detracts from what I’m trying to cover. I’ll say this: A fiberoptic cable can only be owned by one company.

What company is it?

No, only for a specific piece of cable in a certain geographical area. It’s usually determined by counties, but can be as granule as cities. The county & state governments grant a natural monopoly to a company in a certain area. This company is then called an Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier (ILEC). An ILEC owns and maintains its network of in-ground cables.

What of these ILECs?

ILECs usually only connect to other ILECs and Central Offices (COs). A CO is generally considered a public facility and is maintained by the ILEC. This allows Commercial Local Exchange Carriers (CLECs) to put their equipment there and provide services.

Like Phone?

And TV and Internet, yes. Before the 70s, COs were connected to each other using large copper cables. Houses connected to COs using copper wire which provided Telephone. Cable companies later came in and ran coaxial cable from the COs to people’s houses. Copper between COs were replaced with fiberoptic cable, but the structure remains the same: ILECs own and maintain cables between the COs. CLECs & ILECs can own and maintain the connection between the CO and your house.

What about ISPs?

They provide access to the internet. They rent the same lines between COs that cable and telephone use. Then they get the internet to you using one of many methods:

  • Dial-Up – You dial in over a phone line.
  • DSL – You send data using phone wires.
  • Cable – You send data using coaxial cables to the CO.
  • FIOS – You use fiber optic cables to the CO.

The Structure of the InternetWhat about huge networks?

Technically, there aren’t any. If you follow a path across the country you will find the cables are owned by hundreds of ILECs. What happens most often is large companies lease portions of these lines and add them to their network. They don’t own the line and don’t control the line, but they have reserved a portion of it’s throughput for their own needs. That is how large nationwide networks are built, on other company’s cables.

So ILECs own the Internet?

Well, the cables at the very least. Servers and computers are another thing altogether. Most of the internet’s data resides on servers in co-location facilities. Large warehouses that store hundreds of servers connected by large cables to the nearest CO.

Ok, who owns the Internet?

The Internet is a large network of cables connected to millions of computers. The ownership of all these pieces is divided among people and companies. They own the Internet.

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