How the Internet Works

The Supreme Court has defined the Internet as an "international network of interconnected computers."  Reno v. ACLU, 1997 US Lexis 4037, *12.  The Internet connects these numerous computer networks using "global internet backbones," each of which is itself comprised of interconnected computers.  Collectively these global backbones comprise the "Internet backbone".  Individual users typically gain access to the Internet through an Internet Service Provider (ISP).

Consumers have their choice of which ISP to use.  Different ISPs offer different services at differing rates.  The individual connects to his ISP, which in turn connects to the Internet from one of the various internet backbones available.

The technology utilized by the Internet, although conducted across traditional telecommunications lines and fiber optic networks, differs significantly from any other existing communication medium.  The key to this difference is the use of a standard protocol, known as TCP/IP, which divides large chunks of information into tiny packets so that they may be quickly routed separately to the destination address.  The computer at the destination address then reassembles the packets back together into their original form.  This process is known as packet switching.

For the purposes of this session, it is not necessary that you become an expert on Internet technology.  The resources which follow are intended only to give you some general background knowledge about how the Internet functions.  Please review the articles and key terms below:

Article Index:

link button  Origins of the Internet
link button  Internet Backbone
link button  Internet Protocols

To view an article, simply click on the button next to your choice.
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Key Terms:

link button  Backbone
link button  Internet Service Provider (ISP)
link button  Client
link button  Server
link button  TCP/IP
link button  Router
link button  Packet Switching 
link button  Internet Protocol Address (IP Address)

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Created by Jocelyn R. Dabeau
Feedback?  Mail to: jdabeau
Last modified 3-1-99

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