What is the Internet?
© 2000 Walt Howe
(last updated June 22, 1998)
The Internet is a vast network that connects many independent
networks spanning over 170 countries in the World. It links computers of
many different types, sizes, and operating systems, and, of course, the
many people of those countries that use the Internet to communicate.
The one thing all these different computers have in common is the use of
the Internet Protocol, abbreviated as IP, which allows computers of
different types to communicate with each other. You will often
see reference to the longer abbreviation, TCP/IP, which stands for
Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol. Your own computer uses
TCP/IP software to enable it to link to this service.
What can I do on the Internet?
The Internet Protocol makes it possible for you to communicate in
various ways, find things that interest you, and exchange information
and files. The most common things you can do are:
- Get information on almost any subject by searching the web. It takes some skill to search efficiently, and since anyone can publish just about anything, there is lots of misinformation on the web, too. You need to develop some skill in evaluating the accuracy and reliability of the information you find.
- Send and receive email or chat or exchange messages with people all over
the world. Almost as fast as the telephone, there is never a busy
signal, and you never play phone tag.
- Join discussion groups about a common subject with message boards, Newsgroups and email
- Get or exchange software and files with the File
Transfer Protocol (FTP)
- Explore the World Wide Web, which can use all
of the above, and adds easy links to other resources and adds
multimedia--graphics, sound, and video capabilities.
- Publish your own material on the web in blogs, message boards, or your own web pages.
Who Owns the Internet?
No organization, corporation or government owns or runs the Internet.
Instead, many people and organizations voluntarily participate in task force
groups who meet to develop standards for the many various technical
needs of running the Internet. Decisions are made by consensus among all
who choose to participate, and every point of view is heard in the long
process of hashing out decisions and setting new standards.
The equipment--the computers, the cables, the routers, and so on are owned
by government and private organizations and are paid for by taxes and
user fees. In the early history of the
Internet, the US government paid for many of the development and
operating costs through government grants. In recent years, the US
government has stepped aside except for the portions that link
government organizations and let private enterprise develop the