Fighting Internet Fragmentation
The following is a guest post from i2Coalition Board of Director’s member and consultant to member Afilias, Melinda Clem.
In Washington, DC this week, information policy leaders shared their respective thoughts around Internet fragmentation, a move from a universally connected Internet to one divided into disparate networks via regulations, technology or unintended consequences. This was not a theoretical discussion, but one grounded in the realities of connectivity issues, security, logical barriers and the voluntary agreements that keep the Internet working.
A discussion like this can proceed in a variety of directions, many of which can focus on the negatives: describing grave threats, over-generalizations about security, or blaming the dissenting voices. Tuesday’s panel was able to talk in measured terms about threats and highlight various efforts to protect against fragmentation. A few concepts in particular are worth highlighting.
We should remember the goal: global connectivity and participation.
The clearest example of fragmentation of the Internet was articulated by Kathryn Brown, Internet Society CEO: only half the world is on the Internet. This access barrier poses the clearest dislocation threat – when 4 billion people are physically disconnected, we don’t have a comprehensive, shared universal system. Initiatives by the Internet Society and the State Departments Global Connect Program aim to facilitate the requisite infrastructure development and education to bring the entire world, regardless of location, online.
Global participation is the second factor in remedying physical fragmentation of the Internet. It is critical that the constituents of the Internet – users, naming and addressing operators, policy makers, technical standards development, governments and communication service providers – have a voice. This global, collaborative process, known as the multistakeholder approach, is the mechanism for sharing information, and expanding reach and access to the Internet in a responsible manner. This system is globally endorsed by the United Nations, but it is voluntary. As participants, it is our responsibility to engage in an active, constructive manner, bring other actors into this open governance model, and strive to increase physical connectivity. Responsible participation will reinforce the multistakeholder model by positive example.
An open Internet does not mean all information is accessible.
An important clarification was made by Ambassador Daniel Sepulveda: privacy is not the enemy of the open Internet. While this may seem obvious at the outset, if we think about the broader issues around espionage, data localization and balancing the preservation of identity, social custom and anonymity, we start to see the challenges. It is important to remember, as Brown said, “the Internet is both local and global.” When defining policy, it is important to note that policy is not a social prescription on how to use Internet resources, but is generally focused on providing secure connectivity. We need to educate policymakers on what Jeremy West of OECD referred to as the “unintended consequences” of restricting access by showing the numerous educational resources available online and how limiting access can close opportunities of social growth.
As we develop new policies, business models and innovative technologies, it is important to prioritize local control of data. We must provide means for users to use technologies, educate themselves, and gather and share information while protecting their anonymity as desired. This user control is not accomplished via discreet and proprietary networks with closed protocols; it is better maximized building end user controls into open protocols and standards.
Fragmentation of the Internet is a threat, and it won’t be solved in a 90 minute discussion, or in the next 90 days. But if we are all responsible actors and do our part to increase connectivity and participation, and if we innovate using open standards, we will realize the full goals of a globally connected and open Internet.