Now that we’ve seen how the underlying Internet technology works, the next logical question to ask is, “Who do you complain to when the Internet stops working?” Another way of asking this question is, “Who runs the Internet?” And who owns it?
The Internet is a large, distributed network operated by millions of individuals and organizations. As such, it doesn’t have a single owner—it has many of them. When your computer is connected to the Internet it literally becomes part of the network, so in a very real sense you are one of the Internet’s owners. But don’t get carried away: you only own a very small part.
Let’s look at the various other “owners” of the Internet.
There are many ways that you can connect to the Internet. You can use a dial-up modem, a DSL line, an ISDN connection, a cable modem, or even a wireless link through your cellular phone. But no matter what sort of digital pipe you use to make the connection, at the other end of the pipe there needs to be a computer that receives your packets and routes them to other computers on the network.
The organization that operates the equipment on the other side of your Internet connection is referred to as an Internet service provider (ISP). The first ISPs were universities and research labs. They provided Internet service for their employees, students, affiliates, and frequently friends and family of the system operators.
Over the past two decades, the world of ISPs has been ...