Keeping the Web ‘Worldwide’: Report Highlights Risk of Internet Fragmentation

Concern has been growing over the past two years that the global public Internet is in danger of splintering into a series of bordered cyberspace segments. Troubling trends have emerged that could endanger the openness and consistency of the Internet’s underlying infrastructure and erect barriers to some of the content and transactions it conveys. Unfortunately, there is no consensus about the nature, scope and potential impact of this Internet fragmentation, much less how the problem is best addressed.

To help build a shared understanding and advance the emerging conversation about this global challenge, the World Economic Forum’s Global Challenge on the Future of the Internet initiative invited three leading experts –William J. Drake, International Fellow and Lecturer, University of Zurich, Switzerland; Vinton Cerf, Vice-President and Chief Internet Evangelist, Google, USA; and Wolfgang Kleinwachter, Professor for International Communication Policy and Regulation, University of Aarhus, Denmark – to produce a white paper that lays out the issues. The paper maps the landscape of Internet fragmentation and cites 28 examples arising from technical, governmental and commercial trends.

Key examples include:

Localization requirements on the processing
Retention and transmission of data
Digital protectionism that imposes barriers to cross-border commerce
Delays and unevenness in the deployment of the new technologies needed to expand and secure cyberspace
National strategies intended to increase state authority over the Internet within territorial borders
Limited data transferability between digital platforms inter alia

“As a first-cut overview of the landscape of Internet fragmentation, this paper is an important new resource for everyone who cares about the Internet’s ongoing contribution to human progress and potential. It was developed for the purpose of providing a more informed basis for the identification and prioritization of areas in which deeper multistakeholder collaboration could help to build trust and address specific problems, including through the definition of good practices or policy models that can serve as a constructive example for others,” said Richard Samans, Member of the Managing Board, World Economic Forum.

The report concludes that meeting the challenge of Internet fragmentation will require vigilance, analysis and international cooperation involving all relevant stakeholders.

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