A Future Internet for Democracies

Contesting China’s Push for Dominance in 5G, 6G, and the Internet of Everything

The next generation of Internet technologies will have an outsized impact on the geopolitical contest between democracy and authoritarianism. Democracies will need to take a multilateral, values-based approach to the development and use of these technologies in order to outcompete the authoritarian divide-and-conquer strategy, Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman writes in the most comprehensive report to date of Beijing’s play for 5G, 6G, and the applications and governance standards to follow.

Democracies and Authoritarian Regimes in Competition for the Future Internet

The United States and its democratic allies are engaged in a contest for the soul of the Future Internet. Conceived as a beacon of free expression with the power to tear down communication barriers across free and unfree societies alike, the Internet today faces significant challenges to its status as the world’s ultimate connector.1 In creating connectivity and space for democratic speech, it has also enabled new means of authoritarian control and the suppression of human rights through censorship and surveillance. As tensions between democracies and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) heat up over Internet technologies, the prospect of a dichotomous Internet comes more sharply into focus: a democratic Internet where information flows freely and an authoritarian Internet where it is tightly controlled—separated not by an Iron Curtain, but a Silicon one. The Future Internet is deeply enmeshed in the dawning information contest between autocracies and democracies.2 It is the base layer—the foundation—on which communication takes place and the entry point into narrative and societal influence. How the next generation of Internet technologies are created, defined, governed, and ultimately used will have an outsized impact on this information contest—and the larger geopolitical contest—between democracy and authoritarianism.

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