James Waldo Photo

James Waldo

Professor of the Practice of Public Policy, HKS; Gordon McKay Professor of the Practice of Computer Science, SEAS


The Internet has become a core technology around the world for communication, business, defense, and government. It is a technology that seemingly knows no borders, is governed by no one, and has allowed disruptions of businesses, revolutionized telecommunications, and is the center of debates around free speech, disinformation, and the ability of people to organize and resist oppression. The Internet is also a technology that very few people, and almost no policy makers, understand. As governments and citizen’s groups clamor for mechanisms to make the internet more fair, less toxic, or more inclusive it is imperative that some understanding of the core technology grounds these discussions. This class is meant to introduce the myriad things that people are talking about when they talk about the Internet. Starting with a short history of how the Internet started, we will move to a discussion of how the Internet actually works at various levels, and the set of services that allow non-technical people to utilize it. We will then move to how the various parts of the Internet are governed, and examine why it is so difficult to make changes to the technology.