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Published: July 4, 2011


A global collection of interconnected electronic commercial, government, academic and other communications networks (thus, the term “inter-net”), within which are linked tens of millions of individual computers around the world. Originally developed to link the American military to national, state and private scientific research and to educational institutions, the Internet used to depend on long-distance telephone lines to provide access to published and unpublished scientific, academic and commercial research data. By the late 20th century, commercial on-line services provided any individual computer or local network of computers direct access to the Internet and all its data, along with the capability of exchanging data and communicating, via conventional and wireless communications links. Most of the data and instructional materials available on the Internet are stored at host storage sites—Web sites—on a subnetwork, or World Wide Web, which harbors the largest collection of information in the world. The World Wide Web is a multimedia collection of documents, texts, graphics, audio-video, threedimensional animation and millions of other materials that can be copied and reused, sometimes without charge. The Web allows computer users to take audiovisual tours of historical sites and museums around the world, take a full range of school, college and university courses, and read electronically reproduced books and research papers at university and research libraries, as well as municipal, state and national libraries. Students can read almost any newspaper or magazine in the world on the Web; listen to local, regional, national and international radio programs; view video news programs 24 hours a day; and view concert, theater and opera productions. The Internet also provides instant messaging (IM) systems that allow computer users to “converse” in writing with other computer users, and it provides electronic mail (e-mail) systems for computer users to send mail to and receive it from other computer users. More than 90% of all elementary and secondary schools in America have access to the Internet, and two-thirds to three-quarters of all secondary school and college students use the Internet for their school work.
Until 1998, the U.S. government controlled and managed the Internet. At that time, it transferred management to a private, nonprofit organization, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or Icann. Established by the Department of Commerce with an international advisory body, Icann remains under the control of the U.S. government, which retains veto powers over all Icann decisions. In 2005, the U.S. government ordered Icann to require all schools, colleges, universities, libraries and other institutions with Internet communications facilities to overhaul their Internet computer networks to permit federal law enforcement authorities to monitor e-mail, IM, and other on-line communications. To break the U.S. monopoly on Internet control, other nations, including member states of the European Union, are establishing their own Internets that might diminish the value of the existing Internet as a worldwide network.