The Internet has no single owner. The complete list of companies that own the networks that combine to make up the Internet is ever changing and far too large for this article. Focusing on the larger networks making up the greater Internet infrastructure, often called “the backbone,” the companies listed below own the Internet.

Who owns the Internet?

According to data from The Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis (CAIDA), these companies own the largest pieces of the Internet backbone.

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This list is based on the percentage of IPv4 addresses within each company’s scope. These companies own big communication networks and allow smaller companies to rent portions of their networks. Those smaller companies in turn rent out portions of their networks to even smaller companies. The pattern continues on down to the consumer. Any IPv4 address residing on any of those networks would be considered in the company’s scope.

For example, 79% of all IPv4 addresses are serviced by companies that rent network usage from Level 3 Communications, or companies that rent network usage from companies that rent network usage from Level 3 Communications, and so on and so forth.

The usage is not exclusive. Big companies will rent to several smaller companies and the smaller companies will rent from several of the bigger companies. In this way the scope of these companies overlap.

These numbers only represent a connection. They do not necessarily reflect profitability, traffic, or company size.

These companies, along with several others, own big pieces of the Internet infrastructure. They control huge potions of the towers, cables, and servers we rely on to keep the Internet working.

Owning so much of the Internet infrastructure would seem to give these companies huge amounts of influence over Internet content, but the Internet is too large and dynamic to be overly influenced by any one company. Several organizations work to keep it that way.

The Internet Caretakers

Four organizations work together to keep the Internet working and running smoothly:

The Internet Society creates the standards and policies of Internet functionality.

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) works to maintain a stable and secure Internet architecture.

The Internet Architecture Board (IAB) oversees Internet protocols.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) manages the Domain Name System that routs all the traffic on the Internet.

Although these organizations don’t own the Internet, they work to keep individual networks of the Internet working together.

We’re all Renters

You may own your computer. You may pay your ISP for Internet access. But the infrastructure that actually makes your connection work is owned by companies with which you may have no association. The protocols governing your connection are developed and implemented by other organizations that seem to fly under the radar.

You may have an email account, a log in, password, profile, security question, avatar, handle, screen name, and a signature. But if they are all part of program stored on servers on other networks and can only be accessed by paying a fee, are they really yours?

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Photo: Steve Jurvetson/Flickr
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