Your IP address is fundamental to the way the Internet functions. Your computer is able to use the internet once its IP has been asigned by your service provider. Computers communicate over the Internet using a standard set of protocols, and the IP (Internet Protocol) address is the numbered location of your computer's connection to the Internet. The protocol describing how the Internet Protocol works on the wider network is called Transmission Control Protocol (TCP).
TCP allows the transmission of digital files through copper wires attached to your computer, over fiber of the internet backbone, and through air to phones or laptops connecting with WiFi. Controlling how all these computers communicate, and allowing different kinds of computers to communicate means once information is sent, it has to go to its destination, and obviously it originates from somewhere as well. Assigning IP addresses between computers makes it possible. That's why when you load this page, this computer can tell you what your IP address is.
Where Do These Numbers Come From?
IP Address numbers need to be organized so that everything just works the way it does. The international non-profit organization which governs number assignment for the internet is called ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). The charter for the organization states its focus as to "Manage Internet Protocol numbers and Domain Name System root."
ICANN also manages the Domain Name System, which is a technical service that reserves and translates IP addresses into words for people to remember more easily. It's easier to think of loading searchreturn.com than to try spell out the IP address number of the computer that publishes the searchreturn.com website. When you type a domain name into your browser address bar, it is first translated to the IP address for TCP to resolve the website file transmission process getting them to your browser to render.
Managing IP addresses means assigning blocks of numbers to companies who sell you access so that you can go on the internet. That is also what makes the whole thing a bit vulnerable. We have had laws which governed access to, and transmission fairness in what's known as Network Neutrality rules. The rules required all data transmission to be treated equally by all gatekeepers of the Internet to try and prevent discrimination. What's frightening is that we saw Network Neutrality recently reversed.
What Could Go Wrong Without Net Neutrality?
There is a very real danger that fragmentation of the network would splinter the internet into separate networks which don't communicate. This has already begun to the degree that Internet access in whole countries, such as North Korea, is extremely limited. We shouldn't let the American Internet shatter to pieces. There is also the danger you may not be able to afford access to fast lanes, or to content such as Google, because your access provider controls what you're allowed access to.
Who controls my IP right now?
There is a simple service known as 'whois' to find this information out, which is used by this computer to look up and produce the information about your current IP address displayed. The information should look familiar to you as pertaining to the Internet Service Provider which you are currently using. Knowing how IP addresses are used for the internet, along with how to find them is the first step in digital forensics. IP forensics is vital for recording and tracking Internet activity.