How big is the Internet?

Patrick W. Gilmore patrick at
Fri Aug 16 04:46:06 UTC 2013

On Aug 16, 2013, at 00:37 , Sean Donelan <sean at> wrote:
> On Thu, 15 Aug 2013, Seth Mattinen wrote:

>> We'll also need this data in units of number of Libraries of Congress.
> The researchers at the Library of Congress are more than happy to explain why you are wrong to attempt to use the Library of Congress as a unit of measure, and why the estimates being used are wrong.
> along with several other blog posts over the years.
> But it doesn't seem to stop people from wanting to 1) know how big the Library of Congress is and 2) using it as a unit of measure.
> It seems odd that there are relatively good estimates for other communication networks and utilities; i.e. how big is the PSTN, how many television or radio stations, how much freight is carried by railroads, trucks and ships.  But asking how big is the Internet, how much data does it carry, ends up with no answer.
> Even the researchers at the Library of Congress, if you give them enough beer and beg them enough, will eventually give you an estimate
> about the Library collection size as of the end of the last year.
> What so special about the Internet that it can't be measured?

Complete lack of regulation, and in many cases, even billing.

You cannot make a call on the PSTN without someone getting money from someone else and a CDR (<>) being created. Television & radio stations are trivially countable and probably literally a a dozen or more orders of magnitude off the number of packets on the Internet. Railroads are similarly tiny in number and bill for freight. Roads are built by taxpayer dollars, so the gov't keeps a good account. Etc., etc.

The Internet is the first world-wide "thing" that doesn't bill based on where you send something, what you are doing, why you do it, and in many cases, even how much you do. Moreover, anyone can set up anything on it without asking the gov't for permission.

This has enabled the impossible growth curve seen the last 20 years, but also made it impossible to count, categorize, or control. Which pisses off some people (usually governments), but makes others (e.g. me!) all warm & fuzzy inside.


P.S. I know you already knew the answer to the question, but I figured you wanted it answered when you asked, so I did.

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