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by Mike Zazaian October 12, 2006 - 3:26pm, 2 Comments

A preliminary IGF meeting in Greece - February, 2006

Internet experts gathered at a summit in London this week to discuss the prospect of ‘Balkanization,’ the potential for international web communities to disconnect because of increasing cultural and linguistic boundaries.

One hot topic in the discussions was that the current ICANN domain name system doesn’t facilitate countries that use non-latin script. The result could be that countries such as China would develop their own Internet governance and and domain name server systems, essentially limiting the scope of what has truly been the World Wide Web. The term Balkanization has been widely used to describe what would be an international Internet severance.

Concerns over the matter are building as the number of Asian Internet users will gradually surpass the number of North American users within the next few years. As the Internet had been predominantly accessed by North American uses, such matters had never been an issue in the past. But now with China threatening to become the largest web presence in terms of user base, the country is proposing to take action unless the current DNS system is altered to better accommodate the country’s needs.

And while most see the impending ‘net Balkanization as negative, UK regulator Chinyelu Onwurah believes it could be a natural progression of the web:

If Balkanization refers to islands of connectivity that have no interconnectivity between them then clearly that is a bad thing and limits the choice and reach for consumers. But if it refers to differentiation and different levels of protection, of functionality and speed, and relates to choice, then that is a positive thing.

While there are already a number of social and linguistic barriers that serve to divide the many cultural factions of the Internet, the greatness of the world wide web has been the entirety of access to anywhere from anywhere. Of course with China’s tendency to cut off that which it deems evil or impermissible (ala Wikipedia), the Communist regime might not mind the ability to control everything that its citizens have access to on the web. It wouldn’t broadcast it’s censorship of course, but the hand that the Chinese government would have in what its citizens can or cannot access would do a great deal to set back the progress that the country has made on the global scene over the past few years.

The UN established its Internet Governance Forum (IGF) to stimulate international discussion over Internet governance. ‘Net Balkanization will be further discussed at the IGF’s first major summit next month, which will be held in Athens, Greece.

[via ars technica]