neutrality: obstacle or enabler of innovation on the Internet? Please identify
and critically discuss the different elements that characterise the network
neutrality debate in light of the sources analysed during the course”
The internet has evolved in ways
which humans could not foresee 60 years ago. Originally known as ARPANET funded
by the US Defence Department, the objective behind the development of the
internet was for the US government to be able to communicate in the event of an
Yet, the internet quickly grew to a more commercial usage, forming todays
internet with its immense capabilities. The internet is an informative
mechanism, a communication platform, a space for innovation and creativity.
There are endless possibilities with the internet and it is a stable reliant in
3.2 billion people’s lives around the world2.
Some may say that humans are almost too reliant on connecting to a network, but
by no means without blame considering what the internet has to offer. Now-a-days,
users have high expectations from the internet. There is an expectation to
connect to any website without a second of delay, there is an expectation that
internet service providers (ISPs) will not interfere with the data being
attained and there is also an expectation that users are in control of their
internet experience. All these expectations derive from network neutrality. Network
neutrality is the principle by which ISPs and governments must treat all
traffic on the web equally3.
Essentially, this means no one owns the internet and no one can regulate it.
With network neutrality, ISPs cannot throttle, block or favour websites4.
Further, they cannot charge extra costs for specific websites and online
content5. It can be acknowledged that network neutrality is a
fundamental principle that allows online companies,
big and small, to be treated the same, yet compete in an online world where
users have a plethora of websites to access without any restrictions. In order
to establish whether or not network neutrality is an obstacle or an enabler for
innovation, it is important to analyse the leading arguments for and against
network neutrality while referencing examples from both the USA and Europe. This
analysis will facilitate the reader in better understanding the effects that network
neutrality may or may not have on innovation.
Arguably, one of the most
important rights that network neutrality preserves is the right to free speech.
From blogs, to Facebook posts, to articles, any individual can freely create
and publish content online. Individuals are not restricted on what they can
upload online and the audience is not restricted as to what they can access.
This is possible because of network neutrality. Recently, in the USA, network
neutrality has been under attack by the Chairman of the Federal Communications
Commission (FCC), Ajit Pai who strongly supports the repeal of Title II of the
Communications Act 1937 which preserves network neutrality rules in the USA6.
Title II ensures that traffic on the internet is treated equally and without it
ISPs are free to block, limit or favour online traffic. The internet for the
USA will not be the same, and peoples’ freedom of speech on a digital level
will be disregarded. The repeal overturns the Open Internet Order which was
passed during the Obama Administration7.
It seems to be the case that the USA is taking steps backwards compared to
Europe which passed Regulation (EU) 2015/2120 in order to ‘create individual and enforceable rights for end-users to access and
distribute internet and services of their choice.8’
Without network neutrality, governments and ISPs will be able to censor,
block or limit access to websites they do not approve of, especially websites
that contain critical political news, such as WikiLeaks9.
The internet has become every online user’s public square and newspaper10.
People have become very reliant on commercial internet platforms in order to keep
up to date with social affairs as well as participate in conversations and
movements around the world. The internet has given everyone an online voice and
most importantly it has played a vital role in political expression and
Online social platforms have allowed for movements such as ‘Black Lives Matter’,
which raises the issue of social inequality and ‘Time’s Up’, which raises
awareness of sexual assault, harassment and inequality in the workplace to
project all around the world. The internet allows people to actively
participate in these movements, conversations and online political assemblies
regardless of their location. Therefore, without network neutrality users of
the internet will be deprived the right to freely express themselves and
participate in what they believe is right.
Furthermore, network neutrality
allows for the stable control of data12.
In order to connect to the internet, an ISP such as BT, Virgin or TalkTalk is
As explained above, ISPs cannot block content, favour websites over others or
slow down internet traffic14.
Therefore, once a user is connected to the internet through an ISP, there is an
expectation that the user will be able to access all websites freely. Without
network neutrality, traffic over the internet will not be treated equally,
allowing for ISPs to prioritise websites and services over others and charge
users more to access specific services15.
Large ISP companies however, have continuously violated the principle of network
neutrality. In 2005, Comcast, USA’s largest ISP, was found to be discriminating
network neutrality by protocol16.
This meant that Comcast was secretly blocking peer-to-peer technologies by
slowing down file-sharing applications through services such as BitTorrent
without disclosing this to their customers17.
In 2014, peering discrimination was found to have occurred when Netflix paid Comcast
to improve connection to the Comcast network18.
Additionally, it should be noted that a report published in 2012 by the Body of
European Regulators for Electronic Communications found that one in five users
in Europe were being affected by violations of network neutrality19.
Violations of network neutrality are, prima facie, ongoing issues, with currently
the biggest violation being the FCC’s Republican majority to destroy all network
neutrality protection in the USA. Without the protection over the internet, two
lanes of traffic will be created; slow moving traffic for small companies, and
fast-moving traffic for large companies that have the resources to speed up
their connectivity. ISPs can essentially pick and choose which websites they
will grant faster access to depending on the amount of money paid by the bigger
online companies to gain better service delivery20.
In turn, ISPs will be able to control the data that users can access by
obliging them to pay different prices depending on the schemes available.
Network neutrality prevents ISPs from doing so, however, Portugal has found a
loophole whereby it charges different price schemes depending on what the user
users the most, whether it is messaging, social media, video or music for
This type of behaviour undermines network neutrality as well as harming
competition as users will prefer to buy a bundle where Netflix is included, for
example, instead of buying another separate bundle to access Hulu22.
This leads onto the next topic of discussion which is the effects that network
neutrality has on competition.
By allowing all website traffic
to be treated equally, smaller companies and start up companies can compete
with the larger more established companies, making the internet an equal level
playing field for all23.
This allows for innovation and for the ability for smaller companies to
Taking Facebook as an example, during the time of its development, Myspace was
the dominant leader for online social networking25.
Without network neutrality, ISPs at the time could have favoured Myspace which
would have had the resources to gain better service delivery and completely
block Facebook from their service. Facebook became the dominant leader because
of network neutrality which allowed Facebook to innovate freely in an online
world without being blocked. It is important to maintain equality and fairness online,
however, fortunately or unfortunately competition is inevitable. In order to
maintain fair competition, network neutrality gives smaller companies the opportunity
to grow. Innovation will expand the market for competitors which in turn will
allow for better products and better services to be provided. Network
neutrality, thus, plays a big role in keeping competition fair and allowing
small companies to expand and even surpass their big rivals26.
Innovation and creativity online
is made easier with the end-to-end principle and it is therefore vital to
mention its importance in maintaining a free online world. The end-to-end
principle is a network design method that moves functionality away from the
core edges27. The
end users are responsible for sending the communication. The end-to-end
principle allows for information to be sent fasters and keeps the content
communicated private. However, the most important function of the end-to-end
principle is that it allows for innovation28.
The users can create websites and platforms and this innovation and creativity
comes from the edges i.e. from the end users. The principle of network
neutrality means that no one owns the network and no one can exercise control
over the internet. Thus, all internet users can create anything they desire so
therefore, without network neutrality, users would not be able to create freely.
Everything found on the internet is built upon the creation, innovation and
ingenuity of others and if people were denied the ability to create online, the
internet would become a virtual world controlled and led by monopolies.
On the other side of the
argument, those who oppose network neutrality are mainly ISPs, broadband and
telecommunication companies and generally those in the field of technology29.
Opponent to network neutrality argue that regulations over the internet has
meant that there has been a reduction in investment30.
Prioritizing bandwidth is essential for future innovation on the internet31.
Thus, if companies that are willing to pay in order to have their data transferred
at a faster speed than other online traffic, it will act as an incentive for
ISPs to invest in broadband networks32,
suggesting that network neutrality is indeed an obstacle for innovation. Again,
this is a current issue in the USA with large ISP companies like AT&T and
Verizon urging for rules that preserve network neutrality to be revoked.
Repealing such rules will lead to billions in additional broadband investment33.
There have been accusations that online companies such as Google and Skype, are
‘freeloading’ as they are using the network for free despite the fact that ISP
developers would have spent a significant amount of capital to build their
One can acknowledge that ISPs are companies, like any other out there. All
companies have one mutual objective and that is to make a profit. By not being
able to charge more due to network neutrality rules, ISPs would not receive a
return on continued network investment36.
This does make sense as, aside from the monthly network package that users pay
to the ISPs, if online companies were to also pay ISPs the profits made would
be invested in developing more advanced and innovative fibre-optic internet
connections. This would ultimately mean faster internet connection for users. However,
it should be noted that, proponents of network neutrality have been quick to
point out that ISPs have managed to invest in telecommunication infrastructure
despite their remarks of not being able to do so due to internet neutrality37.
Additionally, it is argued that relaxed
network neutrality rules will increase competition. FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai,
stated that, ‘Under my proposal, the
federal government will stop micromanaging the internet. Instead, the FCC would
simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their
practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and
entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information
they need to innovate.38’
In essence, what Pai was trying to achieve is very similar to what Portugal is
Having the option of charging customers for separate network access packages
means that smaller ISP companies have a chance to enter the market and compete with
bigger rivals. These smaller companies will be able to make a breakthrough with
their lower priced packages. This will force other companies to compete, prices
will fall, quality will rise and ultimately customers will be the ones who will
benefit from this40.
It is argued that regulation deters from competition and does not give smaller
companies the opportunity to be innovative. Therefore, network neutrality rules
should be softened in that respect.
Furthermore, another reason for
opposing to network neutrality could simply be because it is an unnecessary
regulation and was developed as a solution for a non-existent problem41.
There has been no epidemic or outrage of ISPs blocking content and slowing down
Network neutrality merely forces ISPs to treat all traffic the same, however,
legislation does not actually prevent ISPs from charging different rates. This is
in itself specified in Title II whereby section b states that ‘…different charges may be made for the
different classes of communication’43.
This is something that advocates for network neutrality have claimed will
become a reality once the FCC repeals it, however this is not the case44.
Before network neutrality became of existence in law, ISPs did not tend to
charge consumers for individual packages so they have no reason to start
charging more without network neutrality rules. Proponents of network
neutrality also claim that without it ISPs will be able to censor and block
content online. However, major defenders of network neutrality, Google and
Twitter, have been accused of blocking content such as Russian state-sponsored
and right-wing users46.
These major companies are therefore denying users the right to freedom of
expressions which is highly conflicting considering proponents of network
neutrality believe that an attack on network neutrality is an attack on free
It should also be mentioned that network neutrality does nothing to protect
online privacy as governments and intelligence agencies can easily monitor
This can be done without difficulty through deep packet inspections whereby the
inspector has full knowledge of the user’s content49.
It is important to recognise
that both sides of the argument make viable points. On one side, proponent for
network neutrality advocate for freedom of speech, free access and a chance for
all online content producers and companies to compete fairly, which in turn
allows for innovation. The opposing side argues that network neutrality
prevents investment of ISP infrastructure, deters competition between ISPs
while also asserting that network neutrality has had no effect at all. Having
looked at both sides of the arguments, the reader can acknowledge that it is
hard to find reasoning for network neutrality bearing an obstacle for
innovation. The internet offers immense possibilities to all its users and
online companies and network neutrality preserve the right to all to use the
internet freely. However, it is hard to ignore the opposition’s argument that
network neutrality is not necessary because there is some truth in that. The
last argument of this essay gives some proof that even without network
neutrality every user would still be able to access the internet freely and
produce and upload content and be innovative. Nevertheless, the internet’s
internal architecture enables everyone to be innovative without needing
and any violation of the right to use the internet freely would be damaging,
especially if there is no protection to rely on. Thus, the principle of network
neutrality works as a protective umbrella against infringement of the principle
to enable users to produce content, compete with rivals and innovate without
the fear of being denied the free use of the internet.
Articles, books and legislation
Mohammed, Verizon Executive Calls for End
to Google’s ‘Free Lunch’, Washington Post, February 2006
Act 1938, Title II
Convention on Human Rights
Trade Commission, FTC to Host Workshop on
Broadband Connectivity Competition Policy, December 2006
Jonathan D. Internet Law, 2007
Mark A. Lemley, Lawrence Lessig, The End-to-End: Preserving the Architecture
of the Internet in the Broadband Era.
28 The End-to-End: Preserving the Architecture of the
Internet in the Broadband Era, Mark A. Lemley, Lawrence Lessig, page 7
31 Hart, Jonathan
D. Internet Law, 2007
32 Federal Trade Commission,
FTC to Host Workshop on Broadband Connectivity
Competition Policy, December 200
34 https://calpirgedfund.org/sites/pirg/files/reports/CALPIRG_Network%20Neutrality%20Briefing%20Paper_0.pdf page 3
Executive Calls for End to Google’s ‘Free Lunch’, Arshad Mohammed, Washington
Post, February 7, 2006