What is the internet?

What is the internet?

Silly question, I know. But most people don’t actually know what the internet truly is. Its more than just Facebook or Netflix. Comcast and Qwest aren’t the internet.

The simplest definition of the internet is that it is a collection of computer networks tied together. Imagine that someone in Florence had a big network of computers and servers and they wanted to be able to connect with a business in Newport to exchange information. They would need a physical connection put in place up the highway to tie in the two computer networks. At that point, the two networks would be able to talk to each other just like they were next door neighbors.

Now take that example, and image hundreds of thousands of those little networks all tied together. Generally, these networks are tied together by their internet service provider. Acme Co. uses BigISP in downtown Portland for internet. Acme has a connection into BigISP. BigISP then has relationships with other ISP’s which is commonly referred to as peering. Now not all ISP’s are next door neighbors and can afford to build a cable from their part of the city to the other. So rather than build their own connection, ISP’s also purchase “transit” from third party providers. That way BigISP in Portland doesn’t have to build their own cable from Portland to Des Monies, Iowa.

Peering (two neighbors connecting themselves for free or low cost) and transit (two networks far a part paying a third party) are the fundamental building blocks of how computer networks tie together. In a real world example, some of you may remember a few months back there was a big dust up between Comcast and Level3 about delivering Netflix movies to Comcast internet users. This centered solely around the peering relationship between Comcast and Level3. Comcast has all the customers, but they need to get those customers to the internet. Netflix pays Level3 for transit to deliver their product and Level3 peers with Comcast to bring it into our homes.

Surprising, isn’t it? Who knew that’s how the internet really works? Aside from us nerdy folk…

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