...there are people who don't like the policies of the Internet and either want to censor or otherwise manage differently THEIR internet. Others who don't like the way DNS works, have proposed alternative roots. This is possible and easy to do, but you end up with "the internets".
It is the fact that we have a single root and that we have global policies and protocols which allows the Internet to be a single network and allows anyone to reach anyone else in the world. Clearly, allowing anyone in the world to reach anyone else in the world with a single click introduces a variety of problems, but it creates a single global network which allows dialog and innovation to be shared worldwide without going through gateways or filters. This attribute of the Internet is a key to the future of a global democracy and I believe we need to fight to preserve this.
He's not the only person who's concerned. Greg Walton worries about Regime Change on the Internet.
My friend Tim Wu, a law professor specializing in international trade and intellectual property, has written an article for Slate: The Filtered Future: China's bid to divide the Internet.
He describes what he believes is a "larger assault on the identity of the Internet itself":
The Web was conceived as one global medium, by its nature open and free. But countries like China are pushing hard to divide that global network into a system of Balkanized national networks. Censorship of the sort Microsoft acceded to is grabbing headlines, but the more important restrictive measures are taking place quietly — and quietly succeeding.
He agrees with me that the NYT's Nick Kristof is naive in his claim that broadband will bring down the Chinese Communist Party. Then goes on to describe how China will shape it's own internet. I quote at length:
Another Chinese attempt at control involves the Internet's physical infrastructure. Within China, the Web looks more and more like a giant office network every day, centralized by design. Last month, China announced its latest build-out — the "Next Carrying Network," or CN2. This massive internal network will be fast, but it will also be built by a single, state-owned company and easy to filter at every step. Its addressing system (known as IPv6) is scarcely used in the United States and may make parts of the Chinese Internet and the rest of the world mutually unreachable. While such things are hard to measure, Internet maps suggest that, powered by projects like CN2, growth in China's domestic bandwidth is rapidly outpacing the speed of its international connections. Networkwise, China will soon be like a country with a great internal transport system but few roads leading in or out. The goal is an inward-looking network that is physically disconnected from the rest of the world.
China is also trying to influence Internet protocols. As anyone knows who has anonymously logged in to his or her neighbor's network, the American Wi-Fi standard creates access anarchy. Last year, citing national security concerns, China ordered all domestic and foreign electronics manufacturers to bundle Wi-Fi with a Chinese encryption standard called WAPI (the acronym stands for "Wireless Local Area Network Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure"). WAPI makes a wireless network closed rather than open by forcing every user of the network to register with a centralized authentication authority. Because it's under heavy pressure from the United States to lift trade restrictions, China has for the moment retreated from requiring all Wi-Fi units to be sold with WAPI. But the country is still pushing its own companies to use the standard and trying to get it adopted globally. What the WAPI campaign foretells are future battles between open American standards and closed Chinese versions.
Techno-optimists like Kristof nonetheless take it as an article of faith that all of China's controls are destined to fail. They echo the hacker's creed — if a system can be beaten it will, so control of information is impossible. They point out that when chat rooms are closely monitored, people start talking about "cabbages" when they mean "democracy." As one blogger wrote recently, "No democratic movement in the history of mankind has ever stalled just because the word 'democracy' could not be uttered." But these arguments ignore a fundamental principle in legal theory: A law does not need to be perfect to be effective. If you're talking about carrots and cabbages instead of multiparty elections, the Communist Party has already won. Ordinary Chinese won't have any idea of what you're talking about. Competing discussion threads that rant against the Japanese, on the other hand, will continue to enjoy mass appeal.
China's long-term vision is clear: an Internet that feels free and acts as an engine of economic progress yet in no way threatens the Communist Party's monopoly on power. With every passing day the Chinese Internet reflects that vision more closely. It portends a future for the Web that we're only beginning to understand — one in which powerful countries refashion the global network to suit themselves.
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