Representatives from Google, Verizon, Cisco, AT&T, French Telecom , Norwegian Post and Telecommunications Authority, Telefónica S.A, the Technology Policy Institute, Georgetown University and ISOC (see the names and affiliations of those present on the IGF website) were markedly present on a panel entitled ‘Managing the Network’, which was organised by the DiploFoundation. Notably, Vinton Cerf, hailed as a founding father of the Internet and now Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist, Google was present in the session yielding some interesting reflections on the issue. Their presence indicated the seriousness with which this issue is being considered by an influential telecommunication industry and their desire to be influencial on the internet's governance in a multistakeholder forum. However, some of the discussions that followed voiced technical defences in favour of the waver of net neutrality principles to properly manage internet resources. Arguments in favour included the lack of internet bandwidth (in part due to video upload), insufficient capacity to service the millions of users still yet to come online particularly via wireless connections and mobile phones and the need for consumer choice on their wireless connection. It was argued that amendment of network neutrality principles should include payment based on wireless access.
A joint statement was issued by Verizon and Google on a possible
bilateral joint agreement, which was put before the US congress propelled the net neutrality issue into the spotlight once again last month. The statement declared “We both recognize that wireless broadband is different from the traditional wire-line world, in part because the mobile marketplace is more competitive and changing rapidly,” “In recognition of the still-nascent nature of the wireless-broadband marketplace, under this proposal we would not now apply most of the [Net Neutrality] wire-line principles to wireless, except for the transparency requirement.” One panellist argued ‘in a system where the price to use internet access is 0 you are sure that the demand will exceed the capacity’. It was postulated that increased online traffic and lack of bandwidth will cause disruption to the service, and that the need to fund related infrastructure, means that tiered payment for access is the way forward. This argument is one which needs to be thoroughly analysed. The fact that the internet is now essential to development globally also means that decisions made by US internet based companies, can and will transcends their shores.
As a result civil society, governments and other stakeholders, north and south of the border should be influential in such decisions.
The internet is constantly evolving due to the creativity, openness and inclusiveness principles upon which it was founded. If the net neutrality principle is revoked it may lead to further exclusion and marginalisation of developing countries that have yet to catch up with the developed world, and are now poised to do so with mobile phones, a primary path to connection. How will ecommerce and trade be affected? What about the use of the internet for marginalised people to voice their opinion and and protect valuable human rights? Would a platform like Ushahadi have developed if net neutrality did not exist? And should a natural disaster like the one which happened most recently in Haiti repeat itself, will victims once again be able to gain much needed critical and rapid response from the concerned public as has been the case before? Will the push for e-governance initiatives be affected? What type of services will be offered to those who can only afford the free internet and what information will they be fed? How will education be affected? Will user generated content and online content creation overall be affected? How does the role of the regulator fit and will net neutrality address the issue of expensive cables running through Europe to service countries in Africa? What are the alternatives? Some of these questions were raised at the workshop but we should also address the issue of privacy and security (a major theme at this year’s IGF) for will those who access free services be offered the same protection as those paying a premium?
There is a need for a new internet business model but such a model must be revolutionary for the very nature of the Internet means that it cannot be created only by business. Developing countries must take the network neutrality discussion with these and other stakeholders outside of the IGF so that next year's forum will include evidence of progress.
The full text of the book An Introduction to Internet Governance is available here. The translated versions in Serbian/BCS (4th ed.), as well as first editions in French, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, Chinese, and Portuguese are also available for download.