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The Internet is a global wide area network that connects computer systems across the world. It includes several high-bandwidth data lines that comprise the Internet "backbone." These lines are connected to major Internet hubs that distribute data to other locations, such as web servers and ISPs.

In order to connect to the Internet, you must have access to an Internet service provider (ISP), which acts the middleman between you and the Internet. Most ISPs offer broadband Internet access via a cable, DSL, or fiber connection. When you connect to the Internet using a public Wi-Fi signal, the Wi-Fi router is still connected to an ISP that provides Internet access. Even cellular data towers must connect to an Internet service provider to provide connected devices with access to the Internet.

The Internet provides different online services. Some examples include:

  • Web – a collection of billions of webpages that you can view with a web browser
  • Email – the most common method of sending and receiving messages online
  • Social media – websites and apps that allow people to share comments, photos, and videos
  • Online gaming – games that allow people to play with and against each other over the Internet
  • Software updates – operating system and application updates can typically downloaded from the Internet

In the early days of the Internet, most people connected to the Internet using a home computer and a dial-up modem. DSL and cable modems eventually provided users with "always-on" connections. Now mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones, make it possible for people to be connected to the Internet at all times. The Internet of Things has turned common appliances and home systems into "smart" devices that can be monitored and controlled over the Internet. As the Internet continues to grow and evolve, you can expect it to become an even more integral part of daily life.

Updated: September 17, 2015

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