China renews internet governance proposal, targeting developing countries – EURACTIV.com

The original story has been updated to include Huawei’s perspective.

The Chinese government has made another attempt to promote its vision of the internet, in a repackaging meant to appeal to lagging regions.

Over the years, China has repeatedly tried to change the current Internet architecture, mainly through the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations agency for ICT technologies.

Unlike other standards organizations which are dominated by private companies, ITU governments play a leading role. Thus, Beijing is using this forum to lure countries that might have similar interests into asserting stronger government control over the internet.

In September 2019, the delegate of the Chinese telecom juggernaut Huawei submitted a proposal for a new IP (Internet Protocol). In February, EURACTIV anticipated that further proposals were expected at the World Telecommunications Standardization Assembly.

China and Russia plot another push for a state-controlled internet

Officials and stakeholders on both sides of the Atlantic expect China to present a renewed proposal for a centralized version of internet governance this week, which will likely take the discussion into political territory instead. than technological.

Modified approach

Beijing’s new proposal took the form of an amendment to a resolution to be adopted at the World Telecommunication Development Conference, ITU’s conference dedicated to telecommunications development which is being held in Rwanda from 6 to 16 June.

Two weeks ago, the Chinese government circulated an amendment to a resolution which, in a footnote, introduced the concept of IPv6+, presented as an improved version of the latest version of the Internet Protocol, known as IPv6 name.

Around the same time, IPv6+ was promoted by Huawei. For the telecommunications company, which was not involved in the resolution, the intention of the Chinese government was simply to clearly define and agree on an acronym to avoid any misunderstanding.

“IPv6+ can realize more open and active technology and service innovation, more efficient and flexible networking and service delivery, more excellent performance and user experience,” the footnote says.

According to the document, seen by EURACTIV, IPv6+ would have three crucial advantages. More efficient distribution of information on the network; the integration of other technologies allowing an organization of the resources of the network; integration of innovative solutions.

New brand, same problems

“IPv6+ and new IP are the same song, different verses,” Mehwish Ansari, digital manager at ARTICLE 19, a human rights organization that defends freedom of expression, told EURACTIV. Both proposals have similar features that could have serious privacy and censorship implications, she added.

For Ansari, Huawei changed its approach following strong setbacks in its attempt to overhaul the Internet architecture in 2019. Although still offering most of the features of the initial new IP proposal, the initiative has been repackaged for the make it appear as a natural extension of IPv6 instead of an entirely new architecture.

On the other hand, for Huawei, the two initiatives are completely independent, and it is not justified to speak of rebranding since IPv6+ summarizes the technologies that are developed by the whole industry, such as segment routing since Cisco and nokia.

“New IP was a research program that examined communication needs in 2030 and beyond, considering a blank slate scenario. IPv6+, on the other hand, is a shorter-term extension of IPv6, defining a roadmap of features developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF),” a Huawei spokesperson told EURACTIV.

Target Lagging Regions

According to ARTICLE 19’s Ansari, bringing this brand change to the World Telecommunication Development Conference is a smart strategy, as it appeals to the concerns of southern regions, which are still far behind the deployment of IPv6.

As a result, countries may be persuaded by Huawei’s new strategy and engage in more infrastructure projects like those China has funded under the Belt and Road Initiative.

“The strategy is unlikely to work,” said Mallory Knodel, chief technology officer at the Center for Democracy and Technology. The transition to IPv6 was initiated to increase the number of devices that can be connected to the Internet, she explained, and although the number of connected devices in each region is booming, it is only in advanced countries with dense populations that lack space on IPv4 – the command protocol.

In search of legitimacy

For Knodel, China’s proposal is misleading “marketing language”, since IPv6+ is not a technical standard like IPv6, but an enterprise product.

She pointed out that the attempt to legitimize IPv6+ as a technical standard is exemplified by Huawei’s IPv6+ link with a European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) task force on enhanced IPv6 innovation.

According to a source informed on the subject, the task force was created in October 2020 with a very limited mandate, and it is now an empty shell used to provide a background behind the proposal.

Conversely, Huawei points to the fact that the ETSI working group complements the work of the IETF and involves more than 90 companies.

Splinternet is not the problem

Another point that IPv6+ seems to want to solve is the question of compatibility, since the new original IP proposal would not have been compatible with the current architecture, which raises fears of fragmentation of the Internet.

The problem with IPv6+ could be the exact opposite, Knodel noted. If these new versions are made compatible with older protocols, they could impose additional information on all traffic, including granular access data.

Net neutrality and fair sharing

According to CDT’s Knodel, the Chinese proposal would help the European telecoms “fair share” proposal, or “shipper pays” as it is known in the United States, because it allows additional information to be provided about Internet traffic.

However, European telecom operators reject such an association, arguing that the traffic of the main platforms is already known.

In addition, the European Commission’s Connectivity Director, Rita Wezenbeek recently said that measures against contractual agreements do not violate the principle of net neutrality.

“The Internet must remain open, decentralized and governed by the multi-stakeholder model. European telecom operators are against the IPv6 enhancement proposal,” said Maarit Palovirta, senior director of regulatory affairs at the European Telecommunications Network Operators Association.

Western reaction

According to multiple sources, the Chinese proposal caught Western players off guard as it was sent relatively late before the conference, a move seen as “strategic” to avoid a coordinated Western reaction.

One of the sources told EURACTIV that the European Commission briefed EU officials ahead of the ITU conference.

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

Helen D. Jessen