The concept of an “Open Internet” or “Net Neutrality” has been around for some time. Net Neutrality is a notion that embraces the Internet as a medium where all content and applications are available to all, with no blocking or preference of any product, website or owner.
In recent years we have seen the United States take arguably a regulatory lead on Net Neutrality as the Obama administration adopted rules that embrace the notion of Internet as an open and free communication channel despite interests among some large media and utility entities wishing to develop priority services for those who can and wish to pay for such elevated services. U.S. action has undoubtedly influenced the European Internet market, but the absence of a federalist model has led to slower agreement on an EU standards policy. Chile, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Hungary, Sweden and Brazil are countries that do enjoy their own versions of Net Neutrality policy and regulation.
This is again in flux with the new Washington administration. Prospects are in favor of a dual-lane or multiple-lane Internet system that stresses speed and access for those willing to pay more. Recent matters, particularly a court decision in the Netherlands, may very well mean continuing upheaval in Europe too. Whatever emerges in the U.S. and Europe is likely to serve as the preferred model for Internet structure and traffic throughout the world, both industrialized and developing regions and countries, from Asia, Latin America, Africa and elsewhere.
This paper will examine the history of Net Neutrality plus more recent policy moves both in the United States and Europe. We will also consider alternative policy scenarios. At stake is the tradition of the Internet “commons” where the Internet is seen as a shared resource meriting a climate of collective responsibility. Included in this review will be consideration of free market principles that many feel should guide an Internet that fosters full and meaningful democratic participation. We address additionally the notion of knowledge creation and sharing that argues for an Internet that encourages innovation and competition. Overall we offer a challenging and reflective review of the various threads of debate and speculation on where policy and regulatory moves may be headed.