The Internet was once regarded as a potential technological utopia, but 30 years after the launch of the World Wide Web (a name with the prospect of a global network), reality seems increasingly fragmented.
There are now dozens of Internets in the world, not just a single Internet. They are divided not only by the types of content they consider legal, but also by the infrastructure they contain. Because although the Internet may feel short-lived, it relies on physical telecommunications equipment: this hardware is increasingly subject to scrutiny in the debate surrounding national security.
Experts call it a “split network,” and they have been warning about it for years. As early as 2016, Katja Bego, the chief researcher of Nesta, the British Innovation Foundation, wrote: “Little by little, the Internet is becoming more and more closed.” Ending. “
Driven by geopolitical and trade tensions, the gap between different versions and visions of the Internet has only widened in the past five years. This balkanization may push up prices and may undermine customer choices because products are rejected by markets that are considered hostile. However, for the government, the problem is not only the cost of splitting the network; it is also the need to balance security risks and business interests.
The concept of splinternet also reflects how the digital space has become crucial in the interstate dominance.
China’s Internet censorship “firewall” has long been the most prominent example, and it has created conditions for the growth of domestic technology giants (the giants themselves have also been hit hard by Beijing’s regulatory crackdown).
The standard setting of forums such as the International Telecommunication Union is also drawing the battle line. For example, the Internet of Things—connected devices—based on Chinese standards may be mutually exclusive with American technology. This will force countries to choose between different technology stacks when powering their core digital infrastructure.
Beijing is not the only party hoping to shut out external technology. Last year, the United Kingdom told mobile suppliers that the 5G equipment of the Chinese technology group Huawei must be removed by 2027. In the United States, Huawei has been on the “Entity List” since 2019-a blacklist of companies and affiliates that U.S. companies have joined is not allowed to sell any type of technology without permission.
Software is also facing increasing pressure to restrict, India bans Chinese applications such as TikTok. The Ministry of Information Technology of India believes that these applications “damage India’s sovereignty and integrity, India’s national defense, and the security of the country and public order.”
Huawei’s plight in the UK shows that for private companies and the government, the cost of splitting the network is one of the more obvious: Huawei’s 5G kit is cheaper than Ericsson and other European competitors, so it is forced to dismantle and replace existing Huawei hardware. Very high.
A year ago, even Ericsson CEO Borje Ekholm criticized Sweden’s decision to ban Huawei. Tell the financial times: “For Ericsson and Sweden, we are based on free trade. We are based on free trade opportunities.”
“Slowing down the rollout of 5G is also a risk to the economy,” Ekholm added. Experts agree that the opening of many new wave of innovative technologies, such as the Internet of Things and smart cities, depends on 5G.
The ability of governments to restrict physical supply chains will also affect companies in their domestic markets. In May 2020, the U.S. government stated that it would tighten restrictions on the acquisition of microchips by Huawei and its Survival is at stake.
However, these costs of splinternet cannot be measured purely in money. In an era when digitization is expanding in key sectors, protecting national security is of utmost importance, even if the readiness of critical systems remains unclear. In an increasingly interconnected world, core telecommunications equipment can be used to deploy dangerous attacks.
In addition, a certain degree of flexibility and uncertainty may arise in this decision-making process. For example, the security assessment of 5G components may undergo major changes; it is important that the government is frank and transparent when making decisions. Uncovering their reasons may be tedious, but at least it shows that careful consideration has been carried out.
Failure to do so will lead to another reason for splitting the network: the geopolitical struggle between countries for dominance, and the small attempt to win domestic audiences by showing masculinity enthusiasm. To make matters worse, mixing cybersecurity issues with purely economic benefits (for example, seeking a better trade agreement) may harm the former.
The split network seems to continue to exist, but the government should not aggravate it without good measures. It is commendable to exclude potential weaknesses in core departments; it pushes up the cost of political points for businesses and consumers, not that.