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Since the widespread deployment of the Internet Protocol Suite in the early 1980s, the Internet standards-setting bodies and technical infrastructure organizations, such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the Internet Society, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the World Wide Web Consortium and others have consistently spelled the name of the worldwide network, the Internet, with an initial capital letter and treated it as a proper noun in the English language.[original research?] Before the transformation of the ARPANET into the modern Internet, the term internet in its lower case spelling was a common short form of the term internetwork, and this spelling and use may still be found in discussions of networking.
Many publications today disregard the historical development and use the term in its common noun spelling, arguing that it has become a generic medium of communication.
The Internet standards community has historically differentiated between the Internet and an internet (or internetwork), the first being treated as a proper noun with a capital letter, and the latter as a common noun with lower-case first letter. An internet is any internetwork or inter-connected Internet Protocol networks. The distinction is evident in a large number of the Request for Comments documents from the early 1980s, when the transition from the ARPANET to the Internet was in progress, although it was not applied with complete uniformity.
Another example is IBM's TCP/IP Tutorial and Technical Overview (ISBN 0-7384-2165-0) from 1989, which stated that:
The words internetwork and internet is [sic] simply a contraction of the phrase interconnected network. However, when written with a capital "I," the Internet refers to the worldwide set of interconnected networks. Hence, the Internet is an internet, but the reverse does not apply. The Internet is sometimes called the connected Internet.
The Internet/internet distinction fell out of common use after the Internet Protocol Suite was widely deployed in commercial networks in the 1990s.
In the RFC documents that defined the evolving Internet Protocol (IP) standards, the term was introduced as a noun adjunct, apparently a shortening of "internetworking" and is mostly used in this way. As the impetus behind IP grew, it became more common to regard the results of internetworking as entities of their own, and internet became a noun, used both in a generic sense (any collection of computer networks connected through internetworking) and in a specific sense (the collection of computer networks that internetworked with ARPANET, and later NSFNET, using the IP standards, and that grew into the connectivity service we know today).
In its generic sense, internet is a common noun, a synonym for internetwork; therefore, it has a plural form (first appearing in the RFC series in RFC 870, RFC 871 and RFC 872) and is not capitalized. In its specific sense, it is a proper noun, and therefore, without a plural form and traditionally capitalized.
In 2002, a New York Times column said that Internet has been changing from a proper noun to a generic term. Words for new technologies, such as Phonograph in the 19th century, are sometimes capitalized at first, later becoming uncapitalized. In 1999, another column suggested that Internet might, like some other commonly used proper nouns, lose its capital letter.
Examples of media publications and news outlets that capitalize the term include The New York Times, the Associated Press, Time, and The Times of India. In addition, many peer-reviewed journals and professional publications such as Communications of the ACM capitalize "Internet," and this style guideline is also specified by the American Psychological Association in its electronic media spelling guide. AMA style capitalizes "Internet," and so does the Chicago Manual of Style. The Modern Language Association's MLA Handbook does not specifically mention capitalization of Internet, but its consistent practice is to capitalize it.
A significant number of publications do not capitalize internet. Among them are The Economist, the Financial Times, The Times, the Guardian, the Observer and the Sydney Morning Herald. As of 2011, most publications using "internet" appear to be located outside of North America, but the gap is closing. Wired News, an American news source, adopted the lower-case spelling in 2004. Around April 2010, CNN shifted its house style to adopt the lowercase spelling.
As Internet connectivity has expanded, it has started to be seen as a service similar to television, radio, and telephone, and the word has come to be used in this way (e.g. "I have the internet at home" and "I found it on the internet").