Network Neutrality

18 November 2009 - A Workshop on Sharm el Sheikh,Egypt



The Internet is a communication platform that allows end-users to access content and content providers to connect with customers. This platform is multi-sided, meaning that incentives to invest and innovate in one side affect the others. It is piggybacked by layers of local and regional (technical and organisational) substructures; the threats and pressures faced by such substructures could affect the neutrality of the network.

Different aspects make network neutrality highly complex and frequently debated issue. While net neutrality has no single definition, in most general terms, net neutrality questions the right of network operators to deliver certain data packets faster than others based on the type of application, source and nature of content, and other criteria.

Network neutrality proponents contend that it is crucial for maintaining content innovation and diversity. Opponents counter such rules are unnecessary, can reduce investment in broadband infrastructure, and paradoxically may even reduce the incentives to develop certain applications in the future. The key point is if any regulations dictating how networks operate are likely to have broad effects beyond those the rules are intended to address, affecting incentives to invest in infrastructure and content.

Network neutrality has been debated in the United States for several years and is emerging as a major issue in Europe. Recent efforts were made to articulate and agree on common Network Neutrality principles in Europe, Japan, the U.S. and developing countries. The importance of this issue for the developing world and its possible effect on digital divide is often neglected: the Internet and broadband in particular, are much less widespread in poorer countries than in richer ones.

Maintaining incentives to invest in local Internet infrastructure and content remain crucial in developing countries if the Internet is to fulfil its promise in promoting economic growth and freedom of expression. At the same time, would explicitly allowing packet prioritization and new pricing models convey additional market power to a small number of incumbent companies, further disadvantaging consumers in developing countries?

General understanding is that the Internet should be managed to address the needs of the end users, preserving its open and democratic nature. Internet's openness can be preserved and fostered by agreeing to some common workable principles. What are the basic principles that all the stakeholders involved might sustain?


[The proposal is a result of merging 4 initially proposed sessions on Network Neutrality into a single joint one]

At the IGF Hyderabad, the Net Neutrality Workshop gave an opportunity for different stakeholders to present their viewpoints on Network Neutrality and help mapping this emerging field. This year the debate should go further in mapping the field, exploring various aspects: engineering, economical, regulatory, socio-cultural and user perspective, and developmental aspects. 

The workshop will further discuss the economics and engineering aspects of networks and how network management regulation might affect those investments. It will also discuss the end-user perspective, need for transparency and a freedom of choice. As a cross-cutting issue, the implications to the digital divide and development will be examined. The workshop should reach out to the delegates and groups from developing world directly, for their inclusion in the discussion.

The workshop will include a variety of stakeholders presenting different perspectives to the audience and listening to their opinions. Further, various national approaches and case-studies worldwide will be analysed, seeking for a model that could be accepted widely.

Ultimately, the workshop will seek for a convergence towards certain basic principles related to Openness and Net Neutrality, as a value added to the IGF meeting and process. 


The workshop aims at further mapping the field and identifying a zone of a possible agreement of all the stakeholders related to basic Network Neutrality guiding principles and concerns.


Mapping the field: 
- engineering aspect
- economical aspect
- socio-cultural aspect and end-user perspective
- implications to a developing world

Interests and concerns of stakeholders: 
- identifying and understanding local or regional Internet substructures, threats and pressures faced
- listening to the interests and concerns of technical community, incumbents, Telcos and ISPs, service and content providers, users, regulators... 

Discussing the basic principles:
- discussing the existing practices and case-studies (Norway, Europe, US, ...) worldwide
- discussing the basic principles that all the stakeholders might sustain

The proposed workshop is a result of the agreement of the organisers of the 4 proposed sessions to work jointly on a single session on Network Neutrality (NN):
1) "Network Management-Examining the Issue and Implications for Development" by Technology Policy Institute
2) "Net Neutrality: A User Perspective" by DiploFoundation
3) "Network Neutrality - Exploring a global consensus on principles" by Internet Governance Caucus
4) "Effective Resiliency and Stability Through the Internet’s Substructure" by The Domain Name System Infrastructure Resilience (DIR) Task Force

The joint workshop will be organised by:
- DiploFoundation
- Internet Governance Caucus
- Technology Policy Institute
- The Domain Name System Infrastructure Resilience (DIR) Task Force