Who owns the Internet?

The Internet's Caretakers

ICANN CEO Paul Twomey attends the World Summit on the Internet Society in Tunisia
Abdelhak Senna/Getty Images

As mentioned earlier, the Internet works because of a system of rules called protocols. By following these protocols, computers can send information across the network to other computers. If there were no protocols, then there'd be no guarantee that the information sent from one computer could be understood by another, or that it'd even reach the right destination.

As the Internet evolves, these protocols must also change. That means someone has to be in charge of the rules. There are several organizations that oversee the Internet's infrastructure and protocols. They are:


  • The Internet Society: A nonprofit organization that develops Internet standards, policies and education.
  • The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF): An international organization with an open membership policy that has several working groups. Each working group concentrates on a specific topic, such as Internet security. Collectively, these working groups try to maintain the Internet's architecture and stability.
  • The Internet Architecture Board (IAB): An IETF committee, the IAB's mission is to oversee the design of Internet protocols and standards.
  • The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN): A private nonprofit corporation, ICANN manages the Internet's Domain Name System (DNS). ICANN is responsible for making sure that every domain name links to the correct IP address.

The Internet Society and IETF are open membership organizations. Both welcome the participation and input of Internet experts. They shape the way the Internet works and evolves.

ICANN, on the other hand, is a private organization. The exclusive nature of ICANN concerns some people. They argue that ICANN holds a lot of power over anyone who wants to register a domain name. ICANN makes money by accrediting vendors called registrars. These registrars then sell domain names to consumers and businesses. If you want to register a specific domain name, ultimately ICANN decides if you can have it.

While none of these organizations own the Internet, they each influence how the Internet works. The Internet has no central owner. While its structure remains carefully designed and maintained, the actual content on the Internet continues to be the untamed cyberspace we all know and love.

To learn more about the Internet and other topics, follow the links below.

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More Great Links
  • "A Technical History of the ARPANET." THINK project, The University of Texas at Austin.
  • ICANN Watch
  • The Internet Architecture Board
  • The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers
  • The Internet Engineering Task Force
  • Lessig, Lawrence. "The Internet Under Siege." Foreign Policy. November/December 2001.
  • Swanson, Tim. "Who owns the Internet?" Ludwig von Mises Institute. May 4, 2006.
  • "Who owns the Internet and who is in charge?"
  • Worthen, Ben. "Who owns the Internet?" CIO. March 17, 2006.