One thing I have always taken for granted when writing this series of articles is that the majority of people reading it have a slight idea of what the Internet consists of and where it came from, however a comment down the pub last week, ‘So who owns the Internet, anyway’ prompted me to do a sharp rethink. Because of this, I will spend this week doing a brief history lesson. We’ll look back at where the Internet came from, how it’s grown and so for which the reason why nobody actually owns it.

During the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, the USA was facing the fact that a Nuclear war against the USSR could be a very real possibility and so they started a number of simulations as to predict how military command would be able to communicate should a number of targets on US soil be obliterated. These predictions suggested that even if many, or all the physical telecommunication links across the US were to remain undamaged, should the central switchboard be destroyed, even basic military command and control would be adversely affected.

Obviously this was a real problem, if one of your states is bombed, you don’t want to lost all control and communication with all other states, it would become impossible to plan even the most basic military functions. It was because of this that a man called Paul Baran devised a system whereby if the switches were not centralised but spread out over a great distance then telecommunications could continue to operate even if many of the links and switches were destroyed. A very simple idea in theory; spread your assets out over a wide area instead of in one place so that the enemy would find it almost impossible to take the whole system down.

Each part, or node of this network would function completely independently, able to transmit and receive data and route it accordingly. When a military installation sent a piece of data, it would be broken up into little chunks and each chunk (known as a packet) would be told where it should end up. The data would then find it’s own way through the network taking whichever route would become available, it one route had been destroyed, the data would simply go around that route, very much like your average motorist when he is avoiding road works.

Where we start to see this idea progress into the modern day world however is that over the following years, many more people started to jump onto the Internet train. Universities were one particular group of organisations that found that the idea of a stable and resilient system which could link all areas that they needed access to indirectly very appealing. When you consider the topography of the United States, you start to realise that to provide a data link from one end of the country to the other end directly is no small task, especially if you want to do this with an element of stability. Originally used for sending technical research and documentation, this network soon became used for much more trivial tasks, for example, to exchange personal letters with one another.

The story from now on develops somewhat obviously into what we see as the Internet in today’s world. Over a period of time, more and more people started using the Internet to communicate to people locally, nationally or internationally. The number of links and nodes that now make up the Internet is phenomenal in comparison to the seven locations that originally tested the first prototype of the military network in 1969. The US military now have a division of the Internet called MILNET and the majority of us now have access to the Internet for more menial uses such as downloading music and games reliably and fairly quickly.

Because of the large amount of independence each of the points that consist of the Internet have, it is not surprising that no one particular person owns it or has rights to it and therefore it is so difficult, if not impossible to police. The Department Of Defence originally researched it, but now it has snowballed into such a large entity that there is nothing to stop anyone creating a point along the network.

So just think, next time you are getting a document from the Internet, the number of separate computers that one small file has to jump across in order to get to you, it isn’t a case of it jumping straight from the computer where the file is stored, straight onto your computer, it probably travels through a dozen computers along the way, automatically finding the easiest and quickest route to take to your computer.

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