How Many Internets Are There?

chinese internetOne of the premises of net neutrality is that we treat all bits the same. But this supposes that the Internet is a ubiquitous network, the same everywhere. It doesn’t take much digging to see that the Internet is not the same everywhere and that there are already some big differences all throughout the on-line world in how and what people use on the Internet.

At the highest level there are three distinct Internets today – the Internet of people, the Internet of servers and the Internet of things. We are all familiar with the Internet of people, but we forget that a huge portion of web traffic data is machine-to-machine traffic. And soon, this is going to be swamped by the traffic from the Internet of things. Each of these three Internets coincide with each other only in the most basic levels of sharing the same system of IP addresses and similar web protocols. But other than that the three Internets are very different in how they function.

And of course, there is huge diversity within the Internet of people. For example, my Internet and that of my teenage daughter are very different. My Internet is PC-based and largely browser-based and that drives my web experience. Her Internet is smartphone and tablet based and is largely applications-based and she has a drastically different web experience than mine. She doesn’t even use email except very begrudgingly. We do cross paths on Facebook a little where she reluctantly posts a few pictures occasionally to keep the old folks satisfied.

But there are much larger degrees of separation within the Internet of people. For instance, people in the US tend to think that our version of the Internet is the same as what others around the world use. But it’s not. First, there are a handful of countries that have firewalled themselves off from the rest of the world, with the most extreme example being China. There are hordes of Chinese censors who scrub the web there constantly to keep out influences that the government doesn’t approve

There are also somewhat differrent Internets for any country that has a unique language such as Japanese, Norwegian or Bantu. The Internet for each foreign language is unique in that the speakers of that language will have migrated towards a set of websites and services that cater to their language. Over time, the web experience in each country becomes unique and very much separate from the rest of the world.

And then one must consider the new worldwide initiative to store data locally within each country. This is from the fallout of the NSA spying where other countries are upset that they are being spied upon by the US and other spy agencies. Many countries are considering laws that will require local data to be stored on servers physically located in their own country as a way to be able to build a firewall around such data. This means that the cloud is not going to be a worldwide phenomenon, but rather will be handled differently in each part of the world.

There is also an international push by different governments to change some of the basic rules for the Internet locally, and if this occurs then the communications between different global parts of the Internet will not be as seamless as it is today. There is even a movement of some countries who want to have their own naming conventions, leading to the possibility that there could be more than once site in the world with the same name (although with different IP addresses).

Until now the Internet has been a fairly coherent network with the US clearly driving the direction of the web both by being the maker of the rules, but also by virtue of having spawned Facebook, YouTube, Google, Yahoo and a host of other world-wide companies. But as the Internet becomes more regional and data is kept locally, the influence of these firms will diminish in various parts of the world. Which is just what much the rest of the world is hoping for.

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