IGF 2019 5G, IoT and Zero Rating Challenges for Net Neutrality


Dynamic Coalition on Network Neutrality (DCNN)

Round Table - Circle - 90 Min


Over the past years, DCNN members have produced substantial works and research on these issues, which have recently gained incredible prominence with regard to both political and developmental agendas. While 5G and the IoT are supposed to bring incredible changes to the way connectivity is provided and utilised, zero rating practices – with particular regard to the sponsoring of social media – are already determining an incredible impact on democracies around the world.

Building on the DCNN 2018 outcome, the Zero Rating Map and on the works developed by DCNN members, this session aim at exploring the impact that the most recent technological and commercial development are deploying and will deploy on Internet users’ capability to freely access and share innovation and information online and on the rights of every connected individual. The IGF session will have the following agenda: (1) Introduction and presentation of DCNN and its work; (2) Presentations and debate on 5G and IoT; (3) Presentations and debate on the 2019 DCNN outcome: the #ZeroRating website; (4) Discussion of next steps and priorities for DCNN.


Luca Belli, FGV Law School

  • Luca Belli, FGV Law School
  • Edison Lanza, Organization of American States Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression
  • Frode Sorensen, Nkom (Norwegian Telecoms Regulator)
  • Aurore Tual, ARCEP (French Telecoms Regulator) 
  • Luigi Gambardella, Open Fiber (TBC)
  • Estelle Masse, Access Now
  • KS Park, Korea University Law School
  • Thomas Lohninger, Epicenter.works

GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
GOAL 10: Reduced Inequalities

1. Key Policy Questions and Expectations


  1. Why zero-rating applications as sponsored applications produces negative externalities on how people enjoy Internet access, especially in developing countries where people don’t have money to pay for other software? 
  2. How to approach users’ data protection and combat control over the flow of information by some few companies? 
  3. How 5G and IoT are engendering new Net Neutrality challenges?
2. Summary of Issues Discussed


The session aimed to discuss two main topics on Net Neutrality: price discrimination and zero-rating applications, and also the new challenges with the development of 5G technologies.

On the first subject, many of the speakers indicated the necessity of review of zero-rating plans. They also addressed that many countries protect net neutrality, but the approach of the zero-rating plans is different from region to region. In Latin America, for example, there is a considerable problem with universal access in similar conditions for other people in the same area. States should have the duty and the obligation to ensure Internet connectivity for all people. However, some speakers also pointed out that, in many cases, the same company owns similar applications, such as Facebook and WhatsApp. This concentration of market power of few companies can (1) compromise the information flow through the platforms, and (2) worsen situations of asymmetries among users and companies. Therefore, the main concern regarding this first topic was how for-profit corporations could dominate the flow of information and use data to micro-target their users. In this sense, and according to some of the speakers, regulators should face the lack of competition on this market as a threat to democracy.

On the second subject, the discussants stressed that, despite the common-sense first impressions about it, 5G is not drastically changing everything. It is not a revolution but an evolution of already existent infrastructures. There is a significant need for investments in the development of these infrastructures for implementing 5G. It would also imply that significant concerns about sustainability and universal connectivity that are being neglected by public opinion.

3. Policy Recommendations or Suggestions for the Way Forward

About Net Neutrality, participants pointed out that there is a necessity to reestablish it as a principle, to guarantee fairness in communication networks. There is an explicit choice made by regulators, in the countries that allow plans of zero-rating, that it is better to have a little bit of the Internet than not having it. However, this choice is problematic since it might express a miscalculation: with few Internet providers, it is easier to exercise power over the users. In this way, some of the speakers observed that companies are using zero-rating plans to extract useful information and personal data from those countries.

Concerning the implementation of 5G, participants highlighted that it demands enormous investments in fibre, in micro and small cells. The number of resources, such as, money, material and working force to implement these infrastructures is the reason why 5G so far exists only in China, South Korea – which are currently able to invest in this type of structures.

In this same sense, other participants pointed out that the current business model of telecommunications should change, since it’s no longer viable and requires a significant number of resources.

4. Other Initiatives Addressing the Session Issues

About Net Neutrality, some countries in Latin America established the principle in their legal framework. Other initiatives were mentioned, such as Free Basics 2.0.

ARCEP, the French regulator of telecoms, is responsible for both net neutrality and the spread of 5G.

5. Making Progress for Tackled Issues

An issue presented by some of the speakers was about if Net Neutrality regulations would provide any obstacle to 5G development. In Europe, at least, the legislation appears to be compatible with 5G, and then it's for the market to show what kind of services they will have on the 5G network in the future.


On the issues involving transparency and concentration of market with zero-rating plans, speakers suggested a perspective change on the debate about regulation. Lack of competition should be seen as a threat to democracy and mechanisms in order to dismantle sponsored apps concentration should be implemented. The discussion should continue in other IGF sessions. 

6. Estimated Participation


Onsite and online: 60 and 85

Women onsite: 30 

7. Reflection to Gender Issues


The session didn’t discuss gender issues, but gender should appear as an imbricated subject when we speak about the negative externalities that sponsored apps may trigger since the information flow can enhance inequalities in the access to information. 

8. Session Outputs