Game of Nodes: The Rise of the Regional Internet Blocs (Help us start the conversation)

Mar 18 2019

In 2016, Joshua Cooper Ramo hypothesized the shift from one global Internet to a system of regional Internet blocs, each with distinct characteristics and values, in his book The Seventh Sense (

In 2019, we can see that world shaping before our eyes:

The American internet. Laissez-faire, hyper-capitalistic, increasing public authority for private companies, fighting to keep Net Neutrality alive.

On the opposite end of the world, we have the censored Chinese internet. The international proliferation of China's biggest ventures (WePay, Alibaba, Huawei) and Google's collaboration with the Chinese government look to accelerate its development.

And then, we have the European Internet. Deploying the GDPR to protect its citizens in the digital space. Holding businesses accountable when they break the rules ( Admittedly, dealing with some serious threats -- see Article 11 ( and Article 13 ( -- but on the whole, Europe is funding innovative and human-centric efforts to create an ethical, open, and fair Internet for the next generation.

[A €50 million fine for Google doesn't seem like much. But in the words of Ted Waz (, the French courts set a precedent which can now be utilized across 27 other EU countries -- so that €50 million fine can become a €1.4 billion fine.]

As the strength of a network is based on the number of nodes, Ramo argues that the strength of these (presumably competing) regional Internets will depend on the number of countries they have "signed on." So MENA and Oceania countries will have a chance to chose between the U.S., E.U., and Chinese Internet. Consequently, whichever regional Internet creates the most attractive Internet architecture for these nations will have the leading network in the world.

Do we want to live in a world where our identities, healthcare, and public services are administered by Facebook?

What about a world where every moment is tracked and our entire perspective is controlled by a digital police state? (

Or, what about a world designed for *us*?

A world where we control + earn from our personal data. (

Where our access to information is limitless, and as a community, we collaborate to protect the integrity ( of our information landscape.

Where our leaders prioritize people over unsustainable corporate growth (, and our governments embrace technological innovation to improve the common good.

These divergent digital futures are the context of our work today, illustrating the urgency + responsibility we all face in this moment.

As the Internet dictates more and more of the physical world, the values and characteristics of our Internet will determine the world we experience every day.

In relation to the regional Internet blocs in the U.S. and China, Europe's rising Internet seems truly aligned with the interests of its people.

That gives us a rare opportunity to shape our world -- and a responsibility to take advantage of it.

Now is the time for us to determine the values and standards of the European Internet. We need to embrace the task with diligence and care -- exposing our ideas to scrutiny, identifying our blind spots, and compensating for them as best as we can. As we validate the values and standards of our future Internet, we need to collaboratively build the technology to support it. And if we want these values to be the standard for people around the world, we need to invite those people and their nations to join us on the journey.

How does that inform our actions today?

1. With initiatives like the NGI, we start reaching out to communities beyond Europe -- MENA, Africa, Oceania, South America, the Balkans, Southeast Asia -- and involving them in the creation of our Next Generation Internet.

2. When we have those voices at the table, we begin a focused + interdisciplinary dialogue about *specific* values, standards, and visions for the European internet.

At the moment, we're catalyzing open innovation in some main topic areas. This enables creative solutions -- but in the absence of a clear vision, it's ambiguous whether these solutions will be useful down the road, making the effectiveness of those efforts ambiguous as well.

(Furthermore, we know Facebook + Google have a vision -- e.g. setting up Internet all over Africa, ensuring their digital hegemony -- meaning we have a lot of catching up to do.)

Of course, as an online community of 15,000 people, we shouldn't just shepherd our vision from the Ivory Tower either.

But if we ensure our dialogue is accessible + interdisciplinary, inviting voices from different classes, regions, subject matters, and perspectives to the table, I believe we can avoid reduce the pitfalls of the Ivory Tower, and craft a robust vision for the Next Generation Internet.

Once that vision starts to take place, we can begin identifying *specific* needs for the Next Generation Internet -- and start catalyzing open innovation for those *specific* ends.

(The innovation challenges of Conservation X Labs are a useful reference point --

From there, the game is on.


P.S. This proposal obviously came from the Ivory Tower between my own two ears, and the irony of it isn't lost on me.

Share your voice in the comments below, and let's get the discussion flowing around these issues.

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1 comment on "Game of Nodes: The Rise of the Regional Internet Blocs (Help us start the conversation)"

  • Joop Ringelberg's picture

    Good shot, Sam. To me, it seems there is still a huge gap between the declaration of values, the level of intent, and the practical work I see around, which all too often centers on issues like identity management, data vaults, and standards. Somewhere in between we must develop new ideas of what we apply that internet to - what is it for? How to use it?

    While this might seem a non-issue - after all, we all use the infrastructure daily, isn't it? - I would like to point out that much of what we can do today is the result of the 'commercial internet'. The applications we have, are there because of a business model that we reject, a mindset we abhor.

    So, of course it is important to try to keep those services, but make them safe, inclusive, respectful, etc. But my hunch is that in ten years we'll look back and say: the internet in 2019 didn't even scratch the surface!

    But we need to step back and ask that question: what is it for? What can it be used for? I recently found inspiration in a book I read some years ago: "Reality is Broken", by Jane McGonigal. I propose to look afresh at the NGI with her idea of 'gamification' in mind. I made the effort to elaborate that thought in
    Wonder what you make of it.
    Cheers, Joop

    answered 26 Apr 2019 18:19