Myth #38: The Domain Name System guarantees a global Internet.
Robin Tim Weis
Myth: The Internet was devised as universal and global in nature. The Domain Name System as the Internet’s phone book and the multiple root servers underlying it ensured that everyone will reach every site they want whenever they feel like it. This built-in decentralized resilience will last forever.
Busted: The TCP/IP infrastructure is a pipe dream of the past, as countries are moving forward with new setups that utilize novel ways to circumvent the DNS. In effect, the Internet is being copied and contained in national content silos. The most recent uprooting of the global DNS is underway in Russia. In its recent efforts, the Russian government is actively seeking to replicate the current DNS setup by creating a “system of backup DNS root name servers, independent of the control of ICANN, IANA and VeriSign”, as explained in the recently adopted “sovereign Internet” bill. Saudi Arabia has emulated these “sovereign” efforts, restricting DNS outright: DNS request traffic is instead routed through Saudi nationally controlled proxy services. This recent nationalization of the Internet runs contrary to the early international efforts by organizations such as CSNET or the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) that was created in 1983 to guide the evolution of the TCP/IP Protocol Suite and to provide research advice to the burgeoning Internet community.
Given its founding ethos, the Internet’s protocols were openly available, and because it’s a network of interconnected networks, it’s entirely possible to re-create a different network of interconnected networks. Authoritarian nation states are seemingly interested to strip themselves of what some view and communicate as the “western” DNS, looking to create an entirely alternate reality for the majority of their Internet users. Tomorrow’s Internet users could see countries vanish from the Internet, if certain governments decide to ban national domains from their own national root servers. The “Splinternet” is born.
Truth: Despite its infrastructure being conceived as global, we slowly enter an age of many national, fragmented Internets. Governments around the world are eager to go live with their “Splinternet.” Users no longer should expect to be able to reach all websites. The open nature of DNS is being disassembled as we speak.
Source: William Lehr et al., “Whither the Public Internet?,” Journal of Information Policy 9 (2019): 1–42, https://doi.org/10.5325/jinfopoli.9.2019.0001; Charlotte Jee, “Russia Wants to Cut Itself off from the Global Internet. Here’s What That Really Means.,” MIT Technology Review, 21 March 2019, https://www.technologyreview.com/s/613138/russia-wants-to-cut-itself-off-from-the-global-internet-heres-what-that-really-means.