PN Internet fragmentation

30 Nov 2022 06:30h - 08:30h

Event report

The session was a wrap-up of the one-year work of Policy Network on internet fragmentation (IF). Coordinators introduced the framework of IF that would help to understand many faces of fragmentation and shed some light on the next steps to overcome it.

The framework was created as a result of a survey and series of community webinars addressing what fragmentation is, what the role of stakeholders is, and what the negative effects are. 

In short, the framework proposes considering the fragmentation of three components:

  • user experience – intentional network and information flows disruptions, including internet shutdowns  
  • technical fragmentation – proposals to alternate route servers or DNS; other measures that impact interoperability
  • fragmentation of internet governance mechanisms and coordination – loose coordination between standard-setting bodies 

The overall goal of the framework is to serve as a general guiding and orienting tool for continuing the dialogue about fragmentation, and bringing in more people and stakeholders. The framework should allow for a better holistic and inclusive debate and, at the same time, create space for focused discussion and work towards concrete solutions, policy approaches, and guidelines. 

Another open question is the criteria for defining a particular action as IF – what comprises a threshold at which we can say that at a particular point discussed is IF? Practices of issuing encryption certificates by governments (examples in Kazakhstan and, very recently, in Russia) obviously lead to the IF because browsers and applications can block these certificates and make resources and services unavailable because of an insecure connection. Another question posed was how to consider measures for fighting cybercrime and taking down illegal content in the IF framework, because it obviously affects user experience, too. However, measures such as geoblocking and content moderation have existed since the beginning of social media and intermediaries. Better qualifiers for the IF need to be formulated.

One of the possible criteria to qualify the IF could be the duration of shutdowns and violation of international human rights framework, but such ideas have not met consensus, yet.

User experience is important to take into consideration, regardless whether it comes from fun and leisure usage, or for work and education. It was also highlighted that certain parts of fragmentation of the user experience will not result in technical fragmentation. Technical fragmentation will also result in user fragmentation.

Greater volume of internet traffic is routed via private infrastructure owned and built by big technical companies. This may, eventually, lead to underinvestment of transit infrastructure and the IF, it was pointed out.

It was noted that the concept of the public core of the internet (DNS, routing, address distribution, encryption infrastructure) is useful when we talk about the IF.  A proposal was made to consider a global declaration by all member states to recognise the internet as a peaceful environment for public good (in opposition to current trend on internet as a battlefield) could be a confidence-building measure to avoid the IF.

It would be useful to reflect on how the proposed IF framework could be useful for Global Digital Compact since the avoidance of the IF represents one of its goals.

The session of the PNIF was just the first interaction between the IGF community and the draft framework. It is open for comments via feedback form or through PNIF mailing list. The way to participate in this process can be found at the PNIF page.

By Ilona Stadnik


The session in keywords

PN WORDCLOUD internet fragmentation IGF2022