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Commentary: Will the Internet of tomorrow become several intranets instead? Geopolitics could be key

The Internet is under threat. A series of steps and measures — while well-intentioned — could spiral and undermine the interoperability of the global Internet, potentially leading to what experts call Internet fragmentation.

A fragmented Internet would threaten the current Internet’s core function, meaning that users may no longer be able to connect with their friends and family anywhere in the world, says the author.

A fragmented Internet would threaten the current Internet’s core function, meaning that users may no longer be able to connect with their friends and family anywhere in the world, says the author.

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Two of Singapore’s leading foreign policy figures recently issued stark warnings about the geopolitical outlook.

In a recent interview, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said that the current geopolitical landscape reminded him of the situation before World War I, where a series of measures and countermeasures triggered an escalatory spiral.

Dr Balakrishnan suggested that as a first step, we should make a concerted effort to better inform ourselves and understand the driving forces behind the global changes that impact all of us.

Veteran diplomat Kishore Mahbubani warned of a ramped-up contest between the United States and China at the Singapore Computer Society’s Tech3 Forum.

He urged technology companies, whom he believes will bear the brunt of an escalating US-China contest, to start speaking out about the danger such a clash poses to this key sector.

In the Internet space, we are seeing a similar situation where measures and countermeasures could potentially lead to the Internet’s fragmentation.

Exacerbated by the geopolitical trends outlined by Dr Balakrishnan and Professor Mahbubani, the risk of the Internet fragmenting is becoming increasingly real.


At its most basic, Internet fragmentation means that the Internet could break apart into separate intranets, resulting in a splintering of the unified, global, interoperable Internet we have come to rely on.

A fragmented Internet would threaten the current Internet’s core function and unprecedented capability of connecting users and their devices seamlessly, safely, and instantly anywhere in the world.

This means that users may no longer be able to connect with their friends and family anywhere in the world.

The Internet also serves as a vital tool for education, as information on the Internet is free; but we will lose this quickly when the Internet fragments.


In recent years, in response to perceived data privacy concerns of their citizens, some governments have introduced new rules and regulations that unintentionally impacted the technical operation of the Internet.

Others, driven by their duty to shield citizens from what they deem as harmful information, have blocked access to certain content or large parts of the global Internet.

According to the 2021 Freedom on the Net project, officials in at least 20 countries suspended Internet access, while 21 countries blocked access to social media platforms. It is the continuation of a negative trend: Global Internet freedom has declined for the 11th consecutive year, according to the report.

Against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion, Ukraine had asked that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to target Russia’s access to the Internet, by revoking specific country-code top-level domains operated from within Russia, arranging the revocation of secure sockets layer certificates issued within those domains, and shutting down a subset of root servers located in Russia. 


But organisations such as ICANN were established to ensure that the Internet works, not for its coordination role to be used to stop it from working.

In ICANN's role as the technical coordinator of unique identifiers for the Internet, we take actions to ensure that the workings of the Internet are not politicised, and we have no sanction-levying authority.

Along with other organisations such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), ICANN sets technical policies and standards to keep the Internet working and evolving.

For example, the IETF has set thousands of standards that have kept the Internet evolving to keep up with the times, such as developing the Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) address when it was discovered that IPv4 addresses were not sufficient to provide a distinct address to every Internet device.

Such standard-setting organisations are not motivated by politics or profit, but by a shared desire to keep the Internet working in a single and interoperable way. These organisations welcome anyone interested to participate and every voice is equal and heard.


I share Dr Balakrishnan’s sentiment that we all need to stay informed as well as Professor Mahbubani’s views on the importance of speaking up.

Participating in the work of organisations like ICANN and the IETF will keep one informed about how the Internet works, as well as the current issues that are impacting it. It also enables one to help shape the future of the Internet.

Governments can help by encouraging their stakeholders to participate in the development of the Internet’s standards and policies.

Companies can contribute, by speeding up the adoption of the latest standards that will make it safer for users to access the Internet.

A good place to learn more about Internet governance is the ICANN75 Public Meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia this week (Sept 17-22).

The meeting will feature various sessions to help participants understand how the Internet works. There will also be a discussion on Internet fragmentation. Attendance is free for both in-person and remote participants.

We can all help to protect the global Internet so that the two billion people that remain unconnected can also enjoy its benefits — because that is what the Internet was intended to do: Connect us.



Low Jia Rong is Regional Vice President and Managing Director at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) Asia Pacific.

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internet fragmentation geopolitics

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