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Dynamic Coalition

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[Read more session reports and updates from the 14th Internet Governance Forum]

The Dynamic Coalition on Net neutrality focused on two net neutrality challenges: ones related to price discrimination and zero rating, and newly arising ones from 5G technology. It also addressed the issues related to the South Korean Net Neutrality Guidelines.

Mr Luca Belli (FGV Law School) explained that sponsored apps with zero-rating plans allow users to access the Internet on low cost or no cost basis, especially in developing countries. This comes with risks and challenges, such as access being the main channel for disinformation. Another issue is data collection, where the providers of sponsored apps - usually big tech companies - have access to user data, limiting competition on the apps market and making the users vulnerable.

Speaking of the importance of net neutrality as an Internet design principle, Mr Edison Lanza (Organization of American States Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression) noted that many countries have enacted it into law. Such is the case in Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay, and Ecuador. He then addressed the situation of net neutrality in the United States, pointing out that the FCC ban on net neutrality was currently upheld, but allowed individual states to implement it. He stressed the importance of regulations in California and New York enforcing principles of net neutrality. He then explained that free access to an application does not constitute free access to the Internet, and that the plans for mobile phone use in some countries have provisions excluding net neutrality principles.

Expanding on the issues of net neutrality and zero rating, Mr Thomas Lohninger (Chair, Net Neutrality Working Group) said that five of the top ten applications with zero-rating approach are from Facebook. A report by his company analysed demographic relationship between the ISPs and the headquarters of the provider of that application service. As Lohninger explained, that there is a strong tendency towards US-based applications profiting from zero-rating.

Mr KS Park (Korea University Law School) pointed out that many users use free access for banking or other confidential purposes, not knowing whether they are encrypted. Zero-rating is often seen from the perspective of the customer receiving something for free. However, as Park pointed out, if the customer receives a free app from a for-profit corporation, it is usually paid with personal data. Since personal data is the most strategic and valuable asset, is it wise to give open access to national strategic resources to dominant and usually foreign corporations?

Moving on to discussions on the net neutrality implications of 5G, Lohninger considered this to be an evolution that will not cause major changes. A technical aspect that requires some caution is network slicing. This means to slice up the network into low latency, high bandwidth, or low-energy consumption slices. He explained the benefits of 5G and the related slicing into low latency, as an examples cited the chemical industry in Germany receiving their own spectrum to build 5G network, allowing for greater confidentiality and security.

Park talked about the South Korean Net Neutrality Guideline. According to Park, it allows for the reasonable discrimination of data packets. As an example, he stated that whenever mobile VOIP packets are throttled or blocked by local telecommunications companies, affected users would have to argue against the telecom company protecting their revenue to invest in network building. Another effect of this guideline is allowing for more free network slicing. As long as a minimum level of quality of Internet access is protected, the telecommunication companies can use all surplus bandwidth as they like.

Park further explained that civil society lacks information on how free basics work. As there is no information regarding the quantity of free data users can use on a daily basis, the users have no way to check leftover data, traffic flow, and their usage.

By Mili Semlani