Billions of people around the world use the Internet every day, but it’s likely few outside of the IT industry could give a definitive answer to the question, “Where is the Internet?” It’s a query that many may never even enter the consideration of most Internet users, beyond researching a hosting provider or vague notions of “cyberspace” or memories of AOL floppies from the ’90s.
Yet despite its ephemeral nature, the Internet does indeed have a physical home—one that encircles the globe. Spread across almost 75 million interconnected servers, the network we now call the Internet connects more than five billion (with some estimates hovering closer to ten billion) computers, smartphones, and other devices. That’s a far cry from its ancestor, the ARPANET project of the 1960s, which began as a 2.4 kbps connection between two enormous university computers.
Today, the connections that power the backbone of the Internet push data at close to the speed of light along more than half a million miles of undersea cable. That’s enough cable to circle the Earth more than 22 times, or to reach from Earth to the moon—and back again. Even with such enormous power and reach, however, experts from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) predict only 40% of the total population of Earth will be online by the end of 2013. That number will likely climb much higher as satellite-based Internet technology becomes more practical and coverage expands to areas currently inaccessible by traditional landlines.
Whether under the sea, beaming from a satellite, or flying through the air on a neighbor’s WiFi, the connections and data that make up the Internet touch nearly every aspect of our lives. This titanic—and largely invisible—infrastructure makes much of modern life possible (or at least more convenient). As the world grows increasingly connected, the answer to the question “Where is the Internet?” may eventually become a simple, “Everywhere.”