“Would having multiple Internet styles be a good thing?” Columbia Professor Eli Noam asked a while back. The Internet, after all, is just a “network of networks.” Noam wrote Interconnecting the Network of Networks back in 2001, and has long been the leading public intellectual in communications. (I don’t have notes on how he explained.it. Pleaase consider all of the following as by me, strongly influenced by Eli.)
Since then, network science has evolved the concept of “multi-layer” network concepts. Each network is autonomous, determining its own structure. What is crucial is that they are linked.
De facto, many of us do something like that when we configure our environment with a VPN for anonymity. There’s no reason the Internet would be compromised if a group came together on one side of a VPN. I use NordVPN, which is almost as fast as a direct connection.
There is no evidence that different structures at different layers would be a major blow to what you and I could do on the Internet.
The CEO of ICANN confirmed it could work
I presented that idea to Fadi Chehade, then the CEO of ICANN, which coordinates the DNS, the Internet’s naming system. Some believe, mistakenly, that ICANN “runs the Internet.” CEO Chehade said he has a much more limited role, although ICANN is at the center of “Internet governance.”
I suggested that allowed different internal structures if they were “robustly interconnected.” Fadi agreed, adding “but there’s the rub. How do we make sure the interconnections would be robust?”
Fadi was very proud that he had concluded an agreement with the Chinese for them to support ICANN in organizing the DNS. In return, he promised China “a seat at the table.”
Why would a group want an autonomous network?
Many of us have different ideas of how we want our networks to run. Many Haredi Jews would prefer an Internet without pornography. Xi Jinping wants no gambling. Germany and France decry “hate speech.” The Thais put people in jail for insulting the King.
Many Africans desire better safeguards against US NSA spying. So presumably do Angela Merkel and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Both had phones tapped by the US.
I’d consider joining a network with the Mastodon rules, where a million have moved from Twitter.
- Sexually explicit or violent media must be marked as sensitive when posting
- No racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, or casteism
- No incitement of violence or promotion of violent ideologies
- No harassment, dogpiling or doxing of other users
- Do not share intentionally false or misleading information
In practice, nothing like this has developed. It would require enormous effort. Filters probably would not work well.
Russia prudently is prepared to go it alone
The Russians have reason to fear being cut off from the Internet, as demanded by the Ukrainian President Zelensky and some US Senators. They built and tested a alternate root.
So far, the US has not ordered our companies to cut off Russia from the root. But it has the power to do so. ICANN, which regulates the DNS, is a US corporation under US law.
Would the board members of ICANN go to jail to protect the Russians?
Great momentum behind networks that guarantee speed of arrival
It’s called deterministic networking. Verizon, Ericsson, Nokia and major European telcos support deterministic networking because they hope to be able to charge more with the guarantee. (My guess is it won’t work for them, as nearly all applications, including video and connected cars, work fine without the guarantee.)
China, where perhaps a quarter of Internet users live, is moving ahead. China Mobile, Unicom, and Telecom expect to go deterministic in 3-5 years. They are already running tests. The technology remains unproven.
Deteministic networking does not require a “New IP.” Bob & Vint’s TCP/IP can continue to be used, although an improved protocol would make the transition easier. The Chinese have in fact dropped “New IP” from ITU standard setting, to minimize opposition.