IGF 2022 WS #405 Splintering from the core up? Fragmentation and Standards

Friday, 2nd December, 2022 (06:30 UTC) - Friday, 2nd December, 2022 (08:00 UTC)

Organizer 1: Private Sector, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Organizer 2: Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Organizer 3: Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Speaker 1: PABLO HINOJOSA, Technical Community, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 2: Mehwish Ansari, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 3: Carolina Caeiro, Private Sector, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)

Additional Speakers

Stacie Hoffmann, Digital Standards Strategy Lead, Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), UK (Government, WEOG)

Carl Gahnberg, Director, Policy Development & Research, Internet Society (Technical Community, WEOG).

Tommy Jensen, Senior Technical Manager, Microsoft (Private Sector, WEOG).



Round Table - U-shape - 90 Min

Policy Question(s)

How does Internet Fragmentation manifest at the level of standards and protocol development? As the Internet is constantly evolving and future technologies are bound to place increasing demands on networks, what guidelines can be used to assess whether standards proposals may lead to new forms of fragmentation? What strategies can be adopted to uphold interoperability and openness in standards setting processes? What new forms of international, multi-stakeholder cooperation may be required to monitor potential drivers for fragmentation at the level of digital standards and protocol development? What role is there for stakeholders from the Global South to actively engage in these efforts and contribute to upholding the continuity of an open, free and Interoperable Internet?

Connection with previous Messages:



Targets: The proposal links to SDG 9.1 in that it seeks to foster a conversation around the development of a resilient Internet infrastructure that avoids fragmentation and remains transborder in nature The roundtable’s objectives also link to SDG 17.6 in that the activity seeks to explore avenues for international cooperation around digital technical standards that uphold the values of one global, interoperable, free and open Internet.


Proposed full title: Splintering from the core up? How internet fragmentation manifests at the level of technical standards Much of the conversation around threats to the maintenance of an open, free and interoperable Internet has concentrated around questions of centralization and Internet regulation. Internet fragmentation, however, is also manifesting at the level of technical standards and protocol development, which have great potential to transform the Internet’s infrastructure and way of networking from the ground up. This roundtable discussion will focus on mapping out how standards-setting may contribute to new forms of fragmentation and what strategies the multistakeholder, Internet community can adopt to address this phenomenon. As the Internet evolves, such effort requires revisiting the question of what is the Internet (and what it is not), what are the design principles and values that have generated value over time and that Internet community wants to uphold, and how to address needs of future networks. Cooperation to avoid new sources of fragmentation at the level of standards development is also essential. As such, the roundtable discussion will touch upon how interested stakeholders may collaborate to uphold standards development processes that protect interoperability and openness, and what opportunities exist for Internet champions from across the Global South to become active agents in leading and expanding these coalitions.

Expected Outcomes

The roundtable discussion will build into multiple, existing processes. Regional Internet Registries, APNIC and LACNIC have produced a study on the Internet's technical success factors which highlight design principles and values that have enabled the Internet to develop and consolidate over time. This study provides guidelines through which to evaluate alternative networking models and proposals that depart or bend the Internet’s design principles. The Internet society has launched the “Internet Way of Networking,” a campaign against Internet fragmentation that provides valuable guidelines and tools to spot trends that could harm the Internet’s foundations. Academia and think-thanks, such as Chatham House are contributing to the thinking about challenges on Internet fragmentation and ways to promote cooperation, such as the paper on Translatlantic Cooperation on Digital Technical Standards. Civil society, including organizations such as Article 19 and Derechos Digitales, is also actively engaging in standards development organizations and developing thinking on Internet fragmentation. The roundtable seeks to bring this conversation to the IGF to tease out concrete pointers as to what could constitute shared guidelines to monitor standards development and identify actionable strategies and potential avenues for increased, multistakeholder collaboration to avoid fragmentation at the level of standards development. The roundtable is expected to advance thinking on the subject and further facilitate cooperation on the issue. Specific outputs will include the draft of a session report and an expert comment based on roundtable conclusions to be published on blogs of relevant partners and stakeholders.

Hybrid Format: To embrace the hybrid nature of the event, the roundtable discussion will begin with a series of fire-starter remarks by both in-person and online speakers. This is expected to generate a dynamic of open interaction between those present in Addis Ababa and online participants. The session will be advertised among relevant audiences participating in IGF to ensure the involvement of a diverse group of participants representing all stakeholder groups and regions. The moderator will be provided with a list of confirmed participants –online and in-person– to invite individual contributions from those who are not on the speaker roaster. The session will be organized in two segments: the first will be oriented towards teasing out potential guidelines to monitor standards proposals with the potential to lead to internet fragmentation, and the second will be centred around potential avenues for multistakeholder collaboration in monitoring proposals. Interventions by speakers will be distributed between these two segments, to ensure the swift transition to a roundtable discussion and avoiding long expository segments. The moderation may resort to the use of audience interaction tools to engage participants – particularly those online– such as opinion polls to spark both reflections and comments from the audience.

Online Participation


Usage of IGF Official Tool.


Key Takeaways (* deadline 2 hours after session)

Standards making bodies are the institutions in which engineers get together to try to solve technical problems. Policy makers are increasingly engaging at the level of standards organisations due to the policy implications of adopted standards. The different Standards bodies like the ITU and IETF have different approaches to standards making which can increase fragmentation if they have competing approaches.

By improving outreach and engagement as well as integration we can meet the different needs of each stakeholder such as offering engagement sessions to the different groups for further integration and understanding between the policy and technical communities.

Session Report (* deadline 26 October) - click on the ? symbol for instructions


The importance of Internet standards in the drive to prevent fragmentation can be overlooked amongst the many areas of discussion in how the network of networks operates. This IGF roundtable discussion focused on the critical aspects of maintaining a free, open, and interoperable Internet and the role standards development can play in either facilitating fragmentation or preventing it. The roundtable was divided into two sections, with the first focusing on the challenges that can arise within standards governance and the multi-stakeholder model, as well as addressing proposals for standards development that may seek to transform the Internet’s building blocks and fragment the Internet, such as New IP. The Second section highlighted areas which can manifest fragmentation when large divides are present between engineers and policy makers within the process of standards development or within Internet Governance.

The roundtable addressed barriers to entry in the standards development process such as the technical and complex terminology and the importance of understanding the different fora for standards development. The conversation began with an example of a proposal that may fragment the internet, New IP. Carolina Caeiro, Senior Policy and Governance specialist at Oxford Information Labs, discussed the New IP proposal and the process of tracking these sets of standards. The basis of the New IP proposal understood that the Internet protocol was unfit to meet the needs of future networks and emerging technologies, and that therefore, a new Internet protocol was needed. In practice, however, New IP sought to create a series of changes at the architectural level of the Internet within naming and addressing as well as a change in the network layer. This would transform the Internets’ way of networking that would threaten the internet’s interoperability and therefore fragment the system as well as including ways of tracking Internet activity. In addition, the use cases where the current protocol is not sufficient according to the proposal are addressed within existing standards already.

To understand the ways in which the standards development process works and how that can contribute to fragmentation, the discussion continued with Tommy Jensen, Senior Technical Manager at Microsoft and Carl Gahnberg, Director of Policy Development and Research and the Internet Society. There are different Standards Development Organizations (SDOs) with different drivers at the basis of their work. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is a predominantly engineering-based standards development body for Internet standards. This SDO works on the basis of consensus and has a high barrier to entry with a specific way of working that can be highly technical. Other SDOs, like the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) can be more policy focused with a geopolitical aspect highlighting the different countries’ visions of the internet and future technology. These SDOs all play a part in the standards development process. 

The roundtable unpicked some of the groundwork of why standards are needed to maintain an interoperable internet, and how standards are created to solve specific technical problems. Carl Gahnberg highlighted that while technology can have political consequences, we should not allow politics to guide technological decisions. This is why the different fora and their drivers are important to the standards making process. Tommy Jensen agreed with the importance of trying to understand the technological problem which needs to be solved first, and then whether or not there is a need to evolve from a technological perspective. Directing the conversation back to Caeiro’s explanation of the New IP Proposal, the internet does not need a new version of IP to evolve as we currently have IPv6 which is more than adequate according to Jensen.

Pablo Hinojosa, Strategic Engagement Director at APNIC joined the conversation and challenged the notion that engineering problems should only be solved with engineering or technological solutions alone, stating that politics is a factor. He declared that it is not possible to be apolitical in these decision-making processes and highlighted the importance of the engineers and policy-makers speaking the same voice. It is significant that we share an idea of where we want the internet to be in the future. This is what determines where the gaps are, and therefore where the problems that need to be standardised are. He agreed on the importance of having a diverse discussion and upholding the multi-stakeholder approach. 

The discussion addressed the fundamental role that standards play in shaping the Internet of today and the future. Stacie Hoffman, Digital Standards Strategy Lead for the UK Government described ongoing forms of fragmentation that might be leading us away from the open, interoperable Internet. Fragmentation can be both facilitated but also prevented through standards development. Although they are not the only vector of fragmentation, understanding their role and contribution to creating fragmentation which can be detrimental to internet resilience, is critical. The key elements in preventing fragmentation that can occur within the internet include: having a single domain name system (DNS), having a core, unfractured internet protocol and having active and multi-stakeholder internet governance bodies such as ICANN and the IETF. If there are too many different and competing standards development bodies within the process it can also lead to fragmentation in the technology itself. 

The session concluded with recommendations as to how to improve the standards development process and prevent fragmentation to the internet that can be detrimental to the network of networks. Early identification of issues and discussion of these issues in the right bodies is key for the type of industry led, multi-stakeholder model of technical standards setting that can avoid problems down the road when it gets to the deployment stage. In the global standards setting process we need global participation if we want these standards to work for everyone. This highlights the need to help integrate those policy and technical debates, bringing the expertise much closer together. In practice, this can look like policy maker and engineering engagement and outreach events so that these relationships can build understanding for their different approaches and drivers of standards setting. By taking steps to be more inclusive and reinforce mechanisms that we currently have, we can ensure effective governance of the internet and the institutions that guard against fragmentation that could be detrimental to the internet. Diversity and inclusivity within the SDOs have historically been challenging, and the moderator Emily Taylor, CEO of Oxford Information Labs addressed the question of diversity and gender within these organisations as a final discussion point.