Controversial European working group on internet governance shuts down –

Members of the board of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) decided on Thursday (December 1) not to renew the mandate of the IPv6 Advanced Innovations working group.

The working group established in January 2021 has been at the center of political controversy.

It is designed to identify advanced IPv6 use cases and describe new business cases for emerging technologies. IPv6 is the latest version of the internet protocol, which allows more and more devices to connect to the world wide web.

However, “enhanced” IPv6, also known as IPv6+, has a completely different meaning because it is not a defined standard, but rather a proposed extension of the latest internet protocol with some significantly different features.

Internet policy

The idea for an advanced internet protocol comes from the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. Critics of the proposal saw it as a continuation of a new IP proposal, also by Huawei, a research program looking at communication requirements for emerging technologies.

Although technically different, the two proposals have something in common in that they would introduce a more centralized management system that would allow ISPs to identify and block specific Internet traffic.

However, since IPv6+ was first proposed, major industry players such as CISCO and Nokia have adopted some of its key features, such as segment routing, an architecture for centralized optimization of traffic distribution.

Similarly, ETSI’s working group has become its own “beast” after steady growth to over 100 members.

According to a source familiar with the matter, supporting companies such as CISCO saw the potential benefits of more centralized traffic management and felt they could control the potential drawbacks of IPv6+. CISCO did not respond to EURACTIV’s request for comment by the publication.

The body has been working on a roadmap of features that will only become part of the official protocol once approved by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). This is because the working group’s wings have been clipped from the start, as its mandate includes not developing any standards, but simply producing reports.

But for its opponents, even this activity is dangerous because it legitimizes a dangerous concept. The task force’s mandate would naturally expire at the end of the year, but the chair asked ETSI for an extension.

The request met with strong opposition at an ETSI board meeting, prompting Secretary-General Luis Jorge Romero, who was officially responsible for the decision, to admit that the task force could not move forward.

The European Commission has played a crucial role in coordinating opposition to the extension proposal, mobilizing a united front with France, Germany, the UK and much of the industry, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

“There is no reason to continue this discussion at ETSI, which should focus on defining technical standards. Otherwise, it risks turning into a political level,” said one of the sources.

Sovereign internet

The commission’s decision to step up its game to lead against the proposal is tied to the broader geopolitical landscape surrounding internet governance.

In June, EURACTIV reported that the Chinese government had issued a resolution containing the definition of IPv6+ ahead of a development conference of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the UN’s telecommunications agency.

Officially, Beijing intended to create a common understanding of the use of the acronym by offering funding for the IPv6+ program to countries lagging behind in the implementation of the new protocol.

Instead, Western stakeholders saw it as an attempt to legitimize the concept and further control the digital infrastructure of developing countries by introducing it for the first time in an official document by a standards body.

China’s strategy in international forums has long been to present itself as the champion of the Global South, in this case even going so far as to offer to pay for the deployment of IPv6+. This vision is well illustrated in a recently published white paper on building a community with a shared future in cyberspace.

In China’s view, the Internet should be divided into national spheres that interact freely with each other and with each other under the “cyber sovereignty” and rules of a country where foreign powers have no right to interfere.

This view is consistent with the “Great Firewall” that blocks Chinese internet users from using most of the global internet, but it can only be fully effective if there is no global internet and an end to what Beijing calls US “cyber hegemony”.

The Chinese argument that Internet governance is unbalanced is not without resonance, as stakeholder-driven bodies such as the IETF see Western companies with deeper pockets dominating.

Proposals such as the new IP and IPv6+ were therefore made in the context of the ITU, a body in which national governments have a decisive weight. However, China’s instrumentalization of the ITU suffered a significant setback in September when the American Bogdan-Martin was successfully elected to head the UN agency against a Russian candidate.

China and Russia are preparing a new push for a state-run internet

Officials and stakeholders on both sides of the Atlantic expect China to come up with an updated proposal this week for a centralized version of internet governance, likely to move the debate into political rather than technological territory.

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

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