IGF 2016 – Dynamic coalition on net neutrality

7 Dec 2016 10:00h - 11:30h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 11th Internet Governance Forum]

The Dynamic Coalition on Net Neutrality workshop provided an overview of the Coalitions 2016 report entitled The Evolution of The Net Neutrality Debate: Zero Rating, Specialized Services, Ad Blocking and Traffic Management. A copy of the report outline can be accessed here

Mr Guy Berger, Director of Freedom of Expression at UNESCO gave an overview of UNESCO which involves 195 member states and indicated that building consensus on any issue is difficult work. He also noted that UNESCO does not have a position on net neutrality and described Net Neutrality to an end, not an end. He further emphasized that violation of Net neutrality can have unintended circumstances. Berger described UNESCO’s concept of the internet using the acronym ROAM – Rights, Openness, Access and Multistakeholder. He said that a universal internet must be based on balancing these principles. The ongoing Net neutrality debate focusses on the relative importance of the rights based approach vs Openness or Access vs Opennes. The ROAM model allows us to discuss the relative tradeoffs while also considering public vs private interest. Berger indicated that UNESCO has these normative principles, however implementing these principles can be challenging. Indicators need to be developed that allow countries performance to be measured using these ROAM indicators. He said we need to determine how does Net Neutrality fit into this ROAM model of tradeoffs and what specific indicators can be used to assess countries performance.

Mr Ornulf Storm, Norwegian Communications Authority, spoke about the Norwegian experience in complying with EU Regulations. He indicated that the EU parliament passed regulations on November 25 2015 that regulates requirements for an open internet. This regulation states that guidelines should be developed by August 30 2016 and that these guidelines should lead to a consistent application of these regulations and address issues such as how to supervise and enforce regulations to safeguard an open internet. Storm indicated that there is a system of tools that are used for measuring broadband speeds. Surveys are conducted among stakeholders to produce a report for submission to the EU Commission. A National Net Neutrality Forum has been conducted annually since 2009. He also noted the guidelines allows for harmonisation amongst regulators in Europe and involves users in the monitoring of these regulations.

Ms Roslyn Layton, Aalborg University, focused on ad blocking and human rights. She noted that the issue is not one of economics but rather it is one of human rights. She described this as a failure to connect economics to human rights. She said how does one use limited resources to match an unlimted set of needs in a most ethical and equitable manner. Layton commented that the use of ad blocking does not mean that one is against advertising. Quite a number of users are fine with receiving specific brand messages.  The issue is the number and variety of ads that are received. Some users see upwards of 5000 ads per day.  She went on to state that Net Neutrality means that all data and all packets are treated the same. Layton also noted that from a survey conducted, 40% of users deployed ad management applications as a security measure. She also noted that it was market response more than regulation which forced advertisers to improve their advertising. The use of ad blockers prevented some sites from being shown which resulted in the advertisers changing their behaviours. A possible solution mentioned was to allow advertisers to pay for the cost of transmission for their ads. She also noted that ad blocking tools can be deployed at both the network or end user level.

Carlos Brito, Red en Defesa de los Derechos Digitales (R3D), provided an update on the Net Neutrality efforts in Mexico. He indicated that new legislation has been created which has resulted in the formation of two institutions to regulate competition and telecommunication. Although there has not been much public debate on net neutrality, there has been cases of blocking of services such as Skype. This was however quickly reversed as a result of consumer pressure rather than regulator intervention. He also mentioned that there were signs of throttling, however end users are unable to provide proof or evidence of this

Javier Pallero, Access Now, discussed the pros and cons of zero rating. He said that the internet is a rights based technology that promotes free speech and looked at two practices which he descried as

  1. the telco model, where the telephone company or ISP strikes a deal with partners to benefit their services
  2. the sub internet model/man in the middle model, where an entity operates as an intermediary internet model/man in the middle model (fadcebook, freebasics) – operates as an intermediary between the end user and the Interent. The intermediary determines what the user can access

In the telco model Pallero noted the usage of Quality of Service (QOS) technologies to identify and promote specific content . These technologies were initially designed to allow users to shape their experience at their device in their home.  He also described the Sub internet – model as controversial and that the use of an intermediary creates problems. It opens the user to privacy violations and allows for surveillance and monitoring of traffic and restricts users overall access to the Internet. This model was also described as being incompatible with encryption. He concluded by saying any solutions for enabling access or incentivising consumption of Internet resources must be compatible with basic human rights, right to privacy and free flow of information. Net Neutrality was described by one attendee as a good principle, however some questions were raised. Whose principles? What do we want to protect? How are we going to protect it? What can be put in place to suppress child pornography traffic if the regulations say that all data must be treated equally? Can medical resources be given higher priority? It was further noted that when we talk about rights, or opportunities, human rights is the word. However it is understood differently in different countries.

Luca Belli, Center for Technology and Society at FGV, concluded by noting that there is no silver bullet and it is necessary to have public debates on this issue. The purpose of the coalition’s report is to inform policy makers on how to make better decisions that are taken in the public interest.

by Trevor Phipps