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April 8, 2016

Internet Fragmentation: Identification Guide (Part II)

Our last article about Internet fragmentation addressed the basic definitions of an open Internet and a fragmented Internet, and identified the three basic groupings of fragmentation. As you will recall, these forms include fragmentation caused by technology, the commercial market and government interests. In this article, we will briefly address several descriptive concepts and models used by experts in the field to analyze and understand fragmentation forms and activities.

Fragmentation is Hazy

The severity of fragmentation is a continuum along a linear spectrum from very low fragmentation to very high fragmentation. Similarly, the likelihood of fragmentation occurring can be interpreted as being on a continuum from potential to actual interventions. Fragmentation must also be considered in terms of current existence versus future possibilities.

Fragmentation is not a straight forward and obvious set of actions to identify. Parties that implement actions that cause fragmentation typically do so unannounced. First, fragmentation has to be identified and its existence proven. Next, the severity of the impact must be determined. Then the outcome must be determined to be intentional or unintentional. Finally, the impact needs to be evaluated in terms of it having a positive or negative impact.

Where Does Fragmentation Happen? You are probably familiar with the common Four Layer Internet Reference model used to describe what communication services are performed at each layer.

The Internet model is hardware independent and the physical layer which is composed of hardware, fiber, and copper is not represented.

This model begins at the lowest layer which is the Link layer and progresses upward to the more general functional layers including the Network/IP, Transport/TCP, and the Application/Content Layers. The model is helpful in identifying the layer(s) where certain fragmenting activities are targeted. Below is the standard Internet Reference Model to refresh your memory:

Internet Reference Model


The limitation of this model is that it addresses the technical types of fragmentation and omits both the governmental and commercial types of fragmentation.

This shortcoming has been addressed by adding a fifth layer to the Internet Reference Model to create an Internet Fragmentation Model. This new model is depicted below:

Internet Fragmentation Model


This fifth layer is the “People Layer,” which consists of users, businesses, legal institutions, inter-governmental organizations and sovereign governments. The key point of this five layer model provides an analytical perspective to identify at what level different types of changes are implemented that may cause fragmentation.

Our next article will address some specific examples of fragmentation that are grouped into these technical, commercial and governmental forms.

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