China's new IP plans: a vision for an authoritarian global internet?

Is China's 'New IP' a solution to a 'broken' internet? Or a plan to govern the internet?

China has long been a leader in the suppression of free speech and human rights through rigorous internet controls. Up until now, its main focus in these efforts has been inward: on its 1.4 billion citizens. But that looks set to change, according to a soon-to-be-published NATO report. It reveals how China has drawn up technical plans for a newly decentralised internet infrastructure (DII), dubbed "New IP", which it is hoping to push through as a standard via the UN's International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

Although China claims the current TCP/IP model is broken and a new one is needed to support digital innovation over the coming decades, detractors warn that its efforts could splinter the global internet and provide a dystopic alternative model for authoritarian governments everywhere.

A better internet?

Huawei appears to be the technical driving force behind New IP, which it started to share publicly in 2018. This culminated most recently at an ITU meeting in September last year in which its proposals were officially submitted, according to the FT. They show Huawei — and other backers of the project including China's state-run telcos and the government's Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT) — accentuating the limitations of TCP/IP. It will struggle to meet soaring IoT demand and support the potential for holographic communication, space-terrestrial networks and other innovations in the future, they argue. What's more, they claim the current model is at risk of creating too many siloes: islands of network systems running different protocols that have trouble communicating with each other.

The proposal calls for a "ubiquitous, universal and better protocolled system" designed with an improved security and trust model. The New IP approach would do this via a new "top-down" architecture.

Huawei declined to provide any additional commentary or background information for this article.

Power to the ISPs

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