What is the Internet?

The Internet is a global network of computer networks. The forerunner of the Internet was used by the military, but corporations and universities soon linked their own computer networks to it in order to exchange data quickly and easily.

During the last few years the Internet has grown at an incredible rate. New additions are being made every day in countries all over the world, and many of these are commercial rather than governmental or institutional. The most recent phenomenon, of which you are now a part, is the use of the Internet by individuals and small businesses for communication, education and entertainment.

Who owns the Internet? Who pays for it?

Nobody owns the whole Internet, but each segment of it is owned by some person or organization. The individual computer networks which comprise the Internet are usually parts of governments, universities or corporations. The "backbones" (high-speed data links) which carry the data are owned by telecommunications companies or national governments.

The financing for all this is, as you might suppose, a bit complicated. More and more of it is being borne by companies who use the Internet to promote their products and services, and various governments around the world (including the United States) also contribute significantly.

What kind of stuff can be sent over the Internet?

Two kinds - ones and zeros. And nothing else, ever.

Of course, you can do a lot with ones and zeros. You can represent any number with them, and numbers can represent letters (like these) and can even be used to store and reproduce pictures and sounds. Text pages like this appear quickly on your screen because each letter is represented by a single number, while graphics load slowly because hundreds or thousands of numbers are needed for even a small picture.

The ones and zeros which are sent over the Internet are interpreted with different methods (called "protocols") for different purposes. Some of the more popular Internet protocols are the World Wide Web, email (electronic mail), FTP (File Transfer Protocol), Usenet (news groups) and IRC (Internet Relay Chat). Each of these is covered separately in this tutorial.

Is America Online the Internet?

No. America Online, CompuServe, Prodigy and the other commercial networks are private businesses.

A few years ago, if you had a modem for your computer and you wanted to connect to something, one of the commercial networks (or a much smaller, local version called a "bulletin board service" or BBS) was about your only choice. The Internet was not an option.

The commercial networks buy "content" like airline schedules, magazine articles and news wire services to provide to their subscribers. They also make lots of "shareware" programs and files available for downloading, and set up "chat rooms" where subscribers can exchange messages.

The recent explosive growth of the Internet, which now offers everything mentioned above and much more, has put the commercial networks in an awkward position. As a result they are becoming primarily gateways to the Internet, just like PhoneTech and other local ISPs ("Internet Service Providers").

Unfortunately for their subscribers, using the commercial networks for Internet access is expensive because they charge by the hour. They also limit your choice of software for Web browsing, email, etc. That's why more and more people are choosing local ISPs for reliable Intenet access and helpful technical support.

Can I be charged for something I do on the Internet?

Not unless you give somebody your credit card number. Otherwise, you can poke around anywhere you want without incurring any charges. Some Internet sites do require a one-time or monthly payment, but these also require a password and you won't be able to get into the site without one.

PhoneTech will never charge you more than your normal monthly fee, regardless of how much you use the service or what you do with it.

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