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Network Neutrality: a Roadmap for Infrastructure Enhancement

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No. 172 Network Neutrality: a Roadmap for Infrastructure Enhancement

Luca Belli


IGF 2014 sub theme that this workshop fall under

Policies Enabling Access


Network neutrality (NN) is the principle according to which Internet traffic shall be treated equally, without discrimination, restriction or interference regardless of its sender, recipient, type or content, so that Internet users’ freedom of choice is not restricted by favouring or disfavouring the transmission of Internet traffic associated with particular content, services, applications, or devices.

To date, several countries have implemented NN laws, while many others are scrutinising the opportunity to elaborate such legislation. Meanwhile, growing attention is paid to the question of how to finance network expansion. Certain content and applications providers have been experimenting new typology of peering agreements that require them to pay ISPs for a direct connection to their consumers (aka “sender-pays” model). While some might argue that similar arrangements are necessary to support ISPs in enhancing their network infrastructure, the obvious counter-argument is that end-users are already paying for infrastructure maintenance (and enhancement) through their broadband subscription. Furthermore, in the lack of an industrial policy aimed at steering ISPs investments towards network enhancement, it seems difficult to assess whether ISPs will, indeed, invest their revenues in the enhancement of network infrastructure.

This workshop will interrogate such questions as:
(i) how does NN relates to network enhancement?
(ii) is the market alone able to provide appropriate answers to guetentee network enhancement in accordance with the NN principle ?
(iii) how can governmental policies promote private investments in network enhancement without impinging upon the NN principle?
(iv) is there room or need for State-subsidized network infrastructures?

Name(s) and stakeholder and organizational affiliation(s) of institutional co-organizer(s)

Luca Belli, Intergovernmental Organisations, Council of Europe
Primavera De Filippi, Civil Society, Berkman Center for Internet and Society

Has the proposer, or any of the co-organizers, organized an IGF workshop before?


The link to the workshop report


Type of session


Duration of proposed session

90 minutes

Subject matter #tags that describe the workshop

#netneutrality, #networkneutrality, #openness, #humanrights, #freeinnovation

Names and affiliations (stakeholder group, organization) of speakers the proposer is planning to invite

- Elvana Thaçi, Intergovernmental Organisations, Council of Europe, confirmed;
- Carolina Rossini, Civil Society, New America Foundation, confirmed
- Chris Riley, Private sector, Mozilla, confirmed;
- Ana Olmos, Civil Society, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, confirmed;
- Michele Bellavite, Private Sector, ETNO, confirmed;
- Parminder Singh, Civil Society, ITC for Change, confirmed;

Name of Moderator(s)

Luca Belli, Council of Europe & Université Paris 2 (CERSA)

Name of Remote Moderator(s)

Nicolo' Zingales, Tilburg University

Description of how the proposer plan to facilitate discussion amongst speakers, audience members and remote participants

The first part of the workshop (around 45 minutes) will be dedicated to an interactive roundtable during which the panellists will be asked to provide concise answers (i.e. less than 2-minute-long) to the questions asked by the moderators. Furthermore, panellists will have the possibility to reply to their peers' statements.

Subsequently, the panellists will engage in an open an dynamic debate, during which the audience will play a key role asking questions, providing inputs and steering the discussion.

The attendees and the remote participants will be allowed to ask questions during the workshop, but their participation and inputs will be particularly encouraged during the second part of the session.

Description of the proposer's plans for remote participation

No information provided

Background paper

No background paper provided

Brief substantive summary of the workshop and presentation of the main issues that were raised during the discussions

The purpose of this workshop was to analyse the main social and the economic aspects of the network neutrality debate, trying to identify a common ground to move forward the discussion regarding the importance of the net neutrality principle in the context of the electronic networks expansion.

The panellists highlighted that states have an important role to play in balancing conflicting economic, social and political interests, stressing the importance of solid, evidence-based regulation in order to guarantee Internet users’ fundamental rights while stimulating innovation and investments in Internet infrastructure.

Some discussants stressed the possibility that investments on network enhancement may be undertaken by states that might be willing support network expansion – as they do with road networks – and subsequently hold tenders to grant to private entities the right to provide non-discriminatory Internet access via such networks. To this end, some panellists argued that municipalities should be encouraged to put in place broadband expansion plans when the market fails to serve the needs of their citizens.

Furthermore, the panellists agreed that a healthy competitive environment play a pivotal role in fostering innovation. In order to enable such an environment net neutrality policies and regulations are essential, including the precise definition of exceptions to the net neutrality principle such as specialised services (i.e. guaranteed quality services). Indeed, net neutrality policies have the potential to drive competition over the delivery of an open internet service, which is faster, more reliable and cheaper.

However, one should not forget that the double goal of the network neutrality policies and regulations must be to foster competition while protecting human rights. The instrumentality of network neutrality in order to guarantee the full enjoyment of human rights is particularly evident at the European level, where the Committee of Ministers of the 47 Council of Europe members has clearly stated that users’ right to access and distribute information online might be adversely affected by non-transparent traffic management, content and services’ discrimination or impeding connectivity of devices.

The discussants highlighted that interferences with the right to freedom of expression and access to information have to be necessary and proportionate, and pursue a legitimate aim. Therefore, traffic management practices having an impact on access to information of individuals should follow the same rational. Particularly, this point has been consistently stressed by the European Court of Human Rights, providing a legal rationale to establish the link between network neutrality and the right to freedom of expression at the European level. By the same token, exceptional preferential-treatment of specific content and applications should not negatively impact access to information.

It is therefore essential that Internet users’ rights be well-defined in legislation and protected through appropriate frameworks empowering national regulators with the authority to intervene in case of infringement of user's rights while letting new business models emerge.

Conclusions drawn from the workshop and possible follow up actions

• Traffic management can interfere with the freedom of expression and the right to access to information of individuals. Such interferences shoulb be legal, proportionate to their goal and to pursue a legitimate aim.
• Internet users’ rights have to be well-defined in legislation and national regulators empowered to intervene in case of infringement of user's rights.
• A neutral network facilitates people’s ability to produce content that stimulates demand for the Internet access services, that is supposed to stimulate investments in Internet infrastructure.
• States have a role to play in balancing opposed political, social, and economic interests with regard to investments in network infrastructure and protection of end-users fundamental rights.
• Competition is a key factor in order to foster network investments in both the developing and developed world is. Net Neutrality is a pro competition principle that should be supported by pro competition policies.
• Network neutrality policies should favour investments, competition, and protect the health of the Internet ecosystem as a whole.
• Net Neutrality promotes a non-discriminatory and transparent Internet traffic management leaving room for exceptions that should be clearly defined.
• Good regulation is instrumental to achieve net neutrality.

Estimation of the overall number of participants present at the workshop


Estimation of the overall number of women present at the workshop

about half of the participants were women

Extent to that the workshop discuss gender equality and/or women’s empowerment

it was not seen as related to the workshop’s theme and was not raised

A brief summary of the discussions in case that the workshop addressed issues related to gender equality and/or women’s empowerment

No information provided

Reported by

Luca Belli with the help of George Salama

Workshop transcript


Youtube video



No attachments provided

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