Internet fragmentation is a ‘law of history’

The following comments represent the personal views of He Baohong, China Academy of Telecommunications Research, Ministry of Information Industry and Technology, Peoples Republic of China, on the topic of “One World One Internet? Integration vs. fragmentation.” That was the title of a panel held at the NCUC Policy Conference at the ICANN Beijing meeting, April 8, 2013. IGP does not necessarily support the views expressed.

The formulation “One World, One Internet” seems very familiar to Chinese People because the slogan of the 2008 Beijing Olympic games was “One World, One Dream.”  But due to the global economic downturn, the results turned out to be “One World, Many Dreams,” as various countries moved toward trade protectionism and junk currency behaviors in order to maximize their individual interest. Thus, it can be said that “One World, One Internet is another Dream.

I think the Chinese translation of the English word “Fragment” is problematic. The more accurate translation should take the meaning of “Fragmentation”, instead of “Divided,” or use terms like “Diversity.” “Fragmentation” is an objective description however the meaning of “Divided” is prone to other interpretations that are not conducive to attracting better dialogue. Also, the statement of “National Internets” is obviously not proper, because the core driving powers of the defragmented Internet are commercial interests, followed by technical strength. The strength from nations is relatively weak.

The Internet advocates for end-to-end transparency since its emergence. Allowing everyone to participate in the innovation and development of the Internet has been the concept that achieves today’s prosperity. During the commercialization process, however, the Internet faces many critical challenges.

The first challenge is from the commercial interests. From the earliest AOL ISP-based network fence, to Apple’s App Store as the typical terminal based fence in recent years, to Facebook, Twitter and Tencent[1] as the representative of web-based fences Walled Gardens have been popularized. Whether we are talking about terminal equipment enterprises, network operators or Web sites, they all want to break down others’ fences and build up their own. “One World, One Market” is an ideal instead of a reality.

The second challenge is from technology. IETF promoted end-to-end transparency, but what was once a dream is now technically almost bankrupted. For example, DHCP, Network Address Translation (NAT), Content Distribution Networks (CDN), firewalls, Deep Packet Insptection (DPI), the IPv4/IPv6 transition period and DNS/DNSSEC transition period can all be considered as a technically fragmented Internet.

In addition, in the mobile Internet era, does the App Store model also fragment the mobile Internet? Many Internet Content Providers (ICP) and App providers offer distinct PC, TV and smartphone oriented content. In the year 2012, HTML5 standard moved toward a split. In the future, we will also be facing “One World, Two Webs.

The third (challenge) is from culture and policy. In history, along with Great Britain’s colonization, English became almost the “One world, One language.” After hundreds of years of localization and “fragmentation,” there is American English, Indian English and of course, our Chinese English(often called “Chinglish”). Therefore, English was fragmented. In China, there are numerous fragmented dialects. Most of them are homologous.

Chinese ancients believed that “The world will separate after a long time united; it will re-unite after a long time splitting,” an idea that coincides with some Western philosophies.  I studied some roads traveled by the information industry and other industries that are more than one hundred years old. They basically went through a path like major innovation (one) ->minor innovation (Diversity)-> Unity (the formation of monopolies)->major innovation, which is an upward spiral process. I think the Internet follows this law of history too. It emerged in the 1980s, gradually unified in the 1990s and fragmented after the 2000s. Since 2010, Internet platformization, the emergence of mobile Internet and the rise of cloud computing have given the Internet the status of a giant monopoly.

Internet fragmentation is, in effect, a law of history. It cannot be changed by any nation, enterprise or organization.

Although the Internet is known as distributed, the DNS root server is highly centralized. Although the Internet is known as distributed and any nation or organization cannot close it, ICANN can do it theoretically.  Perhaps it is the time to discuss improving the current DNS system to make it more distributed by utilizing cloud computing and other new technologies, in order to significantly reduce the cost of services.

Above are my humble opinions, which only represent my personal point of view. They are not mature and may contain mistakes. They are only for your study and discussion purpose.

Baohong He

Original version below:

下面是我个人对此议题的一些看法。

One world, one Internet的提法,对中国人来说很面熟,因为2008年北京奥运会的口号是One World,One Dream, 结果还是One Wordl, Many Dreams,金融危机了。因此,可以说是“One world, one Internet, One Dream”。

 

Fragement的中文翻译,我感觉有问题,更准确点应是“碎片化”而不是“分裂”,或者用“多样化(Diversity)”这样的词。“碎片化”是一种客观的描述,“分裂”容易让人产生其他想法,不利于吸引更多的人深入讨论。二是“国域网”的说法明显不当,因为导致互联网碎片化的核心驱动力是商业利益,其次是技术力量,国家的力量相对弱小很多。

Internet自诞生开始就主张端到端透明,让每个人都能够参与到Internet的创新和发展中来,这一理念成就了今天互联网的繁荣。但是在商用化过程中,面临诸多重要挑战。

一是来自商业利益的。Walled Garden的流行,从最早的以AOL为代表的ISP建立基于网络的围墙,到近年来以Apple的App Store为代表的基于终端的围墙,到facebook、Twitter和腾讯等为代表的基于网站的围墙。无论是终端企业、网络商还是网站,都想在互联网上拆除他人的围墙,建立自己的围墙。One World, One Market,是一种理想而不是现实。

二是来自技术上的。IETF提倡的端到端透明,也是成了一个曾经的Dream,在技术上已基本破产。比如,DHCP,NAT,CDN,防火墙,DPI,IPv4/IPv6过渡期,DNS/DNSSEC过渡期,都可以认为是技术性碎片化了互联网。

另外,在移动互联网时代,APP Store模式是否也是在碎片化移动互联网?很多ICP和APP提供者都分别设计面向PC、TV和智能手机的内容,这似乎也是在被动的碎片化内容。2012年,HTML5标准走向分裂,未来我们是否也将对面”One World, Two WEBs?”

三是来自文化和政策的。历史上英语随着英国的殖民统治发展到了几乎是强大One Wolrd,One Languge。但百年后也开始本地化和“碎片化”,美国英语、印度英语,当然还有中国英语,我们把Chinse+English连起来,发明了一个英文单词叫“Chinglish”,英语也是碎片化了。在中国,更是是数不清的碎片化的地方语言,但很多都同源。

中国古人认为“合久比分,分久必合”,这也是与一些西方哲学家的思想吻合。我研究了一些100多年来的信息产业,以及其他产业所走过的道路,基本路径是重大创新(One)->微创新(多样性)->统一(垄断的形成)->重大创新,这一一个螺旋式上升的过程。我相Internet也遵循历史的规律,从1980年代开始兴起,1990年代逐步一统网络江湖,到2000年代后明显碎片化。2010年以来,平台化的互联网,移动互联网云计算的兴起,更是让互联网明显呈现出巨头垄断的格局。

互联网碎片化,是历史的规律在起作用,不是如何一个国家、企业或组织,可以改变得了的。

互联网号称是分布的,但DNS服务却是高度集中的。互联网号称是分布的,任何国家和组织都无法“关闭”,但ICANN理论上可以。或许,是到了讨论借助云计算等新技术,改进现有的DNS系统,让其更加分布化,大幅降低服务成本的时候了。

以上个人浅见,仅代表我个人的观点,还不成熟,也可能存在错误,仅供您研究和讨论时参考。



[1] Founded in November 1998, Tencent, Inc. has grown into China’s largest and most used Internet service portal. On June 16th, 2004, Tencent Holdings Limited (SEHK 700) went public on the main board of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

3 comments

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  2. John Kozlowski

    Fragmentation is a great description. A good example would be how so many people look at the web as only Facebook, Gmail, or other large market players. The internet backbone needs to allow us all to communicate from IP address to IP address. What goes on top of that should be flexible as we each have differing desires and needs.

    Forcing particular upper layers stifles innovation and freedom of choice. As long as I have the tools at my disposal to get to the old and new technologies, we do have a free and open Internet.