Elon University

Breakout Panel Session – Healing Internet Fragmentation

IGF USA LogoBrief session description:

Monday, July 24, 2017 –  This panel took place during the morning session of IGF-USA 2017 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. Read the print story and see video highlights on this page. You can view the full, archived video of this plenary panel session here.

Technical changes, governmental filtering, blocking, attacks and protectionism and commercial interests’ discriminatory departures from net neutrality are among the many ways in which the open yet global connectivity of the Internet is becoming fragmented by forces with divergent goals. Some people refer to this phenomenon as the “Splinternet.” In this session, experts addressed various cases of fragmentation from their perspectives and were asked what the future might bring and if any action steps might be taken to adjust for better outcomes.

Details of the session:

The session was moderated by Robert Pepper, head of global connectivity policy and planning at Facebook. Other panelists included:

  • William Drake, international fellow and lecturer in the Institute of Mass Communication and Media Research at athe University of Zurich and ICANN leader
  • Marco Hogewoning, external relations officer and technical advisor with the RIPE NCC, the Network Coordination Center for the Regional Internet Registry for Europe, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia
  • Anupam Chander, director of the California International Law Center, recipient of Google Research Awards and an Andrew Mellon grant on the topic of surveillance and author of “The Electronic Silk Road”
  • Deji Olukotun, manager of Access Now’s global campaigns tied to internet shutdowns, the open internet, cybersecurity and ensuring that fundamental human rights are respected online
  • Greta Byrum, director of the Resilient Communities program at New America, a think tank and civic enterprise committed to renewing American politics, prosperity, and purpose in the Digital Age
  • Micaela Klein, senior advisor for Internet policy to the U.S. coordinator for international communications and information policy at the U.S. Department of State

In the panel discussion, panelists acknowledged that fissures within Internet fragmentation can be healed through the understanding of new ideas, solving debates on why people build walls, and deciding what next steps can be taken in fragmented communities.

William J. Drake, an international fellow and lecturer in the Institute of Mass Communication and Media Research at the University of Zurich, considers fragmentation a “contested concept” that needs to be looked at beyond its underlying infrastructure.

For Drake, the core understanding of fragmentation is the ability of every willing endpoint to communicate with every endpoint that is willing to receive data packets, and for people to innovate.

“We’re, of course, not saying all forms of fragmentation are equal,” Drake said. “There is some sort of equivalence among all forms of fragmentation.”

Fragmentation Panel Discussion Image Drake said there is obvious variation within technical, governmental and commercial fragmentation. The number of dimensions, including the intentionality behind each type, varies as well.

“Most can be healed, certainly the technical ones,” Drake said. “The ones involving commercial and governmental policies, practices, strategies, etc., can be a little bit different to reverse.”

Marco Hogewoning, external relations officer with RIPE NCC, said he believes that most Internet protocols, especially the layers meant to circumvent fragmentation, are self-healing. He explained a lot of unawareness exists when it comes to fragmentation.

“When you look at self-healing, being aware of the interaction between the layers is important,” Hogewoning said.

Awareness is essential in the healing of fragmentation because what happens to one layer could also interact with the resilience that exists in the physical and transport layers on the net.

“The less rulings you have — the less restrictions and less rules — the easier it is for the network to use,” Hogewoning said.

Anupam Chander, director of the California International Law Center and Martin Luther King Jr. professor of law at the University of California-Davis, offered six solutions to governmental fragmentation. These were ranked from the most to least inclusive and preferred.

“Some global agreement that is enforceable that allows people across the world to bridge the gaps created by national boundaries,” Chander said.

Fragmentation Panel Discussion Group PhotoIn addition to global agreement, Chander also included an open agreement, mutual recognitions, unilateral recognition, national harmonization and national forbearance to the list.

Chander believes that a patchwork of all six approaches may help improve governmental fragmentation.

“We should as much as possible prefer approaches that are open to everyone that all member states can participate in despite political needs of any particular country,” Chander said.

Deji Olukotun, a member of the Access Now advocacy team, explained how there is a range of challenges that exist within the issue of Internet fragmentation.

“It’s a complex problem,” Olukotun said.

One of the major obstacles is the intentional disruption of Internet by governments.

Having seen how governmental fragmentation in different countries, such as Egypt, has affected different communities, Olukotun and the coalition he works for have strived to find solutions.

“We also see that there is room to grow,” Olukotun said. “We think that more governments should commit to openly not shutting down the Internet.”

Olukotun would like to see reduced restrictions and the permission for companies to resist shutdown orders.
“All people with measurement tools need to be talking to each other and understanding to work together,” Olukotun said.

Greta Byrum, director of the Resilient Communities program at New America, has worked with countries and communities affected by fragmentation.

There are numerous harms that exist, especially within communities vulnerable to fragmentation. Some tactics include algorithmic profiling and predatory loans scams.

“Users are targeted but don’t really know how to respond,” Byrum said.

The design of networks that can satisfy some of the concerns and harms of these communities could help solve these challenges, noted Byrum. Another factor is knowing what goes in and out of these community networks.

Fragmentation Panel Speakers Photo“We’re at a point where we really need to do some triage,” Byrum said. “Things like policy solutions are going to take a very long time to reach the level of local communities.”

The Internet serves as an essential utility to these communities, but two pitfalls exist: censorship and community values expressed in the different networks.

Micaela Klein, senior advisor for Internet policy to the U.S. coordinator for international communications and information policy at the U.S. Department of State, said that to heal fragmentation multistakeholders agreements must be integrated internationally.

Resistance from multistakeholders exists because misalignment occurs when governments talk about their political goals compared to the technology they’re able to use to accomplish them.

“By increasingly bolstering some of the organizations, it’s a way of saying again that there’s something about the technology that needs to change to address some kind of political goal,” Klein said.

A balance of power between states is necessary so no government fears that it is behind, and so others can retain their balance that was lost.

“We need to figure out how we bring multistakeholder flavor into multilateral organizations and then figure out ways to make governments more comfortable,” Klein said.

And these problems exist within IGF, as well, according to Robert Pepper, the head of global connectivity policy and planning at Facebook, who moderated the panel.

“There’s almost a cultural question of bringing people along and educating them that engineers at the IGF don’t bite, but likewise the engineers have to understand that lots of government people don’t bit either,” he said.

– By Diego Pineda

Click here to return to IGF-USA 2017 homepage.

The multimedia reporting team for Imagining the Internet at IGF-USA 2017 included the following Elon University School of Communications students, staff and faculty:

Janna Anderson, Bryan Baker, Camille Behnke, Liam Collins, Diego Pineda Davila, Colin Donohue, Maya Eaglin, Christina Elias, Meagan Gitelman, Alex Hager, Tommy Kopetskie, Deirdre Kronschnabel, Jared Mayerson, Emmanuel Morgan, Grace Morris, Jackie Pascale, Mariah Posey, Alexandra Roat, Ginna Royalty, Alexandra Schonfeld, Jamie Snover, Erik Webb, Brooke Wivagg