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What is the Internet?

The term Internet is derived from inter and network. It’s a vast network of globally interconnected networks. If one part of the Internet is down, routers send traffic on alternate routes. It’s a survivable, robust network with parts of it able to function during natural disasters and attacks. The United States Department of Defense funded the original Internet with the intention of having a robust network able to survive an attack or national disaster. They awarded money to the University of California at Santa Barbara for the purpose of developing a resilient network. In addition, faculty in the IT department at the University of Michigan collaborated on new protocols to be used in the Internet.

At that time, 1969 until the mid-1990s, researchers at universities and government agencies were the main users of the Internet. They used it to collaborate on research. Additionally, staff at universities used the Internet to access early forms of electronic mail (e-mail) using arcane commands such as k to display the previous message and n to display the next message. Logging into the Internet and using e-mail acquired a user-friendly interface when Tim Burners Lee developed the Nexus browser in 1989. Examples of browsers include Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Safari. Mosaic and Netscape were early browsers. Easily accessible, user-friendly browsers are a large part of the reason that the Internet was widely adopted.

Features of the Internet

The following are some of the most prominent features of the Internet:

  • It uses a common set of IP protocols

  • It is a packet network

  • Routers send packets on the least congested routes

  • Routers send packets around disabled, broken links

  • It has defined protocols, such as IPv4 and IPv6 for addressing

  • It can grow to keep up with growing amounts of traffic

  • The backbone is made up of fiber-optical cabling connected to electronics in which capacity can be increased, often using software at remote data centers

  • The United States federal government does not regulate the Internet

  • Because of the simplicity of its protocols, IP, TCP, and HTML markup language, the entire world can communicate over the Internet

  • Voice, video, and data are transmitted on the Internet

  • Carriers exchange traffic at peering points

Protocols Used on the Internet

The single most important factor in the worldwide spread of the Internet is the standard, easily implemented protocols used on the Internet. Worldwide, all countries use the same IP protocols to transmit data across their sections of the Internet. This means that people access broadband in a uniform way regardless of their location. When the Internet was designed, simplicity was purposely kept in mind so that the networks could be uniformly and easily duplicated. The fact that these designs are accepted worldwide has been a critical factor in adoption.

The following are examples of the Internet protocols:

  • Internet Protocol: IP is a “best effort” protocol. When a message is sent over the Internet, it is broken up into packets. Each packet is sent on a different route and reassembled at the receiving end in the correct order. If there is congestion the router drops packets. The dropped packets are not resent. This is why IP is known as a best effort transmission protocol.

  • HTTP: HyperText Transport Protocol links are the standard way documents are moved around the Internet.

  • HTML: HyperText Markup Language is used to compose web pages. It is not, strictly speaking, a protocol.

  • TCP: Transmission Control Protocol provides error checking on messages sent over the Internet. It is a connection-oriented protocol. Messages are sent between sending and receiving computers on the Internet that communicate whether the message was received or whether errors occurred. If there are errors, bits are retransmitted.

  • IPv4 and IPv6: Internet Protocol v4 and v6 define the numeric structure of Internet addresses. The newer IPv6 was launched in 2012. It specifies longer addresses and is being implemented by Internet providers and telephone companies. It has capacity for more IP addresses than the shorter IPv4 structure.

The Impact of Capacity—The Availability of Broadband Networks

An important factor in the wide use of the Internet in everyday life and business is the availability of high-capacity broadband and cellular services. This availability exists in Western Europe, North America, much of Asia, parts of Africa, and in the Middle East. The capacity and availability of the networks that make up the Internet are enabled by technologies such as fiber-optic cabling and the supporting electronics connected to it: lower-cost, smaller graphical processor chips in wireless handsets and laptops; faster computers; and improved compression to support multimedia video streaming and high-capacity content downloads. These improvements, along with search engines, enhance the user experience for consumers and businesses alike, as do improvements in web site designs.

The Public Network Prior to the Internet

At the time the Internet was developed and through the 1990s, the public switched telephone network, which carried only voice, was made up of large central offices called tandem offices. Smaller central offices were connected in a hub-and-spoke design to each tandem office. If the tandem office crashed, all the local central offices were also out of service. The designers of the Internet wanted to avoid this centralized control where an outage at a central or tandem office disabled large swaths of the public telephone network.

The Internet—A Distributed Network with No Central Control

The Internet is a distributed network with no single ISP (Internet Service Provider) or other entity controlling it. It’s a distributed network in which multiple carriers manage particular parts of the network. If a router crashes, other routers send traffic along alternate paths in the Internet’s backbone. The backbone is the part of the Internet that carries traffic across the country between cities and states, and between countries.

Although the Internet was designed to function when any route crashes, if the central databases that hold IP addresses are disabled, the Internet won’t function. See the section “The Criticality of Root Servers” below for information on root servers.

Largest Carriers Worldwide—Backbone Providers

The telephone companies with the largest Internet backbones in the United States are Sprint, Verizon, CenturyLink (through its purchase of Level3), and AT&T. There are a number of local carriers (ISPs) that connect users to the Internet because no single provider has service everywhere.

According to the May 24, 2017, article by Antoine Gara in the Forbes online article, “The World’s Largest Telecom Companies: AT&T & Verizon Top China Telecom,” the following are the largest telephone companies by total revenue worldwide. The list includes their headquarters locations. However, most of them have services in other countries as well:

  • AT&T—U.S.

  • Verizon—U.S.

  • China Mobile—Hong Kong, China

  • Nippon Telegraph & Telecom—Japan

  • Softbank—Japan

  • Deutshe Telekom—Germany

  • Telefonica—Spain

  • KDDI—Japan

  • China Telecom—China

Using Search Engines to Unleash Vast Stores of Information

The introduction of sophisticated search engines by organizations such as Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo! (part of Verizon) made browsing the Internet convenient by organizing the enormous amounts of information available on the Internet. Search engines from Google and Baidu in China and others including DuckDuck Go Search, Bing (part of Microsoft), Dogpile Search, Yippy Search, and Webopedia Search earn revenue from advertising on their sites and from ranking companies that pay fees for higher placements (rankings) in search results.

Page ranking refers to the placement on a web page of search results. Ranking a product or service higher places it closer to the top of search results, with a higher likelihood of people clicking on the link. In addition to paying for higher ranks, ranking is done by analyzing the number of other sites that link to a particular site. For example, if someone searches for Greek restaurants in San Francisco, the Google engine looks at and ranks the restaurants partially on how many sites link to particular Greek restaurants in San Francisco and the type of sites linking to it.

Google not only earns the highest search-engine-based advertising revenue in the United States, but because of its many acquisitions, it has the potential to skew results of searches in favor of its own sites. When search results are returned, search engines such as Google can rank their own sites higher than those of competitors. Google’s search engines are located in hundreds of countries worldwide in addition to its presence in the United States.

Over the years, Google’s owner Alphabet acquired many software companies, including the following:

  • Zagat (restaurant and hotel reviews)

  • Android operating system software for smartphones

  • Adsense (Google’s network for advertising sales)

  • DoubleClick (advertising network used to target ads to particular classes of people)

  • Google Maps (GPS plus local guides and advertising)

  • Keyhole Technologies, Zipdash Inc., and Where2 LL2 (software that forms the basis of Google Maps)

  • ITA (airline flight aggregation information)

  • Motorola Mobility (mobile devices; patents for mobile services)

  • YouTube (online videos and streaming TV)

  • Waze GPS (global positioning service)

  • Zipdash (now part of Google’s location services)

In addition to possibly skewing search results toward their own sites, search engines have implications for privacy. Marketers can determine the following based on terms people search on:

  • Gender

  • Income Range

  • Health

  • Type of computer (Mac or Microsoft Windows)

  • Location

This information may be shared with advertisers who target ads at particular demographics based on search history. For example, they might show pop-up and sidebar ads on the Internet based on people’s purchasing history. See the section “Privacy” below.

Search Engines—Mathematical Algorithms and Page Ranking

Google, a unit of Alphabet, attracts the most search engine traffic worldwide. Baidu in China is second and Microsoft’s Bing and Verizon’s Yahoo! are third and fourth respectively. Search software uses mathematical algorithms and page ranking to determine search results. Proprietary mathematical algorithms analyze keywords, titles, site structures, and descriptions to determine which sites fit the search terms specified by Internet users. They look at headlines, bolding, and the proximity of words to each other for relevance of textual data on the page.

Search engines have massive indexes (lists) in databases of past searches and URLs, or locations of web sites. They additionally have the ability to find and add new web sites and discover sites that are removed. This is done by spiders, software that continuously and automatically crawl through the Internet looking for new and updated sites.

Search Revenue—Advertising, Page Ranking, and Software Licensing

Google has the largest revenue from search worldwide, primarily from advertising on its sites. As reported by its parent company, Alphabet, it had $26 billion in total sales for the quarter ending June 30, 2017. Of that total, $25.8 billion was from search: advertising, software licensing, and page ranking.

Search companies earn revenue by a combination of ads, favorable ranking of web sites in search results, and licensing software to other search companies and to enterprises. Large enterprises deploy the licensed search software to assist staff in finding information on health and retirement benefits, information about departments, and directories of employee addresses and telephone numbers.

Investigations into Google Search Practices

In June 2017, the European Union fined Google $5 billion for favoring its own companies in search results. The European Union judged that Google demoted rivals’ links in favor of its own company’s links and search results. This is important because the top 10 ranked search results receive about 90 percent of all clicks. The EU’s investigation was prompted by complaints from EU companies, that search results were skewed in Google’s favor and that EU companies’ results were demoted to lower rankings on search result pages. For example, Google might rank its own flight information service higher than a competitive flight information service. The EU complaint stated in part that Google was using anti-competitive tactics to take advantage of its 90 percent market share in searches.

As a result of the EU fine and agreement, Google stated that it would let companies bid for the top placement in search, rather than ranking search results by links to products retailers who had paid Google to rank high in searches. Google further agreed to make some changes in its search shopping methodologies, and to stop promoting its own shopping services while demoting rivals’ comparison sites.

The EU left it up to Google to create its own solutions to these issues. Per EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager, if the EU is not satisfied with Google’s changes made within 90 days of the fine, the EU will fine Google up to 5 percent of its total global search revenue each day. The EU hired accounting firm KPMG and search engine optimization marketing company Mavens to monitor Google’s search results for compliance with the EU agreement. Despite this agreement, Google has stated that it will continue to challenge the fine in the courts.

In addition to the EU’s investigation into Google’s search practices, in 2016 the EU filed anti-trust charges against Google over its dominant position in search on Android operating system mobile phones and tablet computers. The complaint alleged that Google is monopolistic in requiring that Android phone manufacturers pre-load the Google Chrome browser and Google Search on phones. The charges are further based on Google’s practice of offering financial incentives to carriers and manufacturers to make Google’s search services the only pre-loaded search on mobile phones. In 2016, Russia filed a similar anti-trust complaint against Google’s policies on mobile phones and tablet computers. In 2017, Google and Russia reached a settlement where Google agreed to pay Russia $7.8 million to settle the claim.

Internet2—A Non-Commercial Outgrowth of the Internet

Internet2 is the predecessor of the Internet. In contrast to the public Internet, it is a nonprofit private network. Internet2 was established as a way for university and research professionals to collaborate over a private connected network. Internet2 is the largest private network in the world. The scope of Internet2 has grown from university and research organizations to include corporations, and private and governmental national research entities in over 100 countries.

A core group of Internet2 technology staff maintain and upgrade the network to include high data rate services including SDN and Gigabit Ethernet. In addition to the local data centers at members’ locations, Internet2 maintains a central data center at Indiana University. An important focus of operations at the data center is maintaining the security and privacy of information transmitted over Internet2 links.

In the United States, Internet2 drops are located in metropolitan areas on the east and west coasts, as well as throughout populated areas along the southern coast. There are fewer Internet2 locations in less densely populated cities in the midwest.

Collaboration and research data transmitted over Internet2 includes cooperation between branches of large universities. For example, many universities now have branches throughout urban and rural areas, as well as in distant cities of large countries. Internet2 also links university sites in distant continents. Scientists and researchers are able to partner with distant colleagues on designing new drugs and other innovative technologies using Internet2 links.

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