Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Internet Fragmentation or Just Routing Changes?

There has been concern expressed for at least a decade that the “Internet” is becoming less “open” than it once was, and the reality is that such concerns are legitimate. “National” Internet restrictions are relatively common, and there now is the added concern in some quarters about ways to prevent traffic from crossing into the United States, because of privacy and spying concerns.

But the issues are relatively more complicated than sometimes stated, in part because virtually all networks are moving to use of Internet Protocol, but not all IP networks are part of the public Internet. Many private networks exist that are functionally and statutorily not part of the Internet, or the public network.

Enterprise networks and video entertainment services provide prime examples. But there are nuances; lots of them.

Some have suggested that Brazil, which wants more domestic Brazilian application activity, to reduce its reliance on U.S.-based applications, represents one form of  a “fracturing” of the Internet.

In practice, the Internet has been moving that way for some time, both in terms of language-differentiated apps and services, as well as content regulation. 

Still, in part there also are moves which are strictly at the physical layer, such as creating more in-nation infrastructure or more in-region infrastructure. Such efforts might not actually represent direct fragmentation at the application layer, but only routing efficiency.

Some might say a call to keep more “intra-German” traffic flowing “within Germany” is precisely that sort of thing, and not some wider fragmentation of the Internet in Germany, as some seem to suggest.

The main problem is that it is harder than sometimes supposed to confine data in such ways. Modern webpages are assembled, not simply “accessed” whole. A story on a news site might have  Facebook “Like” buttons, a Google+ “+1″ button and a Twitter button, for example, making it harder to ensure that all data remains exclusively contained on national networks.

Still, changes in routing and fragmentation of the Internet are conceptually distinct; one does not necessarily represent the other.

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