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10 myths about net neutrality

The debate concerning net neutrality is important for pushing the development of Internet policy in a direction that is of most benefit to society. A requirement for a meaningful discussion about net neutrality is that one has a good understanding of what net neutrality actually is. Unfortunately, there are sometimes various misunderstandings that can cloud the debate and result in incorrect conclusions. Below are some of the myths regarding net neutrality that may need clarification.

By Frode Sørensen, Senior Advisor at the Norwegian Post and Telecommunications Authority

Net neutrality and “the open Internet” are often viewed as synonyms. The objective of net neutrality is to contribute to preserving the Internet as a common communication network for world society. In Norway, the Norwegian Post and Telecommunications Authority has taken an active role in the development of guidelines for net neutrality1 in cooperation with the Internet service providers, content and application providers and consumer organisations.

Myth number 1. Net neutrality takes revenue away from the Internet service providers

 Net neutrality and the open Internet provide increased innovation of content and applications. Attractive content and applications give increased demand for high-speed Internet access, something that again constitutes a business opportunity for the Internet service providers.2 Net neutrality therefore provides opportunities for increased revenue for Internet service providers.

Myth number 2. Only the content providers benefit from net neutrality

 Some content and application providers have had major success with their businesses. Even though these success stories are interesting, not all content and application providers have been as successful.3 Just like Internet service providers, there are both successful and unsuccessful content providers.

Myth number 3. Net neutrality means that content providers do not contribute

The content providers pay considerable amounts for their own infrastructure and Internet access.4 The content providers enter into commercial agreements with the Internet service providers for access and the Internet service providers would not do this without they themselves seeing value in doing so, for example, access to attractive content for end users. No end users will pay for an Internet access without content.

Myth number 4. Net neutrality makes it more difficult to charge traffic volumes

Net neutrality suggests that all forms of traffic should be handled equally, for example, regardless of the application that generates the traffic. However, net neutrality says nothing about the Internet subscriptions having to have a “flat rate”. This form of charging Internet traffic is the method that the Internet service providers themselves have chosen to use, particularly on fixed networks. It is up to the Internet providers to balance their charging model.5

Myth number 5. Net neutrality causes uncontrolled traffic growth on the Internet

Internet service providers have many opportunities to manage traffic on the Internet access without breaching net neutrality. The Internet access can be differentiated in terms of access speed and traffic volume, the former being normal for fixed networks while the latter is more standard on mobile networks. As long as such limitations treat all forms of traffic equally, this will not breach net neutrality.6

Myth number 6. Net neutrality causes congestion in the networks

The management of congestion on the Internet has been under development for most of the lifetime of IP protocols. The principal mechanism that is used is congestion control which is carried out in the computers that are connected to the Internet, in order for these computers to not send more traffic into the network than the available capacity. It is also possible to use application-agnostic congestion management internally in the network to assist in regulating the traffic in a neutral manner.7 8

Myth number 7. Net neutrality prevents good quality of service

Until now the Internet has been largely based on the “best effort” paradigm. It is also important to emphasise that “best effort” is in no way the same as low performance and only means that performance cannot be guaranteed at all times. If one wanted to introduce different traffic classes with different levels of performance on the Internet, it is fully possible to do this in an application-agnostic and neutral manner.9 10

Myth number 8. Self-regulation can save net neutrality

When the Internet industry in some countries takes the initiative to introduce industry norms for transparency, these are relatively weak net neutrality initiatives because Internet access with various restrictions can seem to be the general norm. However, the co-regulatory approach that has been used in Norway has been characterised by Internet access without restrictions being the norm.11

Myth number 9. Net neutrality prevents continued development of the Internet

In many ways net neutrality can be viewed as a consequence of the end-to-end principle. Such design principles do not prevent the continued development of the specific technology. The Internet’s architecture has proven to be extremely adaptable throughout the years. A recent example is the extensive use of local caching of content (CDN - Content Delivery Network) that has contributed to a significant limitation of the traffic load and reduction in delays when downloading content.12

Myth number 10. Net neutrality is a passing fad

The myth that net neutrality is not sustainable can remind one of previous predictions that the Internet would never be a success. If we consider net neutrality’s objective of global openness and the democratic exchange of views, there is much to indicate that these are growing ideals in the world and we should therefore all work towards ensuring this.

1Guidelines for neutrality on the Internet, 2009, www.npt.no
2The open Internet – a platform for growth, Plum Consulting, 2011
3Are traffic charges needed to avert a coming capex catastrophe? Robert Kenny, 2011
4Network operators and content providers: Who bears the cost? WIK-Consult, 2011
5The future of mobile voice: scenarios for market evolution, Analysis Mason, 2011
6Guidelines for quality of service in the scope of net neutrality, BEREC, 2012
7RFC 6057 Comcast's Protocol-Agnostic Congestion Management System, IETF, 2010
8IETF Working Group Congestion Exposure (Conex), www.ietf.org
9What A Non-Discrimination Rule Should Look Like, Barbara van Schewick, 2010
10Guidelines for quality of service in the scope of net neutrality, BEREC, 2012
11See also The Norwegian model for net neutrality, www.npt.no
12Content Delivery Networks – regulatory assessments, www.npt.no