The Internet Society doesn’t want the Internet balkanised

Thursday 3rd March, 2022 - Bruce Sterling

*Many old arguments are rehearsed yet again here.

It seems that every time there is a large political event in the world, someone calls for someone else to be excluded from the Internet. The latest call to cut people off comes in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Internet Society must resist these calls, no matter how tempting. The Internet remains our best hope to communicate among the peoples of the world.

The calls to cut Russia off are coming at multiple levels:

There is pressure on global social media giants to block Russian content to stop disinformation from circulating.

Others think networks around the world should block Russian communication by blocking their BGP announcements. BGP, the Border Gateway Protocol, is the network protocol that allows the various networks that make up the Internet to negotiate their communications—effectively, it is the “inter” part of “the Internet.” Attempting to convince all the networks in the world to reject some BGP announcements on political grounds is unprecedented.

Still others think the physical connections from Russian networks should be severed. It is not possible to communicate through cables that have been broken. Cut the cables, and Russia will be isolated.

These proposals miss something fundamental about the Internet: it was never designed to respect country borders. The idea of unplugging a country is as wrong when people want to do it to another country as it is when governments want to do it to their own.

Internet connectivity means anyone with access can use the Internet to communicate. This means aggressors and opponents alike. Unlike most historical communication methods, the Internet is astonishingly resilient when conditions for connection are bad. It’s not magic. It won’t end wars or invasions…