Monday, 30 April 2007

Network neutrality takes off at TILEC

The network neutrality debate is regaining momentum in the US after the FCC has decided to investigate the development of broadband Internet (pdf).
Since a couple of years already, big names of the Telecom and Cyber legal world have been kept busy with the issue whether network operators should be allowed to discriminate, one way or another, among packets of data. An interesting example of the debate is the blog-style echange of opinions between a supporter and an opponent of net neutrality regulation. A group of heavyweight economists has also intervened, by signing a brief position paper opposing regulation on the matter.

Should intelligence (hence control) shift from the edges of the network to its core? Who should build the infrastructure for next-generation Internet? What will the Internet of the future look like: more as a global public network or as a bunch of privately-owned ones more or less interconnected with each other?

Leaving aside those fundamental questions for a moment, we might want to consider also a few more down to earth issues: how to make sure that market power over a bottleneck facility does not lead to abuses? How should regulators intervene (if at all) to make sure that innovation is not stifled? How to prevent that access to valuable content or applications gets blocked because of commercial (or other) reasons? Is it possible to offer prioritised services to real-time applications (online games) without making access to non-real-time ones a painful experience?

After the TILEC report (pdf) of last year on the economics of net neutrality, and after Milton Mueller's visit in February, a TILEC trio (Pierre Larouche, Ilse vd Haar and myself) is currently working on the possible European answer to some of the questions above: whether net neutrality is an actual issue to begin with, whether and in what the discussion differs from the American one, what tools already exist to help tackling the identified problems.

In a short while, we should be able to post our paper here and on SSRN.