A Balkanized Internet? The Uncertain Future of Global Internet Standards by Jonah Force Hill

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Jonah Force Hill is a technology and international strategy consultant and recent graduate of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, where he was a Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs Fellow.

"They contend that the current process un- fairly favors American firms...and that it leads to standards that allow for a degree of freedom fundamentally at odds with the social norms of some nonwestern nations..."
 "What would happen if neither the CIPR nor the ITR proposals were accepted, yet the standards process continued unchanged?.."

The Internet is at a crossroads. Today, it is generally open, interoperable and unified. Any Internet user can exchange email with more than two billion other global Internet users; entrepreneurs can launch services such as eBay and Amazon and quickly turn them into multibillion-dollar businesses; and people from all across the world can connect with others, share ideas, and improve democratic governance through social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Over the past decade, however, an increasing number of journalists and academics have noted – often in alarmist terms – the ways in which government censorship programs, powerful commercial interests, concerns over cybersecurity, and other dynamic changes in the Internet ecosystem are pulling the global network apart into various distinct, idio- syncratic “internets,” threatening the global communica- tion, economic prosperity and innovation the Internet has fostered over the past two decades.1

Yet despite the proliferation of articles and commentar- ies on this “balkanization” of the Internet, there has been little consensus about which parts of the Internet are frag- menting, what changes in the Internet ecosystem are caus- ing the fragmentation to occur, and to what degree these processes should be a concern. This article, drawn from a larger working paper exploring Internet balkanization, will highlight one of the lesser-explored threats to a unified global Internet: the potential collapse of the Internet stan- dards process. (purchase article...)