Who Controls the Internet

who controls the Internet well that's a great question that is open to some interpretation over the next few minutes I'll try to shed some light on the question from a few different angles and let you decide what the true answer to our question should be for many people when they hear our original question they didn't think of it in terms of content who controls the content on the Internet if you think of it in those terms you might think that nobody controls the Internet after all anybody can put up a web site featuring whatever content they want right well most people think this is the case simply because there are so many websites that contain content that you would never find on cable TV or radio or anywhere else for that matter but that doesn't mean there are no limits to what you can put in the Internet just ask anybody who's recently tried to set up an online gambling website in the United States Jake Cohen became pretty famous because of this exact issue in fact mr. Cohen even went to the painstaking links to ensure that his online gambling website would be legal before he ever built a business in Antigua for those of you whose geography is as bad as mine this is Antigua and that's the United States even though mr. Cohen was operating in a country that allowed the operation of online gambling sites the US federal government still found a way to shut him down and throw him in prison by citing his website as a violation of the wire wager Act so Jay Cohen went to jail so can we conclude from this that the federal government controls the internet or at least the content on the Internet I don't think so basically what this case and others like it tell us is that you can't break the law just because you're doing something online so you're free to publish whatever you want you can build whatever web apps you want to put out whatever you want to do as long as you're not breaking an existing law and I think that's pretty fair people in other places in the world don't have as much to be thankful for as we do in China all Internet content is subject to government censorship this issue reached perhaps its highest publicity in the United States when Google decided to stop censoring search results for users in China this led to a big battle between China and Google that included China shutting down all access to Google search utilities for a day even though this battle started several years ago and continued today this is a screenshot of Google China see that link to google.com HK that's there because Google now routes searches through its servers in Hong Kong to get around China's censorship laws the problem is that China still blocks access to censored sites so some search results in China lead to blocked pages Google recently announced that it would warrant Chinese users when they enter search terms that may lead to censored results so what do you think the government's control the internet I think we can all agree that they do at least to some extent depending on where you live but I think about it for a second while we look at our original question from a second perspective another way of thinking of our original question is who controls the technology behind the internet lucky for us this question is a lot easier to answer definitively there are several large organizations that produce the technical standards that make the internet tick the internet Engineering Task Force or IETF developed infrastructure standards that allow equipment manufactured by different companies to communicate with each other among other things they develop protocols which can be thought of as rules for machine communication think of it as developing a language that all the network manufacturers can learn so their equipment can communicate with equipment made by others the Internet Corporation for Assigned numbers and names or ICANN is responsible for assigning domain names or web addresses and IP addresses which are the numerical addresses on the Internet then there's the World Wide Web Consortium or the w3c this organization comes up with standards for web design and accessibility the standards they create are intended for both web developers and browser developers to use so that the two can communicate effectively when a web developer writes code for a website they want to know that the user that visits that site will have a predictable experience no matter which web browser they're using that's where the w3c comes in okay so we have a bunch of organizations that come up with standards that's great but how much power do they actually have how much do they actually control the Internet well in some cases like the IETF and I can their power is great there's really no way to get around them in fact whenever you start a web address with HTTP that stands for hypertext Transfer Protocol and that was a protocol that was developed by the IETF and the w3c so obviously they have a great deal of influence but in some cases they don't have quite as much power as some people wish they did let me show you what I mean this is a website designed by Chris quarry where he shares advice with other web designers it's a very well designed website and it looks nice this screenshot was taken using the Firefox web browser which is a standards-compliant web browser this is the same web site viewed with Internet Explorer 7 you see Microsoft pretty much ignored the web standards put forth by the w3c for the better part of the last decade web designers had to compensate for this by spending hours and hours of tedious work hacking their own website so they would look decent for users that visited their sites with Internet Explorer eventually Internet Explorer's market share dropped low enough that some web site designers could afford to ignore Internet Explorer or just simply write a very plain version of their site that would be displayed when a user visited it with Internet Explorer that's what Chris courrier did here this encouraged even more users to start using a different browser eventually Microsoft got the message when they came out with Internet Explorer 8 and made pretty big steps towards standards compliance and when they came out with Internet Explorer 9 most people considered that to be Microsoft's first standards compliant browser and I made a lot of people really happy especially web designers who had spent hours and hours and hours trying to overcome the glitches within the earlier versions of Internet Explorer so the nonprofit's we've been talking about do have some control over the internet but the good news is that it's a pretty democratic sort of control these organizations are made up by professionals in the industry whose primary concern is advancing the technology of the Internet perhaps the most important question that we face today is who will control the internet in the future in many countries around the world internet access is completely controlled by the government we saw this and I ran a couple of years ago when protesters led to Iran actually shutting down internet access for their citizens so far that hasn't been a case in the United States and that's a good thing but in late December 2010 the FCC passed what they called their net neutrality rules now whether or not you agree with net neutrality one thing pretty much everyone agrees with it's kind of scary to have the FCC involved with the Internet we've seen what they've done with other media radio television and light where they've stepped in and kind of tried to control the content so we'll see what happens with this in the future but it's something to keep an eye on and it's something to get involved with if you feel like you have a strong enough opinion on the matter you