Net neutrality (NN) is gaining momentum as a debated issue on national and global levels. NN is a ‘messy’ policy issue which is difficult even to define. Brazil adopted NN in its Marco Civil Law. In the USA, Federal Communication Communiction trigerred heated debate by questioning NN princple. The European Parliament adopted  a law to protect NN. On 18 June, the Swiss National Council adopted a parliamentary motion stipulating that Switzerland must guarantee NN. Here you can join us to map the discussion field, consult background materials and follow the debate on NN.

Digest and webcast of the webinar [Webinar] The fight for Net Neutrality NEW

From Save the Internet: Net Neutrality: What You Need to Know Now 

Short animated video from DiploFoundation

Short light debate NN vs no NN using the Netflix example

Real vs. Fake Net Neutrality short video

Barrack Obama on NN short video

 

Latest news

 Commentary

Three Sides to Net Neutrality

 
Source: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/05/13/1299033/-Easy-choice-The-right-side-is-the-popular-side-in-Net-Neutrality-fight

 

Background

Electronic Frontier Foundation explains NN

Background information on NN from the Dynamic Coalition on Network Neutrality:

'The network neutrality debate is gaining great political momentum. Several countries have already implemented network neutrality laws, while many others are currently elaborating or scrutinising the opportunity to elaborate network neutrality legislation. Yet, we are witnessing today the emergence of a variety of divergent (and somewhat incompatible) approaches towards whether or not network neutrality is enshrined in law.

In the U.S., the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeal invalidated the U.S. FCC Open Internet Order. On the other hand, the Brazilian National Congress has recently adopted the Marco Civil an Internet Bill of Rights containing network neutrality provisions, while at the European level net-neutrality is going to be enshrined into legislation but the outcome of this latter process seem currently difficult to predict.

'While the network neutrality debate continues, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) may enter into opaque interconnection-arrangements (peering agreements) that might include discriminatory provisions. In the U.S., for instance, Content and Applications Providers (CAPs) have been experimenting new typology of peering agreements that require CAPs to pay ISPs for a direct connection to their consumers (so called “sender-pays” model).

'The aforementioned issues seem difficult to solve without a serious reflection aimed at allowing the elaboration of evidence-based strategies. The 2014 Report of the Dynamic Coalition on Network Neutrality aims at fostering such a reflection in order to provide a valuable contribution to the crucial debate pertaining to the balance between network-neutrality implementation and infrastructure enhancement.'

Net Neutrality resources from DiploFoundation

Background on NN from DiploFoundation

Network neutrality

What would have happened if the competition had restricted access to Google in its early days? Or if telecom operators had slowed down Skype's introduction of Internet telephony?[1]Most likely, we would have a computer network that was an extension of 1980s logic with, for instance, X25 network protocol instead of TCP/IP, exchanging data between national computer networks at borders between countries.

One of the Internet's success factors lies in its design, which is based on the principle of network neutrality. All data traffic on the Internet at that time, whether coming from start-ups or big companies, was treated without discrimination. New companies and innovators did not need permission or market power to innovate on the Internet.

The importance of network neutrality to the success of the Internet is key. The debate has attracted a wide range of actors: everyone from the President of the United States to human rights grassroots activists. Network neutrality is one of the highest priorities on President Obama's technology agenda and has been debated in many political bodies, including the US Congress. In the beginning network neutrality was a US-based debate, but with new developments, network neutrality is a worldwide issue.

Why is network neutrality so topical now?

There is no conspiracy. The Internet has become a victim of its own success. With more than two and a half billion users and the increasing shift of our daily economic and social reality to the Internet, the stakes are becoming very high. The Internet has great commercial and development potential. For some of these commercial developments, especially those related to the delivery of video and multimedia services, network neutrality could create an obstacle. Watch this video for a short introduction to the main issues raised by the network neutrality principle:

The current situation

Paradoxically, network neutrality has never been strictly applied. Since the early days of dial-up modem connections, there has been rivalry between available bandwidth and the users' needs. In order to address this challenge and provide quality service, Internet operators (telecom companies and ISPs) have used various network management techniques to prioritise certain traffic. For example, Internet traffic carrying voice conversation over Skype should have priority over traffic carrying a simple e-mail: while we can hear delays in Skype voice chat, we won't notice minor delays in an e-mail exchange. The need for network management is especially important today with the extended pool of users of high-demand services such as downloads, HD video stamps, Internet telephony, online games, etc.

Network management is becoming increasingly sophisticated in routing Internet traffic in the most optimal way for providing quality service: preventing congestion, and eliminating latency and jitter. The first discord in the interpretation of the principle of network neutrality focused on whether any network management at all should be allowed. Network neutrality purists argue that 'all bits are created equal' and that all Internet traffic must be equally treated. Telecoms and ISPs challenge this view arguing that it is users who should have equal access to Internet services and if this is to happen, Internet traffic cannot be treated equally. If both video and e-mail traffic are treated equally, users won't have good video-stream reception, yet they wouldn't notice a few seconds delay in receiving an e-mail. Even network neutrality purists cannot question this rationale. Their concern is that any compromise on network neutrality can open a Pandora's Box, raising the problem of distinguishing between justified network management and possible manipulation.

The issues

In the network neutrality debate, there is an emerging consensus that there is a need for appropriate network management. The main question is how to interpret the adjective 'appropriate'. There are three areas besides technical concerns – economic, legal, and human rights issues – where the debate on network management and network neutrality is particularly heated.

Network Neutrality

 

Economic issues

During the past few decades, many significant network operators – including both telecoms and ISPs – have extended their business to offer services as well: besides selling Internet connections of various bandwidths to households and business, they have introduced their own VoIP (telephony via Internet) or IP TV (television via Internet) services, video on demand (akin to renting movies), music or video download portals, etc. They are now competing not only with their counterparts for cost-effective, faster, and better quality connections, but also with service and content providers – such as Skype, Google, and Apple.

Network management – something available to operators but not to others – may be an important tool when competing in service and content provision by prioritising packages according to business-driven preferences. For instance, an operator may decide to slow down or fully ban the flow of data packages from a competing company (such as Skype or Google Voice) to end-users through its network, while giving priority to data packages of its own in-house service (such as the IP telephony or Internet-television it offers to customers).[2]

Legal issues

Another gray area in network management is the right of Internet operators to block materials that may infringe on copyright. Do ISPs have the right and obligation to stop traffic, for example, on peer-to-peer (P2P) networks which are usually used for sharing copyright-protected materials? Do they have the prerogative of juridical and administrative bodies?

Some of these questions have been the focus of the case between the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) and Internet operator Comcast, for example.[3] In 2007, two public advocacy groups filed a complaint with FCC, the US regulatory authority, claiming that Comcast, the operator, violated network neutrality by significantly slowing down the BitTorrent application (P2P software for downloading files – usually music, video and games, though not only these) for its users.[4]

Political issues

The ability to manage network traffic based on origin or destination, service or content, can give governments the opportunity to impose such practices on inland carriers and thereby effectively introduce traffic filters for objectionable or sensitive content in relation to the country's political, ideological, religious, cultural or other values. This brings risks of misuse of network management for censorship, especially in countries with authoritarian regimes.

 

The risks

If network management goes beyond an appropriate level aimed at providing equal service to all Internet users, the principle of network neutrality will be endangered. It could lead towards creating a tiered Internet. According to user groups like Save the Internet [5] and the Internet Governance Caucus,[6] the Internet could become a set of commercial packages offered by ISPs in which users would be able to access only certain online services and content within a certain chosen package [7] – much like the cable TV.

Accordingly, they warn that if carriers start charging the content or application providers, it will kill the competition for the operators' own services, and endanger small businesses [8] and non-commercial offers, such as applications for people with disabilities that commonly require high bandwidth.

Who are the main players and what are their arguments?

The position of the main players is in constant flux. For example, the latest indications that Google may sign a special agreement with Verizon for a mid-way approach to network neutrality would change the positioning of the main players.[9] Till recent, Google has been considered one of the main proponents of network neutrality; others include consumer advocates, online companies, some technology companies, many major Internet application companies including Yahoo, Vonage, Ebay, Amazon, EarthLink, and software companies like Microsoft.

Opponents of network neutrality include the main telecom companies, ISPs, producers of networking equipment and hardware, and producers of video and multimedia materials. Their arguments are market-centered, starting from the need to offer what consumers want.

There are four main arguments in the network neutrality debate.

Argument

Proponents

Opponents

Argument about the future

Network neutrality will preserve the Internet architecture that has enabled fast and innovative development of the Internet so far. Most proponents are new Internet companies who developed thanks to the Internet's open architecture.

Online companies must have an opportunity to further develop the Internet and offer services which customers will be interested in. This may involve faster Internet traffic.

Economic argument

Without network neutrality, the Internet will look like cable TV. A handful of massive companies would control access and distribution of content, deciding what users get to see and how much it costs. While it would benefit a few, it would damage many and ultimately ruin the economic future of the Internet.

If there isn't a possibility to offer new services and economic models, this will reduce economic interest in the Internet, stop investment, and ultimately even endanger the Internet infrastructure.

Ethical argument

The Internet is the result of developments of many volunteers over decades. They invested time and creativity in developing everything on the Internet from technical protocols to content. It is not justifiable to have such a huge investment harvested by a few companies who will lock the Internet in constrained business models by breaching network neutrality. The Internet developed openly and publicly. The public interest must be ensured. Network neutrality is one of the ways to do it.

Network neutrality is ethically questionable because Internet operators have to invest in maintaining the Internet infrastructure; most benefits are reaped by Internet 'content' companies such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon. Internet operators argue that the cake should be shared more equally.

Regulation argument

Network neutrality must be imposed by government. Any form of self-regulation will leave it open for cable companies and Internet operators to breach the principle of network neutrality.

The Internet has developed because of very light or no regulation. Heavy government regulation can stifle creativity and the future development of the Internet

The basic principles

In recent years, some regulators – such as those in Norway, the USA, or the EU – have stepped in and formulated key principles for network neutrality based on ongoing discussions:[10]

  • Transparency: Operators must provide complete and accurate information on their network managing practices, capacity, and the quality of their service to customers.
  • Access: Users should be able to have [equal] access to any [legal] content, service or application [with minimum quality of service guaranteed, as prescribed by the regulator] or to connect any hardware that does not harm the network [regardless of their financial capacities or social status]
  • (Non)discrimination: Operators should make no discrimination [or reasonable discrimination] of traffic based on:
    • Origin of sender or receiver.
    • Type of content, type of application and service [with fair competition – no discrimination against undesired competitors].
    • Where 'reasonable' could be any practice for public benefit (assuring quality of service, security and resilience of network, innovations and further investments, lowering costs, etc.).

Other principles most frequently debated in international forums such as the IGF meetings and the EuroDIG dialogue include:

  • Preserving freedom of expression, access to information and choice.
  • Assuring quality of service and security and resilience of the network.
  • Preserving incentives for investments.
  • Stimulating innovations [including opportunities for new business models and innovative businesses].
  • Defining rights, roles and accountability of all parties involved (providers, regulators, users) including the right to appeal and redress.
  • Preventing anti-competitive practices.
  • Creating a market environment that would allow users to easily choose and change their network operator.
  • Protecting the interest of the disadvantaged, such as people with disabilities and users and businesses in the developing world.
  • Maintaining diversity of content and services.

Policy approaches

With the network neutrality debate, another question has come to the fore: what is the role of the regulators in broadband policy and operator practices?

Developed countries

In response to the Comcast case, the US FCC adopted the guidelines on network neutrality as an update to its 2005 policy paper,[11] which reflected the need for access to and choice of content and devices, and addressed the issues of discrimination and transparency. Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications working group reported on choice and access as well as discrimination, but additionally tackled fairness in network cost-sharing and network use.[12] The Swedish Post and Telecom Agency (PTS) outlines that openness – promoted by non-discrimination and competition – is a prerequisite for innovation, but also that it should be balanced against investments and security of the network.[13] The EU regulatory framework on electronic communications targets protecting freedom of expression, users' choice, and access rights, along with the transparency principle; yet it also stresses the need for investments, fair competition with no discrimination, and opportunities for new business models including innovative business.[14]

The most praised model comes from the Norwegian Post and Telecommunications Authority (NPT), seeking to ensure transparency of business offers and practices, user choice and access to content, services and hardware, and non-discrimination based on application, service, content, sender or receiver.[15] It is not, however, only the content that stands out but also the process of reaching consensus on these guidelines: taking a broad multistakeholder-based approach to designing soft co-regulations based on reaching consensus of all parties over a binding agreements; in that way NPT re-assured consumers and business that the market can be regulated without hard law.[16]

Certain countries, like Australia or New Zealand, however, do not prevent business-driven discrimination, and are thus considered anti-neutrality islands where, arguably, one can see what the perspectives of a non-neutral Internet are.

Developing countries

Due to limited infrastructure and bandwidth, regulators of developing countries put more focus on fair usage policy – affordable prices and fair access for all. Some raise concerns over cross-border non-discrimination, saying that the traffic from all countries should be treated the same way with no preferences based on termination costs. Also, certain countries have more sensitivity to internal cultural, political, or ethical aspects, thereby understanding '(in)appropriate use' and management differently than some others. Concerns have been raised that the innovative models of the developed world might hamper developing markets: by prioritising the services of big western companies, the emerging business and competition would be additionally downsized, threatening diversity and innovation.

International organisations and NGOs

Many international organisations and user groups have also developed policy positions with regards to network neutrality. The Council of Europe emphasises the fundamental rights to freedom of expression and information; the Internet Society (ISOC) promotes its user-centric approach which dominantly tackles the issues of access, choice, and transparency through the 'Open Inter-networking' debate rather than the one on network neutrality.[17] The Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), a forum of US and EU consumer organisations additionally emphasises requests for carrier non-discriminatory behaviour, calling upon the USA and the EU to entitle regulators to act as safeguards of users' rights.[18] Many NGOs are especially concerned about the future of non-commercial and non-competing online content and services, requesting these to be broadcast through any carrier network equal to the commercial ones. They emphasise the rights of marginalised groups – especially people with disabilities – to use content, services, and applications (including high-bandwidth-demand ones) of their needs without any limits whatsoever.

Open issues

There are a number of open issues on the network neutrality debate agenda:

  • Where should the balance be between public good effects of the Internet and user (and human) rights on the one hand, and the rights of the operators to innovate within the networks they own on the other?
  • Would an unregulated market with open competition, as advocated by the carriers, provide unlimited (or sufficient) choice for users? Or should the regulators inevitably be empowered as safeguards, and with what authority?
  • How would different regulatory approaches impact the broadband market and further investment and innovation?
  • What are the implications of network (non)neutrality for the developing world?
  • Will the need for network management for technical (quality) reasons be outdated in future, due to advancements in carrier technology?
  • What are the implications of a tiered Internet for competition, innovation, investment, and human rights?
  • How will the cloud computing era and the growing dependence on clouds influence the debate on network neutrality, and vice versa?
  • Should the debate be extended from traffic management on a carrier level to content and application management on content and application provider level, such as Google, Apple, or Facebook?
  • Will consumer protection continue to be intrinsically linked to network neutrality? If network neutrality is 'defeated', what principles will support consumer protection in future?

 

Notes

[1] In the long history of the Internet, the United States has never blocked access to another country, including countries in conflict. In some cases, like the 1999 Kosovo war, the UN sanctions regime provided the United States with the legal possibility of cutting telecommunication links to Serbia. It did not use this legal possibility and Serbia had access to the Internet throughout the conflict.

[2] The Economist (2009) America insists on net neutrality: The rights of bits. 24 September . Available at
http://www.economist.com/node/14517422 [accessed 20 March 2014]

[3] The case had several turn-overs. For more information on the case background, see Broache A (2008) FCC wants to know: Is degrading P2P traffic 'reasonable'? Cnet News Blog. Available at
http://news.cnet.com/8301-10784_3-9850611-7.html?tag=mncol;txt [accessed 20 March 2014].

[4] The most recent update was the decision of the court against the previous FCC ruling. Kang C (2010) Court rules for Comcast over FCC in 'net neutrality' case. The Washington Post, 7 April. Available at 
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/06/AR2010040600742.html[accessed 20 March 2014].

[5] Save the Internet is particularly active in advocating network neutrality as preserving the free and open Internet. Available at
http://www.savetheinternet.com/ [accessed 20 March 2014].

[6] The Internet Governance Caucus (IGC) was originally created by individual and organisational civil society actors who came together in the context of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) to promote global public interest objectives in Internet governance policy making. Available at 
http://www.igcaucus.org/ [accessed 20 March 2014].

[7] John Herrman illustrates the package offers often used by network neutrality proponents. Available at
http://gizmodo.com/5391712/net-neutrality-worst-case [accessed 20 March 2014].

[8] La Quadrature du Net, an advocacy group that promotes the rights and freedoms of citizens on the Internet, states within its Open Letter to the European Parliament on Network Neutrality: everyone around the globe has access to the same Internet, and even the smallest entrepreneurs are on equal footing with the leading global enterprises. Available at
http://www.laquadrature.net/en/we-must-protect-net-neutrality-in-europe-open-letter-to-the-european-parliament# [accessed 20 March 2014].

[9] Ogg E (2010) Report: Google, Verizon reach Net neutrality deal. CNet 4 August. Available at
http://news.cnet.com/8301-31021_3-20012703-260.html?tag=mncol;mlt_related [accessed 20 March 2014].

[10] Those elements that are still controversial and to be negotiated about in future are in square brackets.

[11]FCC (2005) Policy statement. Available at
http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-05-151A1.pdf [accessed 20 March 2014]

[12] Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Japan (2007) Report on Network Neutrality. Available at
http://www.soumu.go.jp/main_sosiki/joho_tsusin/eng/pdf/070900_1.pdf [accessed 20 March 2014].

[13] PTS (2009) Open Networks and Services. Available at
http://www.pts.se/en-gb/Documents/Reports/Internet/2009/Open-Networks-and-Services---PTS-ER-200932/ [accessed 20 March 2014].

[14] Kroes N (2010) Net neutrality in Europe. Speech given by Vice President of the European Commission Commissioner for the Digital Agenda. Available at
http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=SPEECH/10/153&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en[accessed 20 March 2014].

[15]NPT (2009) Net neutrality: Guidelines for Internet neutrality.  Available at
http://archive1.diplomacy.edu/poolbin.asp?IDPool=988 [accessed 20 March 2014].

[16] Anderson N (2009) Norway gets net neutrality—voluntary, but broadly supported. Ars Technica. Available at 
http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2009/02/norway-gets-voluntary-net-neutrality.ars[accessed 20 March 2014].

[17] ISOC considers the concept of network neutrality as rather ill-defined, and instead discusses the continued open inter-networking. Available at
http://www.isoc.org/internet/issues/openinternet.shtml. Its 16 May 2010 Public consultation on Net Neutrality states: Rather than focusing simply on the range of possible Network Neutrality definitions, the Internet Society believes it is more appropriate to concentrate more broadly on the imperative of preserving the open, user-centric Internet model that has been so successful to date. Available at
http://www.isoc.org/regions/europe/docs/netneutrality_20100516_en.pdf [accessed 20 March 2014].

[18] TACD (no date) TACD calls for Net Neutrality. Available at 
http://tacd.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=162&Itemid=43 [accessed 20 March 2014].

 

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The Geneva Internet Platform is an initiative of the Swiss authorities

 

Members of the Steering Committee are FDFA, OFCOM and the Canton of Geneva

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