Will China Build a Separate Internet?

China has been making a lot of noise lately about wanting “root” control over the Internet. That’s clearly not going to happen anytime soon, nor should it happen. But what if China simply decided one day to create a “Chinese Internet” as an alternative to the pesky Internet that it can’t control?

This is what naming expert Naseem Javed suggets might happen in this essay. Here’s an excerpt:

    For now, English is the big mama of the business language on the global scene, but on the spoken side, Chinese is the big papa. In a few years, as every second person in China gets a business portal, they will become dominating e-commerce players dwarfing the West. China would need its own independent control of how it will play the access game, decide on local languages, suffixes and come up with its own registration and trademark dispute policies rather than wait for annual memos from ICANN.

I have a hard time believing that China would try to create its own version of the Internet. It certainly has the power to create some sort of cultural/geographic intranet but I can’t see it replacing the Internet that more than 100 million Chinese already use daily. Besides, China is doing a pretty good job of filtering/monitoring/censoring the Internet as it is.

But Naseem does raise a very important point — for Chinese speakers, the Internet is far from user-friendly. The major obstacle is the URL, which is still limited to ASCII (Latin) characters. The folks at ICANN and IETF are working to upgrade the DNS to Unicode, but this will take time. There is a workaround in use that allows Web users to input Chinese characters as a URL which is then transformed into ASCII characters behind the scenes (known as “Punycode”) but I’m not sure how widely used this system currently is.

Until the Internet is truly global, that is, until it fully supports Unicode, I suspect we’ll have many more countries and Web users unhappy with its usability. That’s understandable.

Will these countries set out to create a parallel Internet universe? I doubt it. But, then again, China is now out to create its own technological version of a 3G cellular network, so anything is possible…

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Author: John Yunker

John co-founded Byte Level Research in 2000 and is author of The Web Globalization Report Card. He also co-founder of Ashland Creek Press.