Myth #39: Net Neutrality is secured across the Internet.
Bernadette Califano, Mariano Zukerfeld
Myth: Net neutrality rules prohibit discriminatory practices on the Internet and thus ensure an equal treatment for all packages of information independent of user, content, platform, place or application. Promoting freedom of expression, competition and information exchange on the Internet, net neutrality laws prevent unfair treatment of Internet users.
Busted: Equal treatment of packages independent of user, content, platform etc. rarely exists in practice, even in countries where net neutrality laws are enforced, and particularly in countries located in the Global South. Five empirical situations demonstrate this statement: Traffic management measures carried out by ISPs imply the prioritization of certain data packages over others. The lack of transparency regarding these measures suggest that they are driven by economic aims as opposed to strict technical reasons.
Some powerful content or service providers use content distribution networks (CDNs) or subscribe peering agreements to improve the transit of their contents. Thus, actors who can pay for it, receive an extra boost that speed up the distribution of their contents vis a vis other –smaller – content and services providers.
Net neutrality as a principle applied to signal transport does not prevent discrimination that takes place on higher layers of the OSI model, for instance through search engines ranking. Consequently, some information packages – and users that send and might receive them – are deprioritized. Lack of transparency of algorithms and the absence of “search neutrality” conspire against fair treatment of all Internet users when it comes to content filtering and ranking on platforms.
Differences in terms of bandwidth between countries generate a discrimination against packages coming from peripheral nations. World average download speed was 45 Mbps in 2018. In Sweden it was 94 MBps, and in the United Sates 92 Mbps whereas in Latin America the average was 19 Mbps and in Africa 14 Mbps.
Differences between upload and download speeds involve traffic prioritization of some data packages over others. By large, in most of the world upload speed is much slower than download speed (45 and 22 Mbps respectively). This means that becoming a producer is harder than being a consumer almost everywhere. Certainly, this situation is worsened when the previous point is considered: packages from producers located in peripheral countries are discriminated although net neutrality rules are enforced.
There are thus obvious macro-economic reasons for users of lower purchasing power to be treated unfairly, even when network neutrality laws are in place. This is rarely addressed by proponents of the approach.
Truth: Net neutrality laws can indeed prevent transport-related discrimination, but this benefits large-scale providers of content and services rather than leveling the playing field for users and producers located in ‘peripheral’ countries, as their packages of information suffer from different forms of deprioritization on the Internet. Net neutrality approaches alone are therefore not enough to ensure equality of treatment for users and content from countries with lower levels of Internet access.
Source: Mariano Zukerfeld and Bernadette Califano, Discutiendo la neutralidad de la red. De los discursos dominantes a las prácticas en contextos periféricos, 8 Commons (2019) 1, 5-43; Martin Cave and Pietro Crocioni, Does Europe Need Network Neutrality Rules?, 1 International Journal of Communication (2007), 669–679.