Who owns the tangible Internet?

[Seems my Buzz Machine: Clinton and the freedom to connect comment has gotten out of hand again. Thing is, it’s an incredibly important issue, so here are my further adventures in windmill tilting. ]

This is the Internet... click the image to visit the Opte Project and see what the Internet looked like on different days.

Intangible concepts are often the ones that matter most.

What is the Internet? It is not analogous to a house. But you folks want tangibles, so lets talk tangibles.

A house occupies a finite amount of space. A house anywhere in our world is most likely to fall under the specific jurisdiction and laws of the nation in which it stands. Under the laws of the land, it is usually straightforward to determine who holds title to the house. In most cases only the owner has the rights to alter or amend the structure of the house.

The Internet, on the other hand, spans the globe. This means that there are bits of infrastructure residing in many nations and under many different legal systems. And if Fred in Topeka sends an email to Mary in London, the email it is broken down into multiple packets which are sent independently — part of Fred’s email might go in a relatively straight line from sender to destination but part of it may be rerouted via Sri Lanka and another through Iceland.

The “infrastructure” is neither finite nor static, and many different people in many different places control many different bits of that infrastructure. There are Internet backbone peers, and Internet Service Providers and the satellites, wires, cables and routers connecting everything together in a multitude of different ways.

At the ends of the Internet are the users and content providers, who connect to the internet via their own bits of infrastructure. People connect and both upload and download content via devices that are only sometimes connected to The Internet, sometimes by wire and sometimes by WiFi. When my cell phone is turned on, I can connect to the Internet with it. When I turn it off, that’s no longer possible. Private individuals and companies can host their websites on their own computers– and they own that piece of Infrastructure. These network connections that make up the Internet fluctuate moment by moment.

You’ll have noticed that people have been referring to “information highways” and “pipes” for as long as we’ve been trying to understand the Internet, because, although the infrastructure is part of the Internet, it is not The Internet.

The Internet is a peer network that exists to share content. Unlike traditional television broadcasting networks, only rarely is Internet content provided by Internet Service Providers (with the exception of some jurisdictions that allow anti-competitive corporate conduct). An enormous amount of the content available on the Internet is not the property of the ISPs who own the Infrastructure, but is instead is freely put there by users. People and organizations are releasing extraordinary quantities of photographs and artwork and music and movies under creative commons licenses, and blogs, microblogging, self publishing and citizen journalism are on the rise. It would clearly be a tangible and grievous error to award ownership of this great human outpouring of creativity to those who own segments of Internet infrastructure.

Although there are tangibles, it is the intangibles of The internet that draw us in. If you really need an analogy, a house doesn’t do it. Try using a community.

We all own the Internet.

Image Credits: Map of the Internet – photo by the Opte Project


The Internet Is Mine

The Internet does belong to *me* — and all the other self styled Citizens of the Net.

Corporations may own bits of wire and pieces of equipment, but that isn’t The Internet.
Any more than a handful of soil scooped up from the nearest garden is your country.

That pile of dirt may be a fractional portion of your country, and those bits of technology may be segments of Internet infrastructure, but they are neither the sum of your country nor the entity we call The Internet.

Please note: there is but one Internet, which is the sum of a whole mess of interconnection.
Networks.   Computers.   Cell phones.

The Internet is one thing — a network — that exists in many countries spread all over the world.

Apollo 17 full Earth photograph

It is the very connectivity which confers value.

Those of us who contribute to it, use it, work with it, learn from it and share it do have rights.

Because the Internet would not exist without us.

All of us.

It has been suggested that the Internet would exist without me, and further, if I’ve only come online in the last decade, it existed before me, and will exist after me.

That may be true in a very limited sense: as an individual, I am only one small atom of The Internet. Just as an individual citizen of any democracy is simply one small part.

But the point of the Internet is that we are all put together. The Internet is the sum of its parts.

Not just the brilliant folks like Tim Berners Lee who created the World Wide Web who wrote the IP protocol that makes it function, but all the users, whether they can create a website or barely manage to reply to an email.
It wouldn’t BE The Internet if we all pulled up stakes and moved on.
It would simply revert to being a mess of wire and hunks of equipment.

Internet = Interconnected Networks.

Just as the citizens of a country make up the democracy, it is the users who comprise “The Internet.”

It’s been further suggested my opinion about The Internet doesn’t count unless I played a ‘key role’ in DARPA.

Certainly, DARPA’s Internet — an earlier incarnation of the Internet that existed before it was open to the public — was a very different beastie.

But that isn’t The Internet that exists today.

When DARPA controlled the Internet, they wouldn’t have needed to lobby for legislation of Internet Backdoors.

The Internet is not static, but dynamic.

The Internet has evolved.

The Internet of today has evolved enormously precisely because of the interconnection of humans.

It is this international assembly that has so attracted marketers and governments, all of whom seek to co-opt and control the Internet, in order to profit and/or govern the citizens of the Internet.

I certainly didn’t play a key role in DARPA. I had to google DARPA and read about it on Wikipedia to even know what it is. Because I’m nobody. An Internet user. Heck, I’m not even an American.

But the Internet is mine just the same.

Statue - of a broken Spartacus being supported by a young man - standing in Paris
I am Spartacus

Because the thing we all know as The Internet today is a network of parts. Without the people who use it — the citizens of the net — it would not be anything like it has become. Like it is. Because of the things that the Internet makes possible, the world is changing. Ideas are changing. Methods of doing things are changing.

On DARPA’s Internet, the precursor to *my* Internet, it was inconceivable that total strangers from all over the world would come together to produce a free and accessible encyclopedia, much less one that would come to be accepted as reputable.

The point is that Internet is no longer the creature of DARPA.
That may be a key part of the reason the American government
is so testy. Every time the United States filters out a chunk of the Internet, they are building their own “Great Wall” and locking their own citizens behind it. Yet if the United States chooses to gather up its marbles and go home, the rest of us will still be online.

Because the Internet belongs to the whole world —
to everyone who connects to it.

If all of the Citizens of The Internet were to log off, the hollow shell remaining in DARPA’s grasp would hardly be recognizable as anything but a memory of the entity we today recognize as The Internet.

So you see, the Internet is mine. And yours. It’s ours.

And we are Spartacus.

[This is an expansion of my comments on Buzzmachine: Clinton and the freedom to connect]

Image Credit: “Paris – Jardin des Tuileries – Le Serment de Spartacus – Ernest Barrias’ Le Serment de Spartacus (The Oath of Spartacus)” photo by Wally Gobetz wallyg under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) License

Earth from space, Apollo 17 mission. Copyright and Credit NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, Scientific Visualization Studio, released under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) License.