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Internet Incorporated

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Adam: Mr. van Statten owns the Internet.
Rose: Don't be daft, nobody owns the Internet.
Henry van Statten: And let's keep everyone thinking that way, right kids?

In Real Life, the Internet is a network of networks. While a few aspects of it are centralized (for instance, the allocation of blocks of IP addresses, the top-level parts of the DNS, and the allocation of Autonomous System numbersnote), it mostly works in a decentralized fashion, where each system operates independently and their interconnections are based on bilateral agreements and common protocols. There is no central company, organization, or government agency which controls or operates the Internet as a whole.

In fiction, it does not have to work that way.

Instead of the decentralized Internet we are used to, the network all the characters interact with is owned and/or controlled by a single organization. This organization can be a powerful antagonist if the protagonists are hackers or are trying to uncover some secret it wants to keep hidden. Often, the Internet Incorporated is the creator of the Applied Phlebotinum which powers the Cyberspace the characters use — or is the one who stole it from its creators.

Note that this isn't technically impossible for fiction set in an alternate universe, but in Real Life, it's not true. Although, the increasing corporate consolidation of Internet services and infrastructure during The New '10s and beyond have made this closer to being Truth in Television.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Den-noh Coil: Megamass owns the Augmented Reality system overlying the town of Daikoku. This is justified since it's a local system restricted to that town only, with the company having chosen (and presumably been permitted to) use the town as a prototype testing ground: They control The Metaverse, but not all the information said Metaverse connects to.
  • Summer Wars: Oz servers connect everyone and everything as long as it is connected to the internet; Everything is connected to the internet.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron: To track down Ultron, Tony Stark visits The Internet in Oslo, Norway, which is apparently a huge futuristic-looking server room where all data packages in the world are said to go through. While there, he finds the remains of J.A.R.V.I.S.
  • Implied in How It Ends, where a natural(-ish?) disaster that strikes California manages to knock out telecommunications across the entirety of the United States.

  • The World Web from the Hyperion Cantos is run by the AIs. They have some legitimate claim to this since it happens to be their home.

    Live-Action TV 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Op Net from the Aberrant Tabletop RPG is the system that essentially replaced the internet (due to better Applied Phlebotinum) and requires its users to be licensed.
  • Cyberpunk 2020: Internet Phone Corporation. ("These guys don't use the Net. They own the Net." With an elaboration that one of the most powerful paramilitary security corporations around still pays its bills to Internet on time. "You don't even want to guess what Internet can throw at you. It even scares Saburo Arasaka.")

    Video Games 
  • In Deus Ex, it's revealed that the Ancient Conspiracy made a 'bottleneck' in the internet and all digital communications called the Aquinas Hub: All information that flows on internet, phone lines, satellites, anything digital, passes through that hub and can be filtered and monitored by whoever's in control of it. The end of the game is devoted to preventing the Big Bad from joining with an AI that has been granted control over this system, which would effectively make him God of the Internet.

  • In Sarah Zero, the internet has been deleted and replaced by the corporation-controlled Contranet.
  • It's mentioned in S.S.D.D. that Maytec runs a much, much, more secure alternative to the internet, which has become the domain of the Anarchists and is largely infested by the Oracle. Yet, despite being illegal to access in many countries still remains popular since you can't get free porn or bootlegged videos off the corporate network.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • The Fairly Oddparents once had Timmy give a Hurricane of Excuses for how he got cool-looking clothes by saying first the Internet, then inheritance, and finally going with "I inherited the Internet!" It's shown in a later episode (told from Chester and AJ's point of view) that neither one of them believes it, and AJ even explains to Chester that the Internet can't be owned by one person. He should know. He's tried.
  • In the South Park universe, the Internet is a giant Linksys router in a bunker somewhere. No one even knows how it works, so when the Internet goes down they're forced to try increasingly desperate methods ("Try communicating with it musically!"). The solution, of course, is to turn it off and on again.

    Real Life 
  • Real Life: America Online used to work this way. Fortunately the wonders of network effects forced their transition into a relatively normal ISP and the resulting demise of "AOL Keyword" on movie trailers and whatnot.
    • As alluded to above, VeriSign operates 2 of the 13 root nameservers, including the A nameserver, and (after acquiring and spinning off Network Solutions) operates the only registry of .com, .net, and .name addresses for the various registrars.
      • There are alternative root nameservers out there. In purely technical terms escaping VeriSign's clutches is as easy as setting up a new set of servers and moving over.
      • Strictly speaking, VeriSign doesn't have monopoly control of the root nameservers so even if they went rogue, resolvers can still use the rest of the 13, and there are plenty of top-level domains outside VeriSign control. Leaving the ecosystem altogether with alternative root nameservers is harder in practice because certificate authorities preloaded in mainstream browsers can only sign certificates for ICANN-approved top-level domains. Manually installing other CA means this less trusted CA can also sign certificates for any domain, including sensitive sites like financial or healthcare, opening up the risk of snooping and spoofing.
  • Also a callback to the bad old days of the Bell System, where one company pretty much did control the whole network, with few exceptions.
  • There was talk in the late-2000s about allowing the President of the United States to have an "Internet kill switch" to control the use of Internet in the times of crisis, potentially capable of cutting off the connections from entire continents. It went nowhere and was quietly dropped. It's rather doubtful that such a thing could be implemented at all, given that at best only the US would be cut off. Unfortunately, the idea of shutting down the Internet for the entire country you administrate was kept and is frequently used by some People's Republic of Tyranny countries.
  • The Great Firewall of China and similar censorship methods in other countries would count, even if they're not straight examples.
  • Late in The New '10s, several companies, or sometimes just "Silicon Valley" as a whole, started to become seen as this due to their near-monopolies of common Web functionality. Google's search engine is so dominant it has become a generic term for Web searches, not to mention the numerous other services they provide or have acquired. Facebook and Twitter basically are social media, aside from more specialized services like LinkedIn or Nextdoor. This applies not only to public-facing services but core infrastructure as well, as a growing share of Internet sites are hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS), and outages or issues have caused large swaths of the Internet to stop working. This led to several accusations of censorship, government hearings, and interesting Constitutional questions, as despite being private companies they provide a generally public forum for the exercise of speech by both private citizens and government entities.
    • The problem with private companies' domination is strictly speaking their deplatforming of users counts as their own free speech, like a homeowner removing a protester camping on their lawn. A non-nuanced ruling against deplatforming would mean all sites can be spammed without allowing the operator to remove them, which disincentivizes websites from providing a space for user-generated content.