Internet is Splintering, Irrespective of ITU Decisions

 Is the Internet splintering? The question has been relevant for parts of the last decade, and some observers might argue there are reasons why a fragmentation of the Internet could happen, or has already happened.

One recent development--an International Telecommunications Union conference that many see as leading to government censorship of content--illustrates the issue.

Some argued strongly that allowing governments to control and censor content could spit the Internet into two parts: One free and open one, the other closed and censored, depending on which country you are in.



But such legitimate concerns also have other somewhat more logical drivers as well. One might argue that even when any human being can communicate with any other human being, the original and still most-powerful value of the Internet, as a practical matter, users are functionally self-segregated, most of the time, by shared language, culture, economic relationships, friendships, application preferences, devices, operating systems and so forth.

In fact, one might argue that the formation of communities, which does not conflict with the "any to any" nature of the Internet, itself creates practical and self-chosen "islands."



In other words, although it is important that "anybody can connect with anybody else," as a practical matter people communicate and share with a fragment of all Internet users. And there are powerful commercial reasons for doing so, as the notion of an "Internet platform" suggests.

That does not mean a free and open Internet is incompatible with use choices to self segregate. The former is the capability that allows the latter. The point is that legal (de jure) Internet freedom has the logical corollary of a tribalized (de facto) use of that fully open resource.

Yes, the Internet should remain an "any to any" medium. But people will naturally form communities on a voluntary basis. Formal limits on the "any to any" communications function are harmful.

But on a practical level, people will voluntary fragment their use of the Internet. In that latter sense, the Internet will inevitably lead to "fragmentation," in the sense of people forming voluntary communities.

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