Avoiding Internet Fragmentation
Speaker 1: Yik Chan Chin, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 2: Olga Makarova, Private Sector, Eastern European Group
Speaker 3: Roberto Zambrana, Technical Community, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Speaker 4: Yudina Alena, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 5: Otieno Barrack, Technical Community, African Group
Milos Jovanovic, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
David Otujor Okpatuma, Intergovernmental Organization, African Group
Roman Chukov, Civil Society, Eastern European Group
Round Table - 60 Min
- What are the driving forces behind the Internet fragmentation, and what are the critical issues that need to be addressed in order to overcome the possible consequences of Splinternet? - How to raise the awareness that technical, legal and regulatory measures could pose a risk to the open and interoperable Internet? - How to strike a balance between an open and interconnected Internet and the duty of a national government to protect the digital sovereignty of a country and rights of its citizens? - Can we start shaping the concept of Internet Sovereignty?
What will participants gain from attending this session? A discussion on the matter of the Internet fragmentation would be an opportunity to hear different opinions from different stakeholder groups, to elaborate on the question of how to ensure the evolution of the Internet, while keeping it open and free. As fragmentation is stepping up it is vital to take into consideration worries and concerns of various stakeholders, therefore this session will aim to bring stakeholder and regional diversity to the discussion through the speaker panel. We will encourage online and onsite participants, interventions and an inclusive multistakeholder dialogue.
Preservation of a united and open Internet is a critical aspect of the Global Digital Compact, underscoring its significance in the context of the growing pace of global digitalization that makes the functioning of industries infrastructures, communication, and daily work activities largely dependent on the Internet. Ensuring the security and openness of the Internet is paramount, as it acts as the main driving force that develops the global digital information environment and grants access to services around the world. Seeking to keep cash flows from digital platforms within the sovereign borders has led to efforts on national levels to ‘split’ the Internet into regional and country zones with special regulatory regimes and rules for the circulation of content and services. Large tech corporations also contribute to fragmentation trying to monopolize content or services, against civil, technical, and academic communities. The issue of Internet fragmentation has gained traction in international discourse, but a comprehensive understanding of its nature yet remains elusive. Technological experts warn that while the Internet continues to function on unified hardware and software solutions, the problem of fragmentation exists only on the ‘content’ level. However, with the hypothetical development of national intranets based on a separated unique infrastructure, the problem of fragmentation of the Internet due to different hardware and data exchange protocols may indeed be on the agenda. The United Nations remains committed to promoting a unified and accessible Internet for all. And combat of fragmentation is one of crucial points in the context of the Global Digital Compact. To react properly to the threat of fragmentation the multistakeholder community has to address major questions such as: Where is the boundary between a fragmented and non-fragmented Internet? What are the consequences of fragmentation for representatives of various industries? How to measure fragmentation?
One of the expected outcomes of the workshop is further research dedicated to the issue. Possibly as a result of the session speakers and organizers will be able to come up with a descriptive model of fragmentation, often referred to as a virtual version of Miles' law of bureaucratic policy-making as well as with the propositions on epistemological arguments in support of the thesis about growing fragmentation of the web. But above all the session will aim to raise the awareness of the community concerning the risks of the growing Internet fragmentation.
Hybrid Format: During the roundtable format all speakers will be able to express their views for approximately 5-7 min before going for a discussion among the attendees. The moderator will also closely follow the discussion in order to give floor to all the speakers and any participants wishing to speak. The onsite moderator will have a computer, allowing him to be continuously connected with the Zoom room assigned to the session, working together with the online moderator, to assure smooth and effective exchange between participants, following instant messaging system and sharing relevant ideas from the audience. Mentimeter (https://www.menti.com). Session will involve instant feedback collection from the audience as a main feature. All participants, including those online, would be asked to access Mentimeter via the link and QR-code that would help to interact and allow for a quick reaction of the audience to certain aspects of discussion.
With the completion of the 4th Industrial Revolution, the international community has stepped into a new technological age, which could threaten the existence of a unified Internet if stakeholders do not take appropriate measures.
A certain level of fragmentation is acceptable and has been going on since the creation of the Internet. National jurisdictions, regulations and cultural differences create barriers between users, but the technical level of the Internet remains uniform.
Decision makers have to listen to the views of all stakeholders involved in Internet governance processes. Thus, it is very important to pay special attention to the interests of the private sector.
Despite the unequivocal need to respect national jurisdictions, internatioan community still should try to achieve global solutions at UN platforms such as the IGF and within the framework of initiatives such as the Global Digital Compact.
Speakers of the session included the Director of the Department of Commercial Resource Management at MTS Olga Makarova, the president of the OpenLink Group Milos Jovanovic, the head of ISOC Bolivia Roberto Zambrana, Chairman board of Trustees at Dot Africa Foundation Barrack Otieno and the director of the Center for Global IT-Cooperation Vadim Glushchenko. Moderator of the discussion was the Chairman of the Council of the Center for Global IT-Cooperation Roman Chukov.
“Any attempt to confiscate IP addresses from one or more states could have dire consequences for the Internet. We will face deep structural fragmentation. We will witness a real “Splinternet” without trust, unique identifiers, it will lose its global nature,” Olga Makarova warned at the beginning of her speech.
She also proposed for the first time to use mathematics rather than words when assessing the risks of fragmentation in each key area. The formation of mathematical models for assessing the risks of fragmentation is proposed to be carried out taking into account technical, commercial and political factors that may influence fragmentation as parameters. In turn, technical, commercial and political factors are proposed to be assessed taking into account their distribution, influence, focus and nature. This will make it possible to form a more accurate and uniquely defined assessment of the threats of fragmentation, to minimize the uncertainty of concepts that today everyone interprets the term “multi-stakeholder” in their own way. In her opinion, without the use of mathematical models, conscious monitoring of the threats of fragmentation and combating them is not possible.
Barrack Otieno noted that it is important for the Global South that Internet design principles be taken into account when addressing fragmentation. Among other things, in those countries there is another serious problem - Internet shutdowns and network malfunctions. Either because the equipment fails, or because of the low level of training in the field of information security. “We see that areas experiencing multiple internet outages do not have network management mechanisms in place. I'm talking about national forums or opportunities to organize discussions like this that bring stakeholders together to discuss, on an equal footing, issues affecting Internet development in specific jurisdictions. I would add that it is important for all stakeholders to pay close attention to their roles and responsibilities in any country,” he concluded.
Roberto Zambarana added that another type of fragmentation that particularly affects the Global South is related to business models for the provision of Internet services: access to the Internet is limited by the high cost of communication. “In fact, the main problem is, of course, the lack of action. Whether it comes from government, the private sector, or even civil society, the problem is that this inaction is preventing countless people from feeling part of a global society, connected to the world through the Internet,” he said.
In his speech, Milos Jovanovic pointed out that infrastructure is one of the components of fragmentation. Since every state wants to protect its citizens, it not only requires international IT companies to comply with the laws of the country where they operate, but also tries to ensure that the infrastructure is protected from hacker attacks. And for this it is necessary to produce equipment and create software independently, in other words, to have technological sovereignty so as not to be dependent on external players.
Elaborating on the topic of technological sovereignty, Vadim Glushchenko drew attention to the fact that preventing fragmentation of the Internet is an important part of the initiative of the UN Secretary-General to create a Global Digital Compact. In his opinion, the upcoming intergovernmental negotiation process should lay down general principles that are designed to define fair liability criteria for global digital platforms, and give states the opportunity to independently regulate national segments of the Internet.
Summarizing, Roman Chukov concluded that in matters of fragmentation, global community needs to turn to the opinion of the Global South. “We are trying to avoid a situation when fragmentation is the result of a lack of technology and critical infrastructure in developing countries. Therefore it is necessary to promote international cooperation so that all countries have the necessary resources to maintain a stable Internet connection”.