Internet Fragmentation > About the Internet Fragmentation Explainer

About the Internet Fragmentation Explainer

What Is Internet Fragmentation and Why Did We Make This?

Internet fragmentation is the division or splintering of the unified, open, global Internet into smaller, isolated networks subject to different rules, regulations, and technical standards—which may not be able to interconnect or interoperate seamlessly. Any policy or decision, however well-intentioned, that undermines the open, global, interconnected nature of the Internet—the very attributes that have empowered people everywhere to benefit from it—contributes to fragmenting the Internet.

The Internet works well because no single person or entity controls it. Anyone can choose to connect to it, and the network grows and adapts to fit our needs. When all this works correctly, our experience of the Internet should be the same no matter who or where we are, because we are all connecting to the same unified, global, seamless Internet. 

But this is changing quickly, and we cannot take the open, global Internet for granted. If we are not careful, we could lose the Internet and all of the benefits it offers people worldwide. As our dependence on it grows, decisions made about the Internet could have a profound effect on how it will function for generations to come. Instead of the same global, seamless Internet that we rely on, we could end up with an unrecognizable, splintered version of it—fragments of what it originally was. One where we are unable to create, share, and connect freely.

The Internet Society has developed this explainer to help enable advocacy to resist Internet fragmentation. This explainer captures threats of fragmentation from across the world, and uses geographical and technical filters to help trend analysis and landscape mapping. So whether you want to read about policies and decisions in your region or analyze patterns of threats emerging in varied contexts, this explainer can help you do that. Coupled with this understanding, advocates can apply various advocacy strategies and tactics to resist fragmentation and uphold the open, global Internet.

However, there is hope. Some governments, regulatory bodies, and companies are rightfully working on proposals to enhance the resilience of the Internet. Initiatives like the European Union’s risk assessment and physical supervision of submarine cables is a positive approach. The Internet is the people’s medium. We can all grow it, we can all be part of it, and we can all benefit from it.

Origin of Categories

Policies and decisions that threaten fragmentation of the Internet can emerge in different forms and can have technical variations. However, such threats can be analyzed to mark out trends and patterns, thereby helping advocates to find out what they have in common. 

For instance, some policies may give governments more control over what people can access over the Internet, while other threats could break the seamlessness with which networks interconnect with one another. 

For our efforts to uphold the open, global Internet to be more effective and efficient, it is useful to categorize fragmentation threats into ‘threat categories’. This exercise can help us understand if a similar policy has been proposed elsewhere in the world, and what existing research and advocacy resources already exist. 

Threats may not be water-tight, and may threaten fragmentation on a number of axes. They may fall into multiple categories. Ultimately, these categories are a way to organize specific cases of fragmentation to aid understanding and advocacy.

How We Talk about What Is Urgent

Resisting Internet fragmentation needs consistent and concerted efforts from a variety of stakeholders at local, regional, and global levels. Whether you have five minutes or fifty, a few ways in which you can defend the Internet include:

  • Use this explainer to understand the issue of Internet fragmentation.
  • Monitor policies and decisions in your part of the world and flag them online, in the media, or to organizations such as the Internet Society.
  • Spread the word. Talk to like-minded people about an emerging threat that may need to be monitored and advocated against.
  • Join the Internet Society community. We are a broad, vibrant community of over 100,000 people, consisting of grassroots advocates, chapters, and companies.
  • Analyze a threat using the Internet Society’s Internet Impact Assessment Toolkit and produce a brief that can be used as evidence.
  • Write to your policymakers, engage with them using public consultation processes, or reach out to them online. 

Ultimately, every voice matters, and every action counts. Please talk about threats of fragmentation as we must protect the Internet.

General Talking Points about Fragmentation

  • Internet fragmentation is not an event, it is not something that will happen overnight. Instead, it is a process that is in motion in different regions of the world, and being brought about by a variety of policy and business decisions.
  • There are multiple types of fragmentation that will break the Internet. From a users’ perspective, people will experience the Internet very differently depending on who and where they are.
  • Fragmentation will change the way we experience the Internet. It will disrupt international trade and business, as well as global supply chains. It will disproportionately impact smaller businesses. It will limit people’s ability to communicate with friends and family.
  • Some policies that may sound reasonable, such as regional DNS resolvers or cost-sharing, actually threaten to fragment the Internet, and it is important to analyze the impact they might have on the Internet and people.

This explainer, coupled with the Internet Society’s Internet Impact Assessment Toolkit, can help enable an understanding of Internet fragmentation. 

How do we know what contributes to fragmentation? How do we monitor policy developments or business decisions and assess their impact on the open, global Internet?

In short, any policy or decision which makes the Internet less open or global, could potentially have an impact on the unified, seamless Internet. The Internet Society has developed a framework called the Internet Way of Networking–which specifies what the Internet needs to exist and thrive

If a policy undermines what the Internet needs to exist, it threatens a Critical Property without which the Internet cannot function. If a decision impacts what the Internet needs to thrive, it may make the Internet less open, less global, and less secure–affecting our experience of and over the Internet.


Jane Ruffino

Adrian Wan, Aisyah Suhaidi, Amreesh Phokeer, April Froncek, Andrei Robachevsky, Beth Gombala, Callum Voge, Carl Gahnberg, Christian O’Flaherty, Christine Runnegar, David Frautschy, Dawit Bekele, Hanna Kreitem, Ivana Trbovic, Joseph Lorenzo Hall, Kelly O’Hara, Lia Kiessling, Livia Godaert, Natalie Campbell, Neeti Biyani, Nick Hyrka, Noelle de Guzman, Olaf Kolkman, Paula Bernardi, Rajnesh D. Singh, Robin Wilton, Ryan Polk, Sebastián Schonfeld, Stine Philipsen, Victor Ndonnang, Yvette Baleta-Nackerdien