Throughout its entire evolution the Internet has effectively been governed by the U.S. ... something that has not sat well with many sovereign nations, particularly those not on good terms with America. But the recent leaks by Edward Snowden, which revealed the extent to which Internet services and security have been subverted and suborned by the NSA, have caused even greater dissatisfaction.
For example, the revelations a couple of weeks ago that the NSA had been intercepting email to and from the office of the Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, as well as for Brazil's state-run oil company, Petrobas, caused Rousseff to immediately immediately cancel a trip to the US and demand an apology from President Obama (so far, no apology has been forthcoming).
Today, taking the opportunity of being the opening speaker at the U.N. General Assembly, Rousseff excoriated the U.S. for the surveillance calling it an affront to Brazilian sovereignty. Rousseff stated:
Tampering in such a manner in the lives and affairs of other countries is a breach of international law and, as such, it is an affront to the principles that should otherwise govern relations among countries, especially among friendly nations
The consequence of this history is that the nations that resent the status quo are starting to club together to build their own Internet infrastructure and the first major foray into this alternative Internet buildout has, in fact, already started.
BRICS, an association of the five major emerging national economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), is deploying BRICS Cable, a two fibre pair running 34,000 km in total which will carry data at 12.8 Tbs. The service will link Russia, China, India, South Africa, South America, and the United States and is due to go into service a mere 18 months from now.
The BRICS Cable project
What's important about this is that the BRICS countries cover about 45% of the world's population and about 25% of the world's GDP. Extending powerful Internet connectivity to what has historically been an underserved segment of the global economy is a tremendous economic opportunity. Given the political issues surrounding the control and abuse of the Internet by the US government there's significant potential for BRICS members to establish and enforce telecom policies that route BRICS traffic away from US networks.
While re-routing traffic sounds innocuous enough the potential for fragmenting the Internet and for international fights over Internet standards and policies is huge. Although Brazil had already started to legislate for more control over companies handling their citizens' data the NSA surveillance issue will just accelerate what was, to some extent, inevitable.
The long term consequences of this are by no means clear but the international politicization of the Internet is a foregone conclusion and with that will probably come fights over authority and control followed by balkanization and censorship. We may now living somewhere in the Golden Age of the Internet. How politicians behave will determine if and when that age comes to an end.