WSIS Forum 2017 will be held from 12–16 June 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland. More info.

Internet Fragmentation

University of Zurich

There has been growing concern over the past few years that the global public Internet is in danger of splintering into a series of bordered cyberspaces. Although there has been some hyperbole and misspecification in the nascent discussion, there are nevertheless a number of trends that could reduce the Internet’s openness and interoperability and increase the barriers to the contents and transactions it conveys. A few examples include national ‘cyber-sovereignty’ strategies intended to increase state authority over the Internet within territorial borders; some types of data localization requirements on the processing, retention and transmission of data; digital protectionism that imposes barriers to cross-border commerce; blocking of websites, social media, and other information resources due to concerns about undesirable contents or national security and law enforcement; the construction of so-called “walled garden” digital platforms; and delays and unevenness in the deployment of the new technologies needed to expand and secure cyberspace in order to accommodate the Internet of Things and other key developments.

There is no general consensus about the nature, scope and potential impact of Internet fragmentation, much less how the issues could best be addressed.  Accordingly, this workshop brings together a multistakeholder group of analysts to advance the conversation and help build a shared understanding of the topic.  The workshop will build inter alia on an initial mapping report, "Internet Fragmentation: An Overview" that was written by William J. Drake, Vinton Cerf and Wolfgang Kleinwächter and released at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos in January 2016  Topics will include the nature of Internet fragmentation; technical, commercial and governmental forms of fragmentation; and options for advancing global awareness and distributed responses to problematic cases. The format will be an interactive roundtable, and sufficient time will be reserved for open dialogue among all participants.


William J. Drake

Speakers / panellists
  • William J. Drake  [Moderator], International Fellow & Lecturer, Media Change & Innovation Division, IPMZ, University of Zurich, Switzerland
  • Chinmayi Arun, Research Director, the Centre for Communication Governance, National Law University, India
  • Olga Cavalli   [Remote presenter], Advisor, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Argentina, Argentina
  • Anriette Esterhuysen, Executive Director, Association for Progressive Communications, South Africa
  • Wolfgang Kleinwächter, Professor Emeritus of International Communications, University of Aarhus, Denmark
  • Tarek Kamel, Senior Advisor to the President for Government and IGOs Engagement, ICANN, Switzerland
  • Cristina Monti, International Relations Officer, European Commission, Belgium
  • Lee Tuthill, Counsellor, World Trade Organization, Switzerland
Link to WSIS Action Lines
  • C2. Information and communication infrastructure
  • C3. Access to information and knowledge
  • C6. Enabling environment
  • C11. International and regional cooperation

The Outcome document of the high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the overall review of the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (UN GA A/70/L.33, 13 December 2015) notes, at paragraph 62, “the important regulatory and legislative processes in some Member States on the open Internet in the context of the information society and the underlying drivers for it, and call for further information-sharing at the international level on the opportunities and challenges.”  One key challenge to the open Internet is the growth of Internet fragmentation. Some forms of fragmentation, if left unattended, could chip away to varying degrees at the Internet’s capacity to facilitate human progress and the realization of the WSIS agenda and Sustainable Development Goals alike. Hence there is a need for global multistakeholder analysis and dialogue on the subject.

Link to the Sustainable Development Process
  • Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
  • Goal 8: Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all
  • Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
  • Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries
  • Goal 16: Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies

An open, interoperable, universally accessible and thriving Internet environment is a key enabler of progress on the SDGs.  Some forms of fragmentation may detract from these and other essential properties of the Internet.

WSIS Forum 2016 | WSIS Action Lines: Supporting the Implementation of SDGs
2–6 May 2016, International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Place des Nations, 1211 Geneva, Switzerland