nytimes.com | Internet Traffic Begins to Bypass the U.S. | By JOHN MARKOFF| Published: August 29, 2008The era of the American Internet is ending.
Invented by American computer scientists during the 1970s, the Internet has been embraced around the globe. During the network’s first three decades, most Internet traffic flowed through the United States. In many cases, data sent between two locations within a given country also passed through the United States.
Engineers who help run the Internet said that it would have been impossible for the United States to maintain its hegemony over the long run because of the very nature of the Internet; it has no central point of control.
And now, the balance of power is shifting. Data is increasingly flowing around the United States, which may have intelligence — and conceivably military — consequences.
(...) Internet technologists say that the global data network that was once a competitive advantage for the United States is now increasingly outside the control of American companies. They decided not to invest in lower-cost optical fiber lines, which have rapidly become a commodity business.
That lack of investment mirrors a pattern that has taken place elsewhere in the high-technology industry, from semiconductors to personal computers.
(...) The risk, Internet technologists say, is that upstarts like China and India are making larger investments in next-generation Internet technology that is likely to be crucial in determining the future of the network, with investment, innovation and profits going first to overseas companies.“Whether it’s a good or a bad thing depends on where you stand,” said Vint Cerf, a computer scientist who is Google’s Internet evangelist and who, with Robert Kahn, devised the original Internet routing protocols in the early 1970s. “Suppose the Internet was entirely confined to the U.S., which it once was? That wasn’t helpful.”
Others say the eclipse of the United States as the central point in cyberspace is one of many indicators that the world is becoming a more level playing field both economically and politically.
“This is one of many dimensions on which we’ll have to adjust to a reduction in American ability to dictate terms of core interests of ours,” said Yochai Benkler, co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. “We are, by comparison, militarily weaker, economically poorer and technologically less unique than we were then. We are still a very big player, but not in control.”
China, for instance, surpassed the United States in the number of Internet users in June. Over all, Asia now has 578.5 million, or 39.5 percent, of the world’s Internet users, although only 15.3 percent of the Asian population is connected to the Internet, according to Internet World Stats, a market research organization.
By contrast, there were about 237 million Internet users in North America and the growth has nearly peaked; penetration of the Internet in the region has reached about 71 percent.