EPRS Study - 'Splinternets': Addressing the renewed debate on internet fragmentation

Perarnaud, C., Rossi, J., Musiani, F. and Castex, L. (2022). ‘Splinternets’: Addressing the renewed debate on internet fragmentation. Study for European Parliament’s STOA Panel for the Future of Science and Technology, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/thinktank/en/document/EPRS_STU(2022)729530 

Recent events have multiplied concerns about potential fragmentation of the internet into a multitude of non-interoperable and disconnected 'splinternets'. Composed of thousands of compatible autonomous systems, the internet is by definition technically divided. Yet, the internet was also designed to be an open and global technical infrastructure. The unity and openness of the internet appear to be under great pressure from political, commercial and technological developments. This report explores the implications of the EU's recent policies in this field as well as the opportunities and challenges for EU Member States and institutions in addressing internet fragmentation. It underlines how recent EU legislative proposals – on the digital services act, digital markets act, artificial intelligence act, and NIS 2 Directive – could help to address patterns of fragmentation, but also have limitations and potentially unintended consequences. Four possible strategies emerge: stay with the status quo, embrace fragmentation, resist patterns of divergence, or frame discussions as a matter of fundamental rights.