23 May | 13:30 – 15:00 | Best Western Premier Hotel Slon | Ljubljana, Slovenia
Data flows: what makes them & breaks them*
(S3) Is the Internet neutral? From network neutrality to platform neutrality
42, 43, 54, 55** (see the list of proposals)
The previous battle in the war for a free and open Internet was about net neutrality — equal access for all to the plumbing level of the Internet. One can say that there are clear rules now in place for this. But are the rules are good enough to serve their goal while at the same time allowing new innovative business models? The difference between the EU and the US regulatory frameworks will help understand the impact of the rules better. In parallel to the net neutrality at the pipe level, the next battle seems to be about content neutrality — equal access for all to the content level of the Internet. Some say that content neutrality is more important than net neutrality. It is not about what speed is available to what service but about which voices are heard and which are suppressed. Should it be guaranteed by law or can we hope that the platforms will be impartial and neutral about the content they are hosting? What remedies are available to handle this issue? Privacy law? Regulating content? Competition law? Consumer protection law?
Network neutrality (NN), blocking or slowing down of internet traffic, non-discrimination of Internet traffic, reasonable traffic management, specialised services, transparency measures, download/upload speed as part of the contract, supervision the NN rules by regulatory authorities, zero-rated services, platform neutrality
There are many traffic management techniques that can be used by Internet service providers (ISP), where Internet traffic can be treated differently depending on the sender or receiver, content, application or service, or terminal equipment. As such practices by ISPs may affect the openness of the Internet ecosystem, the policy makers have reacted promptly and developed rules that should protect the Internet and its open and neutral character. The path to developing those rules was not easy and one could even say that the end of it is not reached yet, especially when taking into account the different approaches taken on the two sides of the Atlantic. Europe has agreed on a principle-based approach that aims to protect the recognised values of the Internet, in particular, those that are important for end users and innovation.
Current EU rules prohibit any blocking, slowing down or prioritisation of Internet data traffic, except for reasonable traffic management such as court orders requiring to block unlawful content, protection of integrity and security of the network, and prevention of exceptional network congestion. Operators should provide mechanisms for transparency about any traffic management practices performed by them and also information regarding the access speed that end-users might realistically achieve. In the US the same goals should be reached, but with a different approach where the main mechanism relies on transparency and market competition. In the EU, the responsibility to monitor the implementation of the net neutrality rules has been assigned to national regulatory authorities, who coordinate their efforts through BEREC, the Body of European regulators. The rules have not been too long in power, and when looking at some recent developments like Stream-on or zero rating, several questions arise:
Is there is a risk that the rules could be interpreted in a too narrow sense that could hamper some new innovative business offerings? Is zero-rating now under control? Which approach will prove to be more successful? Are we going to see a big difference in new investments in network infrastructure between the EU and the USA?
In parallel to the classical net neutrality debate about the traffic management and possible traffic discrimination, there seems to be a next battle emerging, this time at the content and services level. Some call it platform neutrality, as the core of the debate is about the strength of the few powerful platforms which seem to be closing the market at that level and they get in a position to decide on what content – i.e. what content would eventually be transported over the Internet and reach the end users – and which services or apps are available on platforms.
Some say that this platform neutrality is more important than net neutrality. It is not about what speed is available to what service but about which voices are heard and which are suppressed. How can policymakers ensure that such a great power on the right to be heard and the right to hear, as well as the rights to offer services and to have a broader consumer choice, does not end in the hands of a few big companies? A very complex issue in this context is the protection of free speech, either as the right of big companies to use that right and form their messages to the world or the right of the users of those platforms so that their voices are heard. Should those relations be guaranteed by law or can we hope that the platforms will be impartial and neutral about the content of the debate that they are hosting? What remedies are available to handle this issue and what bodies should enforce them? Is privacy law the key to the debate or is it all about regulating content? Very powerful tools are available within the competition law and consumer protection law. Is there a silver bullet for the platform neutrality issue?
- Marta Capelo Gaspar, European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO), Portugal
- Zdravko Jukić, Croatia
- Arandjel Bojanović, Internet Society Serbia
- Katja Kmet, Agency for Communication Networks and Services of the Republic of Slovenia
- Nikola Ognenovski, Makedonski Telekom, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
- Žiga Turk, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia
Online moderator: Aleksandrina Banusheva, Tool Domains ltd., Bulgaria
- Kristina Hakobyan, Global AM LLC, Armenia
- Jana Mišić, University of Leipzig, Serbia
- All you need to know about net neutrality rules in the EU (Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC))
- Regulation (EU) 2015/2120 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 November 2015 laying down measures concerning open internet access and amending Directive 2002/22/EC on universal service and users’ rights relating to electronic communications networks and services and Regulation (EU) No 531/2012 on roaming on public mobile communications networks within the Union (EU, 2015)
- BEREC Guidelines on the implementation by National Regulators of European net neutrality rules (BEREC, 2016)
- Platform neutrality: Building an open and sustainable digital environment (Conseil National du Numerique, France, 2014)
- Platform Neutrality: Hipster Antitrust or Logical Next Step? Part I & Part II (Friso Bostoen, 2017)
- Authorities have a responsibility to keep the Internet open for everyone. Transparency is key for ensuring network and platform neutrality.
- Neutrality of platforms is important for democracy and we should be protected as a way to enhance competition not only in applications and services but also in innovations, business models and ideas.
- All stakeholders should be involved in finding safeguards to protect net and platform neutrality. Balanced and principle based regulation should better serve the interests of both businesses and users. Over and under-regulation should be avoided so it does not harm investments, innovation and customer needs.
- A future-proof model of net neutrality is difficult to determine now and specialised services should not endanger Internet access.
- Regulators should be able to efficiently and effectively monitor, and, eventually, regulate online platforms in order to protect consumers’ rights.
- End-users should be informed and able to understand the effects of new business models based on practices such as discrimination, prioritisation, and zero-rating.
- Sinisa Apostoloski, Agency for Electronic Communications, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
- Žiga Turk, University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Civil and Geodetic Engineering, Slovenia
- Arandjel Bojanović, Internet Society Serbia
- Marta Capelo Gaspar, European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO)
- Sara Ghazanfari, European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO)
- Zdravko Jukić, Croatia
- Tomaž Golob, Young Pirates of Slovenia
- Tanja Pavleska, Laboratory for Open Systems and Networks, Jozef Stefan Institute, Slovenia
- Dušan Caf (Executive Committee member)
- Jana Mišić (intern)
Interested in joining this organising team? Send us an e-mail.