A new proposal could change the structure of the internet as we know it. That kind of statement might seem hyperbolic, but the steps we take today could reverberate throughout the world in the years to come.
In a recent submission to the International Telecommunications Union –Telecommunication Standards Advisory Group (ITU-TSAG) by China Mobile, China Unicom, Huawei, and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), these stakeholders proposed a radical change to how the internet operates at a fundamental level. Their proposal is not only duplicative and harmful to global industry but could also enable governments to have power over the most critical source of information in the world.
The 2020 World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA) is held every four years and is responsible for charting the course for the future of the internet. There, the U.S. should be pushing for reforms that improve or innovate on the foundations that have already been established rather than supporting proposals that would compete with those foundations.
While the proposal from the group of Chinese entities promises a more efficient system, the “New IP” initiative is largely duplicative of efforts already underway with TCP/IP. This notion makes little sense, as TCP/IP is already proven and forms the backbone of how devices around the world recognize and communicate with one another.
On the surface, the proposal calls for the decentralization of the internet. However, New IP would entail a network-driven internet which could result in more centralized control over the data link and network layers.
Those who’ve closely studied the issue understand that New IP will create more robust controls baked into the foundation of the network. Specifically, the proposal calls for a new system of trust and authentication: by merging the data link (OSI 2) and network layers (OSI 3) through a new “blockchain layer”, New IP would give more power to telecom operators over the flows of data traffic. If adopted, this would alter the foundation of internet resource management and could potentially eschew the current model based on domain name system (DNS) resolution.
While proponents of the New IP proposal argue this would promote a more trustworthy, decentralized Internet infrastructure (DII), there are reasons to believe altering DNS resolution and TCP/IP would result in a more centralized Internet than what the current system has in place.
For instance, telecom operators would have significant control over network traffic and could make decisions regarding device connectivity and interoperability. If those operators face domestic pressure from government authorities to assert direct control over data traffic, these decisions could ultimately result in a more closed, less transparent Internet.
In addition, the New IP proposal also raises concerns with how standards development works internationally. The creation of internet standards has largely been industry-driven through the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), rather than state-driven through multilateral bodies such as the ITU. The proposal reflects the Chinese government’s desire to strengthen the multilateral process at the expense of the current multi-stakeholder method which allows for more inclusive forums with collective experience developing internet protocols.
The reasons for the proposal are clear. Chinese leaders want a bigger seat at the table and the ability to promote its own government’s interest globally while asserting more control over the Internet and the data that traverses it. That sets a dangerous precedent because it limits transparency and accountability compared to what is in place today.
The U.S. should continue to advocate for the mission outlined in the Administration’s 2017 National Security Strategy—to focus on open, interoperable communications that aim to knock down barriers to the global exchange of information.
By: Hunter Dorwart, Law Clerk Intern, Government Affairs, TIA