(Photo by Flickr user Jeremy Brooks via Creative Commons license)

(Photo by Flickr user Jeremy Brooks via Creative Commons license)

A new map outlines the backbone of the U.S. Internet for the first time.

Researchers have been trying to create the map for about 20 years, but a team from the University of Wisconsin, Colgate University and the computer security company NIKSUN, finally made it happen. Computer scientist Paul Barford says the resulting report and map represent hours of painstaking work.

“The complexity of Internet infrastructure has gone well beyond what a single entity can actually understand today,” he said. “The map shows the first-of-its-kind representation of the long-haul links in the United States that make up the Internet.”

AT&T is the largest owner of Internet infrastructure in the United States. Other leading owners include Level 3, Sprint, and Windstream. Before this map was created, none of these providers knew where all of the conduits were buried.

Barford expects the diagram to help create a stronger, more secure and robust Internet. He also anticipates it will help the FCC make decisions on how to regulate the Internet, should its network infrastructure become public.


Image courtesy of University of Wisconsin/Paul Barford

The map’s release raises security concerns about whether it gives enemies of the United States, or enterprising hackers, a road map for disrupting the nation’s Internet.

“There’s always an ongoing question about security,” said Barford. “Do you want to be secure through the obscure? Or do you want to be secure by having information that people can use to make infrastructure in this case better?”

Barford and his team, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, chose the latter. To be on the safe side, the publicly-released map isn’t as detailed as it could be.

The intent in creating the map, Barford said, it to make things better, not worse.

“It gives us a platform for improving the Internet,” he said, “and for researchers to ask longer-term questions that potentially result in the Internet of the future that gives us features and functions and capabilities that young people are dreaming up right now.”

If the researchers have their way, with the backbone of the Internet already all mapped out, those dreams will come true just a little bit faster.