I suppose it comes down to asking the question; who owns the internet? For that, there is no easy answer. In order to clarify the question a little more, just what exactly is the internet? So this is from wikipedia:
The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet protocol suite (TCP/IP) to link several billion devices worldwide. It is a network of networks that consists of millions of private, public, academic, business, and government networks, of local to global scope, that are linked by a broad array of electronic, wireless, and optical networking technologies
That sums up the technical aspect fairly well. Thus, TCP/IP protocol stack seems to be intricate in the design and operation of the internet. The internet protocol suit was developed by ARPA (now DARPA or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) as a way to link computers together across multiple OS’s and network types. It works very well. TCP/IP and related protocols are open source and are maintained by the IETF or Internet Engineering Task Force which is a standards organization.
Thus far, it looks like the software that runs the internet was developed with tax payer money, therefore, by way of reason, we paid for it, we own it.
However, this does not consider the physical infrastructure that makes the connection; the cables, routers and data centers that make the whole thing work. That infrastructure was installed and maintained by corporations, AKA “big data.” Companies with names like ATT, Verizon, Cogent, Sprint/Softbank, Century Quest, Global Crossings/Level Three, and NTT/Vireo. This is known as the information infrastructure. Again from Wikipedia, which sums the term up nicely as:
An information infrastructure is defined as a shared, evolving, open, standardized, and heterogeneous installed base of the people, processes, procedures, tools, facilities, and technology which supports the creation, use, transport, storage, and destruction of information.
The ownership of the physical infrastructure is a little more dicey because the US government has subsidized with tens or perhaps hundreds of billions of dollars of tax payer money. See also: Universal Service Fund. It is difficult to nail down the exact figure because there so are many different programs, most having to do with broadband deployment.
To muddy the waters a little bit further, there is the Title I or Title II question. Under telecommunications act of 1996, Title I services are defined as informational, which means optional. Title II services are defined as telecommunications, or common carrier e.g. things like the PSTN (public switched telephone network or POTS). It becomes a question of being a regulated monopoly or an unregulated monopoly. Naturally, corporations shun regulations, so they desire strongly to be classified as Title I unless subsides are available then they like Title II.
In light of Verizon‘s (and others) desire to dump the old copper PSTN network in favor of fiber to premises (AKA FiOS) do they not also become Title II providers by default? VoIP telephone service, whether through FiOS or the cable company is becoming the default in many places. The Internet, like other utility services has gone beyond “informational” classification to the needed and necessary to do business category.
Cable and other wired networks, which own “natural monopolies” of broadband facilities either need to be regulated as such or loose their monopoly status through unregulated competition. There are other ways to deliver broadband internet to business and residential customers.