If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

What is the Internet?

What is the internet? Short answer: a distributed packet-switched network. This is the introduction video to the series, "How the Internet Works". Vint Cerf, one of the "fathers of the internet" explains the history of the net and how no one person or organization is really in charge of it.

Want to join the conversation?

  • male robot hal style avatar for user KEVIN
    Since the internet started as a defense department project, what is the government's ownership portion of the Internet as it currently exists?
    (34 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • blobby green style avatar for user Ananth Pai
    Are big companies like search engines able to manipulate or control more of the internet than the average person?
    (7 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • leaf grey style avatar for user Alex
      It depends on what you mean by "manipulate or control". The entire Internet is technically accessible to any individual, be it a person or organization, but to a varying degree, depending on things like disabilities, technological proficiency, financial situation, etc. In terms of "control", yes, companies and organizations have control over websites, accounts, passwords, software, information, content, etc. that individuals just don't have access to. Think about what might happen if, say, Google moved a search result from front page to the second page or made Gmail no longer available for free.
      (14 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Hung Andrew
    Does the government have any role in regulating our internet.
    (7 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • leaf grey style avatar for user Sophie Banda
    When was the Internet invented? When it first was, did people accept the new ability they had to talk to people all around the world?
    (5 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user GW
      The Internet evolved from the ARPANET, a U.S. military project developed during the Cold War to promote decentralized communication (mainly around the 1960s). Military leaders were concerned about foreign nations taking out communications in the U.S., so a branch of the government called ARPA contracted companies and universities to develop technology that would link the major supercomputers around the U.S. together using existing telephone lines, thus creating a wide-scale network for communication and resource sharing . By the late 1970s, the ARPANET split into two sections, one was purely for government purposes (called MILNET), while the other was for academic research and was open to the public. The public was stilled called ARPANET, and, in the 1980s, this was integrated with other networks around the U.S. and the world to form the Internet.

      As to whether people accepted the Internet, in regards to the ARPANET, it was expensive and difficult to set up a connection to the ARPANET, so it really wasn't until ARPA and existing users improved the network enough that knowledge of its existence became widespread. Email was actually one of the biggest breakthroughs of the ARPANET, as resource sharing was not as used as ARPA had hoped (this was partly due to the incompatibility of computers for distributed computing). As for the rest of the U.S., there were groups that protested the government's funding of university research for military objectives, while others celebrated the innovation of a "nonhierarchical organized social form in which scattered individuals are linked to one another by an information technology and through it the experience of a shared mindset."
      (11 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user tsiseglo.fafali
    So everyone is not in charge over the Internet or we are in charge of the Internet?
    (6 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • blobby green style avatar for user SeanR
    How came nobody owns the internet, if somebody were to who?
    (4 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • piceratops seed style avatar for user Chantel
    Does everybody control the internet?
    (5 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • blobby green style avatar for user kevima43
    what is the internet and how does it work?
    (3 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • old spice man green style avatar for user KATENDE ERICK
    I still believe someone governs the internet ,not so?
    (3 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • leaf green style avatar for user sp
      Well, if you are in a country without free speech, like China or North Korea, then the internet there is heavily censored. You can only see a portion of it. In that sense, those governments control the internet for its citizens.
      (5 votes)
  • starky sapling style avatar for user Joseph Maldonado
    I cant
    (4 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user

Video transcript

[Closed captioning: What Is the Internet?] [Music]  What is the internet? The internet is like a popular thing.  Some satellites up there. I picture it in my head with like waves of   internet going to the phone. Somebody told me a cloud once.  The internet is a lot like  plumbing. It’s always moving.  Most people don’t have any idea where the  internet came from, and it doesn’t matter,   they don’t need to. It’s sort of like asking who  invented the ballpoint pen, or the flush toilet,   or, you know, the zipper. These are all things we  just use every day. We don’t even think about the   fact that one day, somebody invented them. So, the internet is just like that. Many,   many years ago, in the early 1970s, my  partner Bob Kahn and I began working on the   design of what we now call the internet. It was a result of another experiment   called the ARPANET, which stood for Advanced  Research Projects Agency Network. It was a   Defense Department research project. Paul Baran was trying to figure out   how to build a communication system that  might actually survive a nuclear attack.  So he had this idea of breaking messages up into  blocks and sending them as fast as possible in   every possible direction through the mesh network. So we built what eventually became a nationwide   experimental packet network, and it worked! [Loud, electronic music]  Is anybody in charge of the internet? The government controls it.  Elves. Obviously elves! The people who control the Wi-Fi because then   no Wi-Fi, no internet. T-Mobile, um, Xfinity.  Bill Gates. Bill Gates.  Bill Gates.[pause] Right? The honest answer is well nobody,   and maybe another answer is everybody. The real answer is that the internet is   made up of an incredibly large number  of independently operated networks.  What’s interesting about the system is that it’s  fully distributed. There’s no central control   that’s deciding how packets are routed  or where pieces of network are built,   or even who interconnects with whom. These are all business decisions that   are made independently by the operators. They are all motivated to assure that there   is end-to-end connectivity of every part of the  network, because the utility of the net is that   any device can communicate with any other device,  just like you want to be able to make phone calls   to any other telephone in the world. There’s nothing like this that   has ever been built before. The idea that what you know   might be useful to somebody else or vice  versa is a very powerful motivator for   sharing information. By the way that's how  science gets done, people share information.  So, this is an opportunity for people to think up  new applications, maybe program them as apps on a   mobile phone, maybe become part of the continued  growth of the infrastructure of the network to   bring it to people who don’t have access to it  yet, or just make use of it on a day-to-day basis.  You can’t escape from contact with the  internet, so why not get to know it and use it?   [Music]