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Internet Overview

A brief primer on the Internet.

The Internet, once the playground of boffins and geeks, has exploded into the public domain with such an impact that it is now indispensable for much of our business and personal communications.

As Internet access reaches mass market, users are hungry for faster connectivity on smaller devices and the delivery of on-line news, sports and entertainment, e-commerce catalogues and music and movies on-demand.

What is the Internet

The Internet is a network of thousands of intersecting networks - a ‘spider’s web’ of connections meshing the globe, crossing all time zones and borders wherever there is a telecommunications infrastructure.


The Internet was made possible by a set of standard communications protocols known as TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/ Internet Protocol) or simply IP.

Previously, different computers and computer networks used various incompatible protocols to talk to each other. IP provides a common approach so they can all speak the same language.

IP has profoundly changed the way we exchange not only simple text messages but rich media including voice and images, not only between desktop computers but mobile devices and literally anything that has an IP address.

When the term Internet is capitalised it refers to the global interconnected public network we use to check our emails and surf the web.

Businesses often have a private internal internet or intranet; if shared with partners or over a supply chain for example it becomes an extranet. All use the IP protocol to handle data and increasingly voice.

Internet Applications

While there’s still plenty of hype about what the future may hold, email is still the most widely used Internet application. Browsing the World Wide Web is a close second with banking, research, listening to music, downloading software and music, gaming and accessing news, current affairs, sport and entertainment the most popular on-line pastimes.

The growth of peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing for downloading music was a phenomenon that caught the music industry off guard, forcing it to restructure to provide legitimate access to songs on-line. Now the same shake-up is happening with movies and TV programmes.

The Internet challenges everything it touches. As the convergence of information technology, telecommunications and entertainment becomes a reality, users will expect more from their Internet and content service providers.

The World Wide Web

The World Wide Web (www), or the Web, is only one of several components that that make up the big Internet picture. The most widely used application is email (electronic mail) which has become indispensable for business and personal communication. 

Other applications include file transfer protocol (ftp) which allows efficient movement of files from one computer directory to another, and USENET which hosts thousands of special interest newsgroups that Internet users can subscribe to and participate in.

The Evolving Internet

With this explosion of possibilities, urgent attention is being given to the wider technical, social and political implications of the ever-evolving Internet.

Can the Internet continue to grow exponentially without technical adjustments, upgrades and maintenance? Can junk mailers and pornographers continue to fire their unsolicited material at your mail box without risk of penalty? Does anything go, or do censorship, copyright issues and court suppression orders still need to be enforced?

While the Internet is a modern day wonder it also presents challenges which fall in part to dedicated user groups such as InternetNZ to liaise with government, canvas user concerns and feed into international policy.


Further challenges lie ahead as InternetNZ helps users come to terms with innovations such as IPv6 - the next generation protocol which will allow expansion of a richer, more capable Internet.

Another challenge is ENUM, designed to assist in the convergence of the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) and IP networks by mapping telephone numbers to the Internet. Ultimately, you’ll be able to find services on the Internet by using only a telephone number.

How Big is the Internet

According to the Netcraft Web Server Survey (July 2009) there are more than 239 million web sites, an increase of around 1.5 million on the previous month.

Netcraft Web Server Survey - Netcraft website

There are over 1.6 billion Internet users globally, according to

Internet World Stats.



The amount of information now available on the Web alone is greater than all the information previously published in history .

History of the Internet

You can find useful information on the history of the Internet at the following websites:

A Brief History of the Internet - Walt Howe website

Net website 

Who runs the Internet

The Internet represents a kind of organic anarchy. It evolved from specific military and aerospace beginnings to embrace research and education then, once it was in the public domain, it just kept growing.

There is no big brother, no chairman of the board, no-one in control. The Internet is the epitome of an open system. It grows because it meets a need and while there are technical and practical constraints that must be addressed these are typically to facilitate growth rather than to enable anyone to own, manage or hijack the Internet.

A number of dedicated volunteer groups, made up of technical, business, government, higher education groups and Internet users, continue to take responsibility for developing standards and ensuring there is a global consensus for maintenance and expansion of the Internet and its various components.

The needs of developing countries, civil society and emerging entrepreneurial uses of the Internet need to be taken into consideration in all Internet governance.

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