“Network Neutrality” is the principle mandating that Internet traffic be managed in a non-discriminatory fashion, in order to fully safeguard Internet users’ rights.
Throughout the last decade, the emergence of this appealing and multifaceted expression has led many national governments to consider the elaboration of network-neutrality legislation.
The notion of network neutrality takes into consideration the extent to which Internet Traffic Management (ITM) practices may be admissible, without being considered as putting in jeopardy end-users' full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Network neutrality is grounded on openness, universal access and transparency and stems from the end-to-end argument whereby the Internet is a general-purpose network whose intelligence resides in the edges. According to such reasoning, “certain required end-to-end functions can only be performed correctly by the end-systems themselves” and the best way to cope with failures of transmission is to “give responsibility for the integrity of communication to the end systems” (RFC 1958).
Accordingly, end-users should not be victims of opaque ITM, but rather enjoy an open and neutral network which allows them to control the applications they use; to benefit of the maximum access to online content, application and services; and to easily circulate their innovations.
A considerable number of network operators frequently put in place discriminatory ITM consisting in blocking, filtering and throttling specific data flows in order to prioritise or impede access to certain applications, services or content (BEREC, 2012).
The widespread adoption of such ITM leads to the conclusion that the mere self-regulation may be insufficient to maintain the open and neutral character of the Internet.
It is right and proper to query to which extent ITM may interfere with the end-users’ freedom of expression and communication. Indeed, non-neutral traffic management may lead to the establishment of so-called “walled gardens”, thus fostering network balkanisation and limiting end-users’ possibility to circulate innovation as well as their fundamental right to freely impart and receive information and ideas through the Internet.
Furthermore, concerns have been growing around network operators’ utilisation of intrusive techniques, such as Deep Packet Inspection (DPI), in order to identify the content and applications which they intend to block and prioritise. Indeed, the exploitation of these techniques hold promise to provoke nefarious consequences on end-users’ privacy.
The purpose of this websites is therefore to provide a pedagogic arena aimed at scrutinising the various nuances of the network-neutrality debate and contribute to the elaboration of the best advised policies and regulations pertaining to network neutrality.
Detailed information regarding the Net Neutrality debate can be found in the reports produced by the UN IGF Dynamic Coalition on Network Neutrality:
Luca Belli (Ed.) (2016). Net neutrality reloaded: zero rating, specialised service, ad blocking and traffic management. FGV Direito Rio. Preface by Tim Wu.
Luca Belli & Primavera De Filippi (Eds.) (2015). Net Neutrality Compendium. Human Rights, Free Competition and the Future of the Internet. Preface by Vinton G. Cerf | Postface by Louis Pouzin
Available on the website of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights