Internet Fragmentation Exists, But Not In the Way That You Think

The internet, we are advised, is in danger of splitting up, fragmenting. It is real that website filtering partitions off countries from news and opinion, and cyber conflicts among nations threaten to fracture our on-line world. Reinforcing those concerns are parallel developments in politics: the backlash towards free change and immigration, and nationalistic needs for exit from the European Union.

But is a globally well-suited internet in reality below threat? And what does “internet fragmentation” mean?

In my new book, I have a look at these questions. What I found is reassuring in one feel, and deeply regarding in another.


At the coronary heart of the Balkanization, the debate is a charming duality. The idea of net fragmentation may be used to reach at two diametrically hostile conclusions:

The net is now and always has been fragmented;
The net is not now and by no means can be fragmented.
The net can be taken into consideration “fragmented” as it was designed to be a network of networks. The basic devices of internetworking referred to as Autonomous Systems, are self-governing parts of the complete. All Autonomous Systems can and do work out manage over who they interconnect with, what packets they admit into or out of their structures, what services they need to just accept or block, what content can enter and go away. In this sense, the net is already “Balkanized.” It is a Federation of Autonomous Systems with an extensive capability for selective, excellent-grained secession from almost some other part of the federation.


The net is not like the Balkans in one vital appreciate, but: all Autonomous Systems communicate a not unusual language. That language is a hard and fast of statistics formatting, naming, addressing and routing requirements together called “the net protocols.” The most primary of these is the network protocol (IP), which received the requirements warfare within the early Nineteen Nineties and have become the unshakable uniter of world statistics communications ever on the grounds that. Nothing at the horizon is going to dislodge it from that function.

Despite tries to fracture the domain name device or expand countrywide internets (e.G. Iran, Russia, China), community outcomes have consistently defeated and could continue to defeat, any systemic rupture within the technical compatibility of our on-line world.

So is fragmentation a mirage? Nothing to fear about? That leads us to the alarming element.

The internet created a truly globalized space for human interplay. As digital abilities became ubiquitous and more vital to societal capabilities, the usual human troubles arose. Yet there may be a big mismatch between the worldwide scope of connectivity and the political and felony institutions for responding to societal troubles. The state, regulation, guidelines, rules, and courts are societies’ primary mechanism for coping with crime and battle. But in contrast to the net, the sector of government is not unified and un-fragmented. It is territorial and sovereign.

The essential misalignment among the worldwide internet and the fragmented criminal and institutional mechanisms human beings have devised to control themselves are what drives the fragmentation debate.

Most of what people are now mislabeling as “fragmentation” need to be referred to as “alignment”—an try to pressure the spherical peg of worldwide communications into the rectangular hollow of territorial states. This does no longer threaten the net protocol’s dominance, however, it does erode and impair the full-size fee generated with the aid of a globally interconnected, largely self-governing area for change and communication.

Internet alignment leads to efforts to filter out content material to make it comply with neighborhood laws; to require agencies to keep their users’ records in neighborhood jurisdictions; to preserve net routing within nation borders; to require governments or users to rely on local organizations as opposed to foreign ones for gadget and services; to link cyber security to countrywide protection. It is set partitioning cyberspace to subordinate it to sovereign states. The strain for alignment does no longer just come from authoritarian governments. It comes from Brazil, Germany, Australia, the United Kingdom, the European Commission and the United States. It comes from states qua states.

The countryside is possibly the incorrect unit upon which to base governance of most components of cyberspace. Just as the sovereign countryside emerged centuries ago to solve certain governance issues caused by the early cutting-edge political economy, our on-line world may additionally require new varieties of governance. Perhaps net governance may be based totally upon a new global polity, just as present democratic countries were primarily based on famous sovereignty within bounded territories.

This does now not imply the whole removal of states and their replacement by means of digital groups; it simplest approach the displacement of precise portions of territorial states’ authority over communications and records.

This may also sound utopian, or maybe crazy, however, some of its miles already in movement. Already, the control of the area call system has shifted to a transnational group, and there are actually several requires doing the equal with a cyber attribution enterprise.


Every movement for political autonomy has had to displace some pre-existing form of sovereignty. If internet customers truly shape a community with its very own pastimes, incipient identity, norms, and modes of residing collectively, it’s miles viable that they can be organized to assert, and benefit, their independence from present regulations, or to force concessions and adjustments upon the vintage order.

The tension among international cyberspace and the territorial state is the primary component that drives Internet governance and cybersecurity debates. It is time to face that hassle at once.