Network neutrality

Network neutrality
Network Neutrality
Related issues and topics

Automatic telephone exchange
Data discrimination
End-to-end principle
Internet Protocol
Tiered Internet
Bandwidth Throttling

United States of America

Network neutrality in the United States
Federal Communications Commission


Network neutrality in Canada
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

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Network neutrality (also net neutrality, Internet neutrality) is a principle that advocates no restrictions by Internet service providers or governments on consumers' access to networks that participate in the Internet. Specifically, network neutrality would prevent restrictions on content, sites, platforms, types of equipment that may be attached, and modes of communication.[1][2][3]

Since the early 2000s, advocates of net neutrality and associated rules have raised concerns about the ability of broadband providers to use their last mile infrastructure to block Internet applications and content (e.g. websites, services, and protocols), and even block out competitors. (The term "net neutrality" didn't come into popular use until several years later, however.) The possibility of regulations designed to mandate the neutrality of the Internet has been subject to fierce debate, especially in the United States.

Neutrality proponents claim that telecom companies seek to impose a tiered service model in order to control the pipeline and thereby remove competition, create artificial scarcity, and oblige subscribers to buy their otherwise uncompetitive services. Many believe net neutrality to be primarily important as a preservation of current freedoms.[4] Vinton Cerf, considered a "father of the Internet" and co-inventor of the Internet Protocol, Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the Web, and many others have spoken out in favor of network neutrality.[5][6]

Opponents of net neutrality claim that broadband service providers have no plans to block content or degrade network performance.[7] Despite this claim there has been a case where an Internet service provider, Comcast, intentionally slowed peer-to-peer (P2P) communications.[8] Still other companies have acted in contrast to these assertions of hands-off behavior and have begun to use deep packet inspection to discriminate against P2P, FTP, and online games, instituting a cell-phone style billing system of overages, free-to-telecom "value added" services, and bundling.[9] Critics of net neutrality also argue that data discrimination of some kinds, particularly to guarantee quality of service, is not problematic, but is actually highly desirable. Bob Kahn, co-inventor of the Internet Protocol, has called the term net neutrality a "slogan" and states that he opposes establishing it, but he admits that he is against the fragmentation of the net whenever this becomes excluding to other participants.[10] Opponents of net neutrality regulation also argue that the best solution to discrimination by broadband providers is to encourage greater competition among such providers, which is currently limited in many areas.[11]


Definitions of network neutrality

At its simplest, network neutrality is the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally.[12] Net neutrality advocates have established different definitions of network neutrality:

Absolute non-discrimination
Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu: "Network neutrality is best defined as a network design principle. The idea is that a maximally useful public information network aspires to treat all content, sites, and platforms equally."[2]
Limited discrimination without QoS tiering 
United States lawmakers have introduced bills that would allow quality of service discrimination as long as no special fee is charged for higher-quality service.[13]
Limited discrimination and tiering
This approach allows higher fees for QoS as long as there is no exclusivity in service contracts. According to Tim Berners-Lee: "If I pay to connect to the Net with a given quality of service, and you pay to connect to the net with the same or higher quality of service, then you and I can communicate across the net, with that quality of service."[1] "[We] each pay to connect to the Net, but no one can pay for exclusive access to me."[14]
First come first served
According to Imprint Magazine, Cardozo Law School professor Susan P. Crawford "believes that a neutral Internet must forward packets on a first-come, first served basis, without regard for quality-of-service considerations."[15]

FCC broadband policy statement

In 2005, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a Broadband Policy Statement (also known as the Internet Policy Statement), which lists four principles of open Internet,[16] "To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to:"

  • access the lawful Internet content of their choice.
  • run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement.
  • connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network.
  • competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.

These points are often summarized as "any lawful content, any lawful application, any lawful device, and any provider". President Barack Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 called for an investment of $7.2 billion in broadband infrastructure and included an openness stipulation. During the FCC's hearing, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association urged the FCC to adopt the four criteria laid out in its 2005 Internet Policy Statement as the requisite openness.

In 2008, when the FCC auctioned off the 700 MHz block of wireless spectrum in anticipation of the DTV transition, Google promised to enter a bid of $4.6 billion if the FCC required the winning licensee to adhere to four conditions:[17]

  • Open applications: Consumers should be able to download and utilize any software applications, content, or services they desire;
  • Open devices: Consumers should be able to utilize a handheld communications device with whatever wireless network they prefer;
  • Open services: Third parties (resellers) should be able to acquire wireless services from a 700 MHz licensee on a wholesale basis, based on reasonably nondiscriminatory commercial terms;
  • Open networks: Third parties, such as Internet service providers, should be able to interconnect at any technically feasible point in a 700 MHz licensee's wireless network.

These conditions are broadly similar to the FCC's Internet Policy Statement (FCC's applications and content are combined into a single bullet, while an extra bullet adding a requirement for wholesale access for third party providers was included). The FCC adopted only two of these four criteria for the auction, viz., open devices and open applications, and only applied these conditions to the nationwide C block portion of the band.[18]

In September 2009, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski proposed to add two additional rules on top of its 2005 policy statement, viz., the nondiscrimination principle that ISPs must not discriminate against any content or applications, and the transparency principle, which requires that ISPs disclose all their policies to customers. He also argued that wireless should be subject to the same network neutrality as wireline providers.[19]

In October 2009, the FCC took the next step by approving a notice of proposed rule making on the subject of net neutrality.[20]

In May 2010, after it was believed the FCC would drop their effort to enforce net neutrality, they announced that they would continue their fight. It was believed they would not be able to enforce net neutrality after a Federal court's overthrow of the agency's Order against Comcast. However, under commission chairman Julius Genachowski, the FCC has proposed reclassifying broadband Internet access providers under the provisions of Title 2 of the Communications act in an effort to force the providers to adhere to the same rules as telephone networks. This adjustment is meant to prevent, "unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities or services."[21]

On December 21, 2010, the FCC approved new rules banning cable television and telephone service providers from preventing access to competitors or certain web sites such as Netflix. The rules also include a more limited set of obligations for wireless providers. The rules would not keep ISPs from charging more for faster access. Republicans in Congress have announced plans to reverse the rules through legislation.[22] Verizon has also indicated that it will challenge the FCC's decision in court,[23] and Colin Crowell, the former Senior Counselor to the FCC Chairman, has called such court challenges "inevitable."[24]

Development of the concept

The concept of network neutrality predates the current Internet-focused debate, existing since the age of the telegraph.[25] In 1860, a US federal law (Pacific Telegraph Act of 1860) was passed to subsidize a telegraph line, stating that:

messages received from any individual, company, or corporation, or from any telegraph lines connecting with this line at either of its termini, shall be impartially transmitted in the order of their reception, excepting that the dispatches of the government shall have priority ...
—An act to facilitate communication between the Atlantic and Pacific states by electric telegraph, June 16, 1860.[26]

In 1888, Almon Brown Strowger invented an automatic telephone exchange to bypass non-neutral telephone operators who redirected calls for profit.[25]

In 2009, Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School, published and popularized a proposal for a net neutrality rule, in his paper Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination. The paper considered network neutrality in terms of neutrality between applications, as well as neutrality between data and QoS-sensitive traffic, and proposed some legislation to potentially deal with these issues.[27] Throughout 2005 and 2006, network neutrality and the future of the Internet was debated by cable companies, consumers, and Internet service providers (ISPs), although the issue was almost completely ignored by the media until 2006.[28]

In August 2010, Google and Verizon reached an agreement in which they both opposed complete network neutrality. The agreement details that ISPs should be "prohibited from preventing users of its broadband Internet access service from-- (1) sending and receiving lawful content of their choice; (2) running lawful applications and using lawful services of their choice; and (3) connecting their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network or service, facilitate theft of service, or harm other users of the service." They went on to say that wireless ISPs, such as cellphone companies, should not be required to provide neutral networks for their customers. The rationale for this statement was that wireless networks are still being developed.[29]


Proponents of net neutrality include consumer advocates, online companies and some technology companies.[30] Many major Internet application companies are advocates of neutrality. Yahoo!, Vonage,[31] Ebay, Amazon,[32] IAC/InterActiveCorp. Microsoft, along with many other companies, have also taken a stance in support of neutrality regulation.[33] Cogent Communications, an international Internet service provider, has made an announcement in favor of certain net neutrality policies.[34] According to Google:

Network neutrality is the principle that Internet users should be in control of what content they view and what applications they use on the Internet. The Internet has operated according to this neutrality principle since its earliest days... Fundamentally, net neutrality is about equal access to the Internet. In our view, the broadband carriers should not be permitted to use their market power to discriminate against competing applications or content. Just as telephone companies are not permitted to tell consumers who they can call or what they can say, broadband carriers should not be allowed to use their market power to control activity online.
Guide to Net Neutrality for Google Users[3]

Individuals who support net neutrality include Tim Berners-Lee,[35] Vinton Cerf,[36][37] Lawrence Lessig, Robert W. McChesney,[4] Steve Wozniak, Susan P. Crawford, Ben Scott, Marvin Ammori, David Reed,[38] and US President Barack Obama.[39][40]

A number of net neutrality interest groups have emerged, including which frames net neutrality as follows:

Net Neutrality means no discrimination. Net Neutrality prevents Internet providers from blocking, speeding up or slowing down Web content based on its source, ownership or destination....The free and open Internet brings with it the revolutionary possibility that any Internet site could have the reach of a TV or radio station. The loss of Net Neutrality would end this unparalleled opportunity for freedom of expression.

Envision Seattle and the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund offer a model legal ordinance for communities and cities to enforce a free and open Internet.

Arguments for network neutrality

Control of data

Supporters of network neutrality want a legal mandate ensuring that cable companies allow Internet service providers (ISPs) free access to cable lines, called a common carriage agreement, and the model used for dial-up Internet. They want to ensure that cable companies cannot screen, interrupt or filter Internet content without court order.[28] accuses cable and telecommunications companies of wanting "to be Internet gatekeepers, deciding which Web sites go fast or slow and which won't load at all". According to these companies want to "tax content providers to guarantee speedy delivery of their data ... to discriminate in favor of their own search engines, Internet phone services, and streaming video – while slowing down or blocking their competitors."[41] Vinton Cerf, a co-inventor of the Internet Protocol (IP) and current Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google, has supported efforts to introduce network neutrality legislation in the US, arguing that "the Internet was designed with no gatekeepers over new content or services."[42] Cerf concluded that:

Allowing broadband carriers to control what people see and do online would fundamentally undermine the principles that have made the Internet such a success.
—Vinton Cerf in testimony before Congress February 7, 2006[36]

Digital rights and freedoms

Lawrence Lessig and Robert W. McChesney argue that net neutrality ensures that the Internet remains a free and open technology, fostering democratic communication. Lessig and McChesney go on to argue that the monopolization of the Internet would stifle the diversity of independent news sources and the generation of innovative and novel web content.[4]

Competition and innovation

Net neutrality advocates argue that allowing cable companies, often termed "content gatekeepers", the right to demand a toll to guarantee quality or premium delivery would create what Tim Wu calls an "unfair business model."[43] Advocates warn that by charging "every Web site, from the smallest blogger to Google", network owners may be able to block competitor Web sites and services, as well as refuse access to those unable to pay.[4] According to Tim Wu, cable companies plan to "carve off bandwidth" for their own television services and charge companies a toll for "priority" service.[44]

Proponents of net neutrality argue that allowing for preferential treatment of Internet traffic, or tiered service, would put newer online companies at a disadvantage and slow innovation in online services.[30] Tim Wu argues that, without network neutrality, the Internet will undergo a transformation from a market "where innovation rules to one where deal-making rules."[44] argues that net neutrality creates an "even playing field" and that "the Internet has always been driven by innovation. Web sites and services succeeded or failed on their own merit."[41] According to Lawrence Lessig and Robert W. McChesney:

Without net neutrality, the Internet would start to look like cable TV. A handful of massive companies would control access and distribution of content, deciding what you get to see and how much it costs. Major industries such as health care, finance, retailing and gambling would face huge tariffs for fast, secure Internet use ... Most of the great innovators in the history of the Internet started out in their garages with great ideas and little capital. This is no accident. Network neutrality protections minimized control by the network owners, maximized competition and invited outsiders in to innovate. Net neutrality guaranteed a free and competitive market for Internet content.

Preserving Internet standards

Network neutrality advocates have sponsored legislation claiming that authorizing incumbent network providers to override transport and application layer separation on the Internet would signal the decline of fundamental Internet standards and international consensus authority. Further, the legislation asserts that bit-shaping the transport of application data will undermine the transport layer's designed flexibility.[45]

Preventing pseudo-services

Alok Bhardwaj argues that any violations to network neutrality, realistically speaking, will not involve genuine investment but rather payoffs for unnecessary and dubious services. He believes that it is unlikely that new investment will be made to lay special networks for particular websites to reach end-users faster. Rather, he believes that non-net neutrality will involve leveraging quality of service to extract remuneration from websites that want to avoid being slowed down.[46]

End-to-end principle

Some advocates say network neutrality is needed in order to maintain the end-to-end principle. According to Lawrence Lessig and Robert W. McChesney:

Net neutrality means simply that all like Internet content must be treated alike and move at the same speed over the network. The owners of the Internet's wires cannot discriminate. This is the simple but brilliant "end-to-end" design of the Internet that has made it such a powerful force for economic and social good.

Under this principle, a neutral network is a dumb network, merely passing packets regardless of the applications they support. This point of view was expressed by David S. Isenberg in his well-known paper, The Rise of the Stupid Network.[47]

A new network "philosophy and architecture," is replacing the vision of an Intelligent Network. The vision is one in which the public communications network would be engineered for "always-on" use, not intermittence and scarcity. It would be engineered for intelligence at the end-user's device, not in the network. And the network would be engineered simply to "Deliver the Bits, Stupid," not for fancy network routing or "smart" number translation.... In the Stupid Network, the data would tell the network where it needs to go. (In contrast, in a circuit network, the network tells the data where to go.) In a Stupid Network, the data on it would be the boss.... End user devices would be free to behave flexibly because, in the Stupid Network the data is boss, bits are essentially free, and there is no assumption that the data is of a single data rate or data type.
—David S. Isenberg The Rise of the Stupid Network.[47]

Contrary to this idea, the research paper titled End-to-end arguments in system design by Saltzer, Reed, and Clark[48] argues that network intelligence doesn't relieve end systems of the requirement to check inbound data for errors and to rate-limit the sender, nor for a wholesale removal of "intelligence" from the network core.


Opposition includes the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Goldwater Institute, Americans for Tax Reform, and the Ayn Rand Institute. Opponents of net neutrality include hardware companies and members of the cable and telecommunications industries, including major telecommunications providers.[7]

A number of these opponents created a website called Hands Off The Internet[49] to promote their arguments against net neutrality. (The website no longer exists). Principal financial support for the website comes from AT&T, and members include technology firms and pro-market advocacy group Citizens Against Government Waste.[50][51][52][53]

Network neutrality regulations are opposed by some Internet engineers, such as professor David Farber and TCP inventor Bob Kahn.[10][54] Robert Pepper is senior managing director, global advanced technology policy, at Cisco Systems, and is the former FCC chief of policy development. He says: "The supporters of net neutrality regulation believe that more rules are necessary. In their view, without greater regulation, service providers might parcel out bandwidth or services, creating a bifurcated world in which the wealthy enjoy first-class Internet access, while everyone else is left with slow connections and degraded content. That scenario, however, is a false paradigm. Such an all-or-nothing world doesn't exist today, nor will it exist in the future. Without additional regulation, service providers are likely to continue doing what they are doing. They will continue to offer a variety of broadband service plans at a variety of price points to suit every type of consumer."[55] Bob Kahn, another computer scientist, has said net neutrality is a slogan that would freeze innovation in the core of the Internet.[10]

Farber has written and spoken strongly in favor of continued research and development on core Internet protocols. He joined academic colleagues Michael Katz, Christopher Yoo, and Gerald Faulhaber in an Op-Ed for the Washington Post strongly critical of network neutrality, stating, "The Internet needs a makeover. Unfortunately, congressional initiatives aimed at preserving the best of the old Internet threaten to stifle the emergence of the new one."[56]

Arguments against network neutrality

Property rights

Some opponents of net neutrality argue that net neutrality is a violation of the property rights of Internet service providers because they produce and own access to the Internet.[57]

Innovation and investment

Some opponents of net neutrality argue that prioritization of bandwidth is necessary for future innovation on the Internet.[7] Telecommunications providers such as telephone and cable companies, and some technology companies that supply networking gear, argue telecom providers should have the ability to provide preferential treatment in the form of tiered services, for example by giving online companies willing to pay the ability to transfer their data packets faster than other Internet traffic. The added revenue from such services could be used to pay for the building of increased broadband access to more consumers.[30] Opponents to net neutrality have also argued that net neutrality regulation would have adverse consequences for innovation and competition in the market for broadband access by making it more difficult for Internet service providers (ISPs) and other network operators to recoup their investments in broadband networks.[58] John Thorne, senior vice president and deputy general counsel of Verizon, a broadband and telecommunications company, has argued that they will have no incentive to make large investments to develop advanced fibre-optic networks if they are prohibited from charging higher preferred access fees to companies that wish to take advantage of the expanded capabilities of such networks. Thorne and other ISPs have accused Google and Skype of freeloading or free riding for using a network of lines and cables the phone company spent billions of dollars to build.[7][59][60]

Counterweight to server-side non-neutrality

Those in favor of forms of "non-neutral" tiered Internet access argue that the Internet is already not a level-playing field: large companies achieve a performance advantage over smaller competitors by replicating servers and buying high-bandwidth services. Should prices drop for lower levels of access, or access to only certain protocols, for instance, a change of this type would make Internet usage more neutral, with respect to the needs of those individuals and corporations specifically seeking differentiated tiers of service. Network expert Richard Bennett has written, "A richly funded Web site, which delivers data faster than its competitors to the front porches of the Internet service providers, wants it delivered the rest of the way on an equal basis. This system, which Google calls broadband neutrality, actually preserves a more fundamental inequality."[61]

Tim Wu, though a proponent of network neutrality, claims[62] that the current Internet is not neutral as, "among all applications", its implementation of best effort generally favors file transfer and other non-time sensitive traffic over real-time communications.

Bandwidth availability

Since the early 1990s Internet traffic has increased steadily. The arrival of picture-rich websites and MP3s led to a sharp increase in the mid 1990s followed by a subsequent sharp increase since 2003 as video streaming and peer-to-peer file sharing became more common.[63][64] In reaction to companies including YouTube, as well as smaller companies starting to offer free video content, using substantial amounts of bandwidth, at least one Internet service provider (ISP), SBC Communications (now doing business as AT&T), has suggested that it should have the right to charge these companies for making their content available over the provider's network.[65] Bret Swanson from the Wall Street Journal said that YouTube, MySpace and blogs are put at risk by net neutrality. Swanson says that YouTube streams as much data in three months as the world's radio, cable and broadcast television channels stream in one year, 75 petabytes. He argues that today's networks are not remotely prepared to handle what he calls the "exaflood" (see exabytes). He argues that net neutrality would prevent broadband networks from being built, which would limit available bandwidth and thus endanger innovation.[66]

Opposition to legislation

Given a rapidly-changing technological and market environment, many in the public policy area question the government's ability to make and maintain meaningful regulation that doesn't cause more harm than good.[67] Poorly conceived legislation could make it difficult for Internet Service Providers to legally perform necessary and generally useful packet filtering such as combating denial of service attacks, filtering E-Mail spam, and preventing the spread of computer viruses. Quoting Bram Cohen, the creator of BitTorrent,"I most definitely do not want the Internet to become like television where there's actual censorship... however it is very difficult to actually create network neutrality laws which don't result in an absurdity like making it so that ISPs can't drop spam or stop... attacks."[68] Some proposed pieces of legislation would even make fair queuing illegal as it requires prioritization of packets based on criteria other than that permitted by the proposed law.[citation needed]

Recent pieces of legislation, like The Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2009, attempt to mitigate these concerns by excluding reasonable network management from regulation.[69]

The Wall Street Journal has written that: "Government's role here, properly understood, is not to tell Comcast how to manage its network. Rather, it is to make sure consumers have alternatives to Comcast if they are unhappy with their Internet service."[70]

George Mason University fellow Adam Thierer has argued that "any government agency or process big enough to control a major sector of our economy will be prone to influence by those most affected by it", and that consequently "for all the talk we hear about how the FCC's move to impose Net Neutrality regulation is about 'putting consumers first' or 'preserving Net freedom and openness,' it's difficult to ignore the small armies of special interests who stand ready to exploit this new regulatory regime the same way they did telecom and broadcast industry regulation during decades past."[71]

In her recently published research, Aparna Watal, Legal Officer at Attomic Labs, puts forward three reasons for resisting any urge "to react legislatively to the apparent regulatory crisis".[72] Firstly, she explains, "contrary to the general opinion, the Comcast decision does not uproot the Commission’s authority to regulate ISPs. Section 201(b) of the Act, which was cited as an argument by the Commission but not addressed by the Court on procedural grounds, could grant the Commission authority to regulate broadband Internet services where they render 'charges, practices and regulations for, and in connection with' common carrier services unjust and unreasonable."[72] Secondly, she suggests, it is "undesirable and premature to legislatively mandate network neutrality or for the Commission to adopt a paternalistic approach on the issue...[as] there have been few overt incidents to date, and the costs of those incidents to consumers have been limited." [72] She cites "prompt media attention and public backlash" as effective policing tools to prevent ISPs from throttling traffic. She suggests that it "would be more prudent to consider introducing modest consumer protection rules, such as requiring ISPs to disclose their network management practices and to allow for consumers to switch ISPs inexpensively, rather than introducing network neutrality laws."[72] Finally, she explains that while "by regulating broadband services the commission is not directly regulating content and applications on the Internet; however, to say that content will remain unaffected by the reclassification is inaccurate. The different layers of the Internet work in tandem with each other such that there is no possibility of throttling or improving one layer's performance without impacting the other layers. If that was the case, then network neutrality would be maintained regardless of what happened at the transmission layer. To let the Commission regulate broadband pipelines connecting to the Internet and disregard that it indirectly involves regulating the data that runs through them will lead to a complex, overlapping, and fractured regulatory landscape in the years to come."[72]

Mixed and other views on net neutrality

I want to be clear what we mean by Net neutrality: What we mean is if you have one data type like video, you don't discriminate against one person's video in favor of another. But it's okay to discriminate across different types, so you could prioritize voice over video, and there is general agreement with Verizon and Google on that issue.

—Google CEO Eric E. Schmidt (August 4, 2010)[73]

Washington Post columnist Jeffrey Birnbaum has called the debate overhyped, saying the claims of both sides are "vague and misleading."[74]

Author Andy Kessler has argued that, though network neutrality is desirable, the threat of eminent domain against the telcos, instead of new legislation, is the best approach.[75]

Columbia University Law School professor Tim Wu observed the Internet is not neutral in terms of its impact on applications having different requirements. It is more beneficial for data applications than for applications that require low latency and low jitter, such as voice and real-time video: "In a universe of applications, including both latency-sensitive and insensitive applications, it is difficult to regard the IP suite as truly neutral." He has proposed regulations on Internet access networks that define net neutrality as equal treatment among similar applications, rather than neutral transmissions regardless of applications. He proposes allowing broadband operators to make reasonable trade-offs between the requirements of different applications, while regulators carefully scrutinize network operator behavior where local networks interconnect.[27]

Legal situation

Law in the European Union

The European Union has begun a consultation to examine the possible need for legislation to mandate network neutrality, countering the potential damage, if any, caused by non-neutral broadband access. The European Commission, within the proposals to amend the European regulatory framework for the electronic communications networks and services published on 13 November 2007, considers that prioritisation, or in other words product differentiation, "is generally considered to be beneficial for the market so long as users have choice to access the transmission capabilities and the services they want" and "consequently, the current EU rules allow operators to offer different services to different customers groups, but not allow those who are in a dominant position to discriminate in an anti-competitive manner between customers in similar circumstances."[76] Furthermore, the European Commission thinks that the current European legal framework cannot effectively prevent network operators from degrading their customers. Therefore, it is proposed to empower the European Commission to impose a minimum quality of services in order to tackle this situation.[77] In addition, an obligation of transparency is also proposed to limit network operators' ability to set up restrictions on end-users' choice of lawful content and applications.[78]

The European Commission's proposal was reviewed by the European Parliament at First Reading. In the summer of 2008, the lead committees in the European Parliament achieved their final draft reports. On 24 September 2008 the European Parliament held a plenary vote on the draft reports from those committees. At the next step the European Council will vote for its common position on the European Commission's legislative proposals on 27 November 2008. After that the negotiation between the European Parliament and the European Council will be made under the cooperation procedure. The adoption of these proposals is supposed to take place before the end of 2009.[79]

A debate on net neutrality in the UK was held at Westminster on 20 March 2006, sponsored by AT&T. It was attended by the Government and Opposition trade secretaries, telecommunications regulators, industry figures and other experts in the field. Google, a noted supporter of net neutrality, declined an invitation to the debate, and then called it "biased".[80] The conclusion was that Net Neutrality laws in the UK would be "extreme... unattractive and impractical" and that it was "an answer to problems we don't have, using a philosophy we don't share".[80] Further debates at the Royal Society and Institute of Public Policy Research in 2006 came to different conclusions "Marsden C. Net Neutrality: Towards a Co-regulatory Solution at Chapter 1".[81]

December 19, 2009, the "Telecoms Package" was published in the Official Journal of the European Union, and must be implemented in Member States' laws by May 2011. The new legislation requires European telecom and Internet service providers (ISPs) to tell their customers when any of their personal data has been breached. Before, these companies did not inform their customers of any personal privacy violations. Also, the legislation will make customers able to switch from a fixed land line to the new 3G service in one working day. In addition "spectrum reframing—where 3G services can be used in what is currently 2G radio spectrum—is also to be allowed, so as to allow a faster rollout of high-speed mobile Internet services".[82] The commission is quoted saying, "Thanks to the new transparency requirements, consumers will be informed—even before signing a contract—about the nature of the service to which they are subscribing, including traffic management techniques and their impact on service quality, as well as any other limitations (such as bandwidth caps or available connection speed)".[82] "This will increase the incentives for better protection of personal data by providers of communications networks and services," the Commission said. "In addition, the rules concerning privacy and data protection are strengthened, e.g. on the use of 'cookies' and similar devices."[82]

The European Parliament had argued that one issue with the new package is that the guidelines for national regulators on investment in next-generation broadband have not been set.[83]

European Citizens' rights groups have argued that the adoption of the Harbour Report would be the end of net neutrality. They claimed that the report was heavily influenced by US telecoms giants, including AT&T and Verizon, and was a sign of the European Parliament watering down its concerns in order to form a consensus with the European Council.[84]

The existing 2002 regulatory framework for electronic communications networks and services in the European Union is comprised by five directives, which altogether are referred to as "the Framework Directive and the Specific Directives". More specifically these directives are: (a) Directive 2002/19/EC of the European Parliament on access to, and interconnection of, electronic communications networks and associated facilities (Access Directive), (b) Directive 2002/20/EC of the European Parliament on the authorisation of electronic communications networks and services (Authorisation Directive), (c) Directive 2002/21/EC on a common regulatory framework for electronic communications networks and services (Framework Directive), (d) Directive 2002/22/EC (Universal Service Directive), and finally, (e) Directive 2002/58/EC (Directive on privacy and electronic communications). Due to the technological and marketing developments, combined with the final users' continuously increasing needs and demands for better, faster, and more accessible services, the European Parliament and the Council recently amended all five directives as given above. More concretely, Directives 2002/22/EC and 2002/58/EC were amended by Directive 2009/136/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 November 2009,[85] and Directives 2002/19/EC, 2002/20/EC and 2002/21/EC were amended by Directive 2009/140/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 November 2009.[85] All these amendments are followed by the Commission's declaration of net neutrality (L 337, 18 December 2009, page 69). On that ground, Regulation (EC) No 1211/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 November 2009 established the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) and the Office[86] Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications. BEREC's main purpose is to "promote cooperation between NRAs (national regulatory authorities) and between NRAs and the Commission" and "shall contribute to the development and better functioning of the internal market for electronic communications networks and services, by aiming to ensure a consistent application of the EU regulatory framework for electronic communications" "carrying out its tasks independently, impartially and transparently". BEREC is neither a Community agency nor has legal personality and it is replacing the ERG (European Regulators Group). Whilst the Office, also established by the Directive mentioned above, is a Community Body with legal personality within the meaning of Article 185 of the Financial Regulation,[87] and shall provide administrative and professional support services to BEREC.

Related events

  • In February 2010, Cesar Alierta, CEO of Spain's telecommunications and Internet service provider Telefonica, expressed in a meeting in Bilbao, Spain that his company will charge Google and other search engines for the use of the ISP's network. Mr. Alierta complained that such search engines were benefiting from the platform without contributing to the company's expenses and that such trend will change in the near future. Additionally, he said that Telefonica will seek to push its own content. Mr. Alierta, however, does not give details regarding whether customers will be the ones that will be kept from using such search engines should Google or Microsoft's Bing refuse to pay.[88]

Law in Germany

On 3 April 2009, T-Mobile, the largest German mobile telecommunication company, announced that it is blocking Skype, "even though," according to the international, pro-net-neutrality, OpenNet Coalition, "Skype is both a key application for voice communication on the Internet and is known to consume a small amount of bandwidth. Therefore it is obvious the decision was not based on any real need of traffic management or Quality of Service issue."[89].

Law in Italy

Since March 2009 in Italy there is a bill called: Proposta di legge dei senatori Vincenzo VITA (PD) e Luigi Vimercati (PD) "Neutralita' Delle Reti, Free Software E Societa' Dell'informazione"[90]

Senator Vimercati in an interview said that he wants "to do something for the network neutrality" and that he was inspired by Lawrence Lessig, Professor at the Stanford Law School. Vimercati said that the topic is very hard, but in the article 3 there is a reference to the concept of neutrality regard the contents. It is also a problem of transparency and for the mobile connections: we need the minimum bandwidth to guarantee the service. We need some principle to defend the consumers. It's important that the consumer has been informed if he could not access all the Internet. The bill refuses all the discrimination: related by the content, the service and the device. The bill is generally about Internet ("a statute for the Internet") and treat different topics like network neutrality, free software, giving an Internet access to everyone.

Law in The Netherlands

In June 2011 the majority of the parliament voted for new net neutrality laws which prohibits the blocking of Internet services, usage of deep packet inspection to track customer behaviour and otherwise filtering or manipulating network traffic.[91] The legislation applies to any telecommunications provider.[92]

Law in Belgium

Net neutrality was discussed in the parliament in June 2011. Three parties (CD&V, N-VA & PS) jointly proposed a text to introduce the concept of net neutrality in the telecom law [93].

Law in France

On April 12, 2011 the Commission for economic affairs of the French parliament approved the report of MP Laure de La Raudière (UMP). The report contains [94] 9 proposals. Proposition n°1 & 2 act on net neutrality.

Law in the United States

There is ongoing legal and political wrangling in the U.S. regarding net neutrality. The FCC has asserted its jurisdiction (which is in dispute)[95] over the issue and has laid down guideline rules that it expects the telecommunications industry to follow. On February 11, 2008, Rep. Ed Markey and Rep. Chip Pickering introduced HR5353 "To establish broadband policy and direct the Federal Communications Commission to conduct a proceeding and public broadband summit to assess competition, consumer protection, and consumer choice issues relating to broadband Internet access services, and for other purposes."[96] On August 1, 2008, the FCC formally voted 3-to-2 to uphold a complaint against Comcast, the largest cable company in the US, ruling that it had illegally inhibited users of its high-speed Internet service from using file-sharing software. FCC chairman Kevin J. Martin said that the order was meant to set a precedent that Internet providers, and indeed all communications companies, could not prevent customers from using their networks the way they see fit unless there is a good reason. In an interview, Martin said, "We are preserving the open character of the Internet." The legal complaint against Comcast related to BitTorrent, a transfer protocol that is especially apt at distributing large files such as video, music, and software on the Internet.[97] For 2009, Rep. Markey has reintroduced it.[98] Comcast admitted no wrongdoing[99] in its proposed settlement of up to US$16 dollars per share in December 2009.[100] On April 6, 2010, the United States Court of Appeal for the District of Columbia in Comcast Corp. v. FCC ruled that the FCC lacks the authority to force Internet service providers to keep their networks open to all forms of content.[101]

On December 21, 2010, the FCC approved new rules banning cable television and telephone service providers from preventing access to competitors or certain web sites such as Netflix. The rules would not keep ISPs from charging more for faster access. Republicans in Congress plan to reverse the rules through legislation.[22]

On September 23, 2011 the FCC released its final rules for Preserving a Free and Open Internet. These rules state that providers must have transparency of network management practices, not block lawful content, nor unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic.[102] These rules are effective November 20, 2011.

Law in the Russian Federation

Since September 2007, the Russian government's Resolution No 575 introduces new regulation rules of telematics services. Network operators (ISPs) can now legally limit individual actions of the subscriber's network activity, if such actions threaten the normal functioning of the network. ISPs are obliged to exclude the possibility of access to information systems, network addresses, or uniform pointers which a subscriber informs the operator of communication in the form specified in the contract. The subscriber is obliged to take actions to protect the subscriber terminal from the impact of malicious software and to prevent the spread of spam and malicious software to its subscriber terminal. In reality, most Russian ISPs shape the traffic of P2P protocols (like BitTorrent) with lower priority (P2P is about of 80% of traffic there). Also, there is popular method, called retracker,[103][104] for redirecting some of the BitTorrent traffic to the ISP's cache servers and other subscribers inside of a metropolitan area network (MAN). Access to MANs is usually with greater speed (2x–1000x or more, specified in the contract) and better quality than the rest of the Internet.

Law in Chile

On 13 June 2010, the National Congress of Chile, amended its telecommunications law in order to preserve network neutrality, becoming the first country in the world to do so.[105][106] This came after an intensive campaign on blogs, Twitter, and other social networks.[107]

The law, published on 26 August 2010, added three articles to the General Law of Telecommunications, forbidding ISPs from arbitrarily blocking, interfering with, discriminating, hindering or restricting an Internet user's right to use, send, receive or offer any legal content, application, service or any other type of legal activity or use through the Internet. To that effect ISPs must offer Internet access in which content is not arbitrarily treated differently based on its source or ownership.[108]

Law elsewhere in the world

Net neutrality in the common carrier sense has been instantiated into law in many countries, including Japan.[109] In Japan, the nation's largest phone company, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone, operates a service called Flet's Square over their FTTH high speed Internet connections. In South Korea, VoIP is blocked on high-speed FTTH networks except where the network operator is the service provider.[110]

According to Thomas Lum, a specialist in Asian Affairs: "Since its founding in 1949, the People's Republic of China (PRC) has exerted great effort in manipulating the flow of information and prohibiting the dissemination of viewpoints that criticize the government or stray from the official Communist party view. The introduction of Internet technology in the mid-1990s presented a challenge to government control over news sources, and by extension, over public opinion. While the Internet has developed rapidly, broadened access to news, and facilitated mass communications in China, many forms of expression online, as in other mass media, are still significantly stifled. Empirical studies have found that China has one of the most sophisticated content-filtering Internet regimes in the world. The Chinese government employs increasingly sophisticated methods to limit content online, including a combination of legal regulation, surveillance, and punishment to promote self-censorship, as well as technical controls."[111]

Related issues

End-to-end principle

The end-to-end principle is one of the central design principles of the Internet, as well as in other protocols and distributed systems in general. The principle states that, whenever possible, communications protocol operations should be defined to occur at the end-points of a communications system, or as close as possible to the resource being controlled. According to the end-to-end principle, protocol features are only justified in the lower layers of a system if they are a performance optimization, hence, TCP retransmission for reliability is still justified, but efforts to improve TCP reliability should stop after peak performance has been reached.

The concept was highlighted in a 1981 conference paper End-to-end arguments in system design by Jerome H. Saltzer, David P. Reed, and David D. Clark. They argued that reliable systems tend to require end-to-end processing to operate correctly, in addition to any processing in the intermediate system. They pointed out that most features in the lowest level of a communications system have costs for all higher-layer clients, even if those clients do not need the features, and are redundant if the clients have to re-implement the features on an end-to-end basis. This leads to the model of a "dumb, minimal network" with smart terminals, a completely different model from the previous paradigm of the smart network with dumb terminals.

Data discrimination

Tim Wu, though a proponent of network neutrality, claims that the current Internet is not neutral as its implementation of best effort generally favors file transfer and other non-time sensitive traffic over real-time communications.[27] Generally, a network which blocks some nodes or services for the customers of the network would normally be expected to be less useful to the customers than one that did not. Therefore for a network to remain significantly non neutral requires either that the customers not be concerned about the particular non neutralities or the customers not have any meaningful choice of providers, otherwise they would presumably switch to another provider with fewer restrictions.[citation needed]

While the network neutrality debate continues, network providers often enter into peering arrangements among themselves. These agreements often stipulate how certain information flows should be treated. In addition, network providers often implement various policies such as blocking of port 25 to prevent insecure systems from serving as spam relays, or other ports commonly used by decentralized music search applications implementing peer-to-peer networking models. They also present terms of service that often include rules about the use of certain applications as part of their contracts with users.[citation needed]

Most consumer Internet providers implement policies like these. The MIT Mantid Port Blocking Measurement Project is a measurement effort to characterize Internet port blocking and potentially discriminatory practices. However, the effect of peering arrangements among network providers are only local to the peers that enter into the arrangements, and cannot affect traffic flow outside their scope.[citation needed]

Jon Peha from Carnegie Mellon University in his paper "The Benefits and Risks of Mandating Network Neutrality, and the Quest for a Balanced Policy" presents a challenge for policy makers to create policies that protect users from harmful traffic discrimination while allowing beneficial discrimination. Peha discusses the technologies that enable traffic discrimination, examples of different types of discrimination, and potential impacts of regulation.[112]

Quality of service

Internet routers forward packets according to the diverse peering and transport agreements that exist between network operators. Many networks using Internet protocols now employ quality of service (QoS), and Network Service Providers frequently enter into Service Level Agreements with each other embracing some sort of QoS.

There is no single, uniform method of interconnecting networks using IP, and not all networks that use IP are part of the Internet. IPTV networks are isolated from the Internet, and are therefore not covered by network neutrality agreements.

The IP datagram includes a 3-bit wide Precedence field and a larger DiffServ Code Point that are used to request a level of service, consistent with the notion that protocols in a layered architecture offer services through Service Access Points. This field is sometimes ignored, especially if it requests a level of service outside the originating network's contract with the receiving network. It is commonly used in private networks, especially those including WiFi networks where priority is enforced. While there are several ways of communicating service levels across Internet connections, such as SIP, RSVP, IEEE 802.11e, and MPLS, the most common scheme combines SIP and DSCP. Router manufacturers now sell routers that have logic enabling them to route traffic for various Classes of Service at "wire-speed".

With the emergence of multimedia, VoIP, IPTV, and other applications that benefit from low latency, various attempts to address the inability of some private networks to limit latency have arisen, including the proposition of offering tiered service levels that would shape Internet transmissions at the network layer based on application type. These efforts are ongoing, and are starting to yield results as wholesale Internet transport providers begin to amend service agreements to include service levels.[113]

Alok Bhardwaj has argued that net neutrality preservation through legislation is consistent with implementing quality of service protocols. He argues legislation should ban the charging of fees for any quality of service which would both allow networks to implement quality of service as well as remove any incentive to abuse net neutrality ideas. He argues that since implementing quality of service doesn't require any additional costs versus a non-QoS network, there's no reason implementing quality of service should entail any additional fees.[46] However, the core network hardware needed (with large number of queues, etc.) and the cost of designing and maintaining a QoS network are both much higher than for a non-QoS network.[citation needed]

Xipeng Xiao covers the relationship between QoS and Network Neutrality in the book Technical, Commercial and Regulatory Challenges of QoS: An Internet Service Model Perspective.

Traffic shaping

Traffic shaping is the control of computer network traffic in order to optimize or guarantee performance, improve latency, and/or increase usable bandwidth by delaying packets that meet certain criteria.[114] More specifically, traffic shaping is any action on a set of packets (often called a stream or a flow) which imposes additional delay on those packets such that they conform to some predetermined constraint (a contract or traffic profile).[115] Traffic shaping provides a means to control the volume of traffic being sent into a network in a specified period (bandwidth throttling), or the maximum rate at which the traffic is sent (rate limiting), or more complex criteria such as GCRA.


If the core of a network has more bandwidth than is permitted to enter at the edges, then good QoS can be obtained without policing. For example the telephone network employs admission control to limit user demand on the network core by refusing to create a circuit for the requested connection. Over-provisioning is a form of statistical multiplexing that makes liberal estimates of peak user demand. Over-provisioning is used in private networks such as WebEx and the Internet 2 Abilene Network, an American university network.

David Isenberg believes that continued over-provisioning will always provide more capacity for less expense than QoS and deep packet inspection technologies.[116][117]

Pricing models

Broadband Internet access has most often been sold to users based on Excess Information Rate or maximum available bandwidth. Some argue that if Internet service providers (ISPs) can provide varying levels of service to websites at various prices, this may be a way to manage the costs of unused capacity by selling surplus bandwidth (or "leverage price discrimination to recoup costs of 'consumer surplus'"). However, purchasers of connectivity on the basis of Committed Information Rate or guaranteed bandwidth capacity must expect the capacity they purchase in order to meet their communications requirements.

Various studies have sought to provide network providers the necessary formulas for adequately pricing such a tiered service for their customer base. But while network neutrality is primarily focused on protocol based provisioning, most of the pricing models are based on bandwidth restrictions.[118]

See also


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