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International Perspectives on Net Neutrality: A Policy Seminar

17 Mar 2010

In the mid-2000s, Net Neutrality moved from being a concept primarily used by computer scientists to being the subject of a pitched battle of words aimed at changing legislation. In the United States, a range of advocacy organizations created lobbying campaigns that staked out the perceived benefits and risks of Net Neutrality. Some claimed that it was essential to free speech, others that it was an unfair intervention in the market. The mass media covered these debates, which led to the development of regulatory recommendations and eventually to the development of legislation including the Internet Freedom Preservation Act.

The US experience suggested to observers worldwide that Net Neutrality might become a contentious issue for advocates, rule-makers and governments. Indeed, in the past five years lobbying, public consultations, rulemaking and legislation have shifted both the meanings and operationalization of Net Neutrality. Now governments and rule-makers are still trying to balance the public interest, consumer, and market concerns. In the United States the FCC is holding open Internet proceedings. In Canada the regulator has issued rules permitting bandwidth throttling, but only under certain conditions. In the EU, new telecommunications rules were published in late 2009 that give national regulators new powers and mandates new universal services provisions, which will affect how UK providers can manage traffic.

This policy seminar provides three complementary assessments of the relationships between advocacy, rulemaking, and legislation around Net Neutrality, based on data from Canada, the United States, and the UK.

Alison Powell, Alissa Cooper and Ian Brown of the OII present results from a content analysis of US advocacy, mass media, and rulemaking discourse that indicates how language about neutrality has moved between these constituencies since the beginning of the debate.

Leslie Shade, Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at Concordia University, reports on Net Neutrality policy developments in Canada. These include private members bills, support from opposition parties, and hearings of the regulator, the Canadian Radio Television Commission. She will discuss how mass media and social media are used for participation in the policy process.

Tom Kiedrowski, Principal in Ofcom’s Strategy Team, discusses Ofcom’s current position on Net Neutrality, what challenges are posed by the new powers given to national regulatory authorities under the revised EU Framework, the work that the ERG is beginning, and the debates and unknowns in the EU and US debates respectively.

Chris Marsden, senior lecturer at the University of Essex Law School, argues for a co-regulatory solution to net neutrality, considering ISPs’ roles in the round, including their legal liabilities for content filtering.