Internet society wary of “splinternet”

Rajnesh Singh

An Internet advocacy organisation has warned that any fragmentation of the Internet will undermine decades of successful global Internet connectivity and has called on stakeholders in the Pacific to rally against it.

The Internet Society (ISOC), a non-profit organisation with local chapters around the world including a regional chapter in the Pacific, said the increasing calls for what is now known as “splinternet” is a “slippery slope” that must be avoided for the sake of seamless global communication and digital freedom.

“Putting it simply, a splinternet is the idea that the open, globally connected Internet we all use splits into a bunch of isolated networks controlled by governments and corporations. The splinternet concept has been brewing for a while in various forms,” ISOC Regional Vice President Asia Pacific Rajnesh Singh said in an interview with Islands Business Magazine.

Singh, who also served as past chairman of the Pacific Islands Chapter of ISOC, was a speaker at last month’s Pacific Islands Telecommunications Association (PITA) Business Forum and Expo in Fiji, in which he shared ISOC’s concerns over this growing pressure on Internet neutrality and independence.

“Most recently, in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, governments, businesses, and other organisations are increasingly considering sanctions that would irreversibly disrupt the Internet we know today. Countries are considering sanctions and other politicised actions that could inadvertently impact the Internet’s infrastructure.  This could set a dangerous precedent for similar actions around the world, leading us towards a “splinternet”.

A splinternet would shatter decades of global Internet connectivity efforts into a series of isolated networks that no longer work together as the global Internet. Governments and businesses worldwide would become gatekeepers limiting what we can do, see, and access on these networks,” Singh said.

ISOC’s stated vision that the “Internet is for everyone” guides its goals, which is “for the Internet to be open, globally connected, secure and trustworthy” and this neutrality of the basic layer of the global network has mainly been the reason for seamless communication, said Singh.

“The reason the Internet has been so successful is because it’s a network of networks that works cooperatively together to provide us with reach and accessibility. By way of example, the network in Fiji does not connect directly to, say the UK, rather, it connects to other networks that connect to the UK. The Internet helps do away with the need for these direct connections to every single point on the globe – as long as you are connected to the global Internet network, you can reach (send or receive information) any other point.

The Internet’s simplicity makes our experiences online seamless. You don’t have to negotiate with gatekeepers before sending an email, shopping online, or – say if you were in a band – collaborating on your band’s new album in a cloud environment. If you’re among those lucky to have fast, affordable, and reliable Internet access, you can simply go online and do it – no matter where the other person you are interacting with is located.

“A splinternet would make things way more complicated. Using the examples above, your international friends might never receive your email, you might have to pay to shop on websites in other countries, or you might have to break up the band because you can’t reach each other,” said Singh.

More ICT stories can be found in the latest issue of Islands Business