What is the Internet and how does it work?


What is the Internet? How are the different networks interconnected and who controls it all? In this article we will explain its essence without technical details.

What is the Internet?

The Internet is when…

Explaining what the Internet actually is is not so easy. Officially, this is described as a worldwide network connecting all continents, countries and cities so that any computer can communicate with any other computer at any time, wherever it is on the planet. But it’s not one network, it’s actually tens of thousands of individual networks – maybe many more – that are interconnected.

So how does it actually work? Each individual network is owned by different companies, individuals or organisations. It can be, for example. provider of ADSL, Wi-Fi, hosting services, university, government office and others. Each such network can vary in size – just a few computers or tens of thousands of computers and connections stretching across the planet. The owners of those individual networks then agree to interconnect with each other. In layman’s terms, they pull a cable between them and set up their devices so that users on one network can also access computers on the other network.

Now imagine that the whole world agrees to interconnect in this way – and the Internet is born. Of course, it is not possible for each pair of network owners to agree with each other individually. That’s why some networks offer as a commercial service that they connect you not only to their own network, but to all the others they are already connected to. And so there are a large number of telecommunication operators in the world, which for a fee will connect you to some networks or all of them, and so you are immediately connected to the entire Internet and you do not have to argue with anyone else.

Who runs the Internet?

No one owns or directly controls the Internet as a whole. It works because all the people in the world have a common interest in being connected. Having your own network from which you can’t get anywhere else, or only get to a part of the Internet, is useless. So there was no other option – people agreed to a common network. Of course, the market mechanism is fully at work here – competition, struggle for customers, mortality of the weak. If a company is successful, has a good network and a good connection to the rest of the Internet, decent prices and a nice relationship with customers, it grows, has sales, profits and more customers just flock. If, on the other hand, another company is incompetent, has a slow connection, suffers complete outages, is expensive, does not communicate with customers, etc., then customers will easily flee to the competition and that company will eventually die.

Of course, the Internet needs to be coordinated somehow to avoid complete anarchy. For these purposes, there are several supranational organizations, such as ICANN or IANA, which centrally register, coordinate, devise and implement standards, etc. The aim is to keep the network free from political influence, which is unfortunately not entirely possible. For example. ICANN is still under the thumb of the US government.

How are the networks interconnected?

We won’t go into the technical details yet, we’ll save those for another article. As mentioned above, companies or organizations agree to interconnect with each other. In theory, you just need to find one big company that connects you to the whole world. But this may not always be the best solution. The provider e.g. may have a poor connection to parts of the Internet, charge too much, offer too little speed, etc. Then, of course, it is better to find other companies through which you can also connect. The mechanisms of the Internet already arrange to find the “shorter” path from you to your destination. Thus, the more connections through different providers, the theoretically better the connection to the whole world.

The most intense is usually “local” traffic. This means that Czech Internet users mostly work with Czech websites and communicate with other Czech people. Therefore, it is probably advantageous to emphasize good interconnection with networks in the same country. You can solve this either by gradually agreeing with other companies in the Czech Republic and connecting with them (each separately) or by several companies agreeing on one common connection point. What will they achieve? In particular, they will save significantly – together they will put down the necessary technology and other costs. And since most of the traffic will then “flow” through this common interconnection node, it will also save on commercial interconnection fees to the rest of the world.

Examples of these interconnection points are:

  • NIX (Neutral Internet eXchange) – Czech interconnection node – www.nix.cz
  • SIX – Slovak interconnection node
  • LINX – London
  • AMS-IX – Amsterdam

… and thousands of other larger or smaller ones, some are purely commercial, others work e.g. as non-profit associations.

Interconnection nodes have different policies and organizational structures. Previously, only invitees and major telecom operators could join, but now it is much more liberal and basically anyone who meets certain reasonable requirements can join (after paying an entry fee).

In the next article we will move on to more technical topics.