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IGF 2014 – Guest star: Net Neutrality

We are just a few hours away from the opening of IGF 2014 at Turkey, as it seems the Istambul meeting will enter into more troubled waters than previous IGFs .

 

Taking good notice of the NETmundial Multistakeholder Statement recommendations, IGF’s MAG has picked one of the “points to be further discussed beyond NETmundial” identified at the Brazilian meeting. A controversial and hot topic nowadays: Net Neutrality.  And the topic has been promoted to have a starring role at Istambul.

 

Net Neutrality is going to be discussed for at least seven and a half hours, that is 450 minutes or 27,000 seconds, during IGF 2014. Surprisingly, other relevant topics such as freedom of speech, massive surveillance and privacy, that led to the celebration of the Netmundial meeting  and were so high in the agenda after Snowden’s revelations, have been almost forgotten and put aside, waiting for a better chance to be discussed about.

 

A total of 3 workshops, lasting 90 minutes each, and a main 3 hours session at the main meeting hall will deal with Net Neutrality.

 

  • The Dynamic Coalition on Network Neutrality will opens discussions on Tuesday by noon. The session will be introduced by a keynote delivered by Mr Vint Cerf, followed by an interactive debate, prompted by the interventions of the various authors of the 2014 Report of the DC NN who will analyze their findings and proposals.

 

Day Two of IGF will host all remaining sessions on Net Neutrality; if fact, greatest fans like me can devote the whole Wednesday to Net Neutrality. Two remaining workshops will take place before the Main Session, so that their findings can be fed into it.

 

  • Workshop 208 titled Net Neutrality, Zero-Rating & Development: What’s the Data? kicks off at 9.00 in room 5. Zero rating tariffs is a very hot topic nowadays, moreover after Chilean regulator prohibited them; on an opposite direction, Mexican government is supporting zero ratings to access e-government services. While supporters claim it helps bringing down costs of access in developing countries and thus fosters Internet take up, opponents consider them as an ISP tool to discriminate OTTs services by favoring their own or partners’ services. To my understanding, on top of fully agreeing zero rating tariffs do have a great value as a first and free approach to Internet in developing countries, it is just a common, quite old, and widely accepted commercial tool: no one complaint about the practice when telecoms were giving away mobile handsets for free when contracting traffic bundle, not even manufacturer X for manufacturer Y’s handset being given away instead of its.
  • Network Neutrality: a Roadmap for Infrastructure Enhancement, workshop 172, will follow at 11.00. The debate will certainly have two sided market models and the financing of access networks as the background of the discussion, and will try to figure out how to go ahead with network enhancement or deployment while upholding network neutrality principles. It seems the session is taken by granted that private investment in networks is somehow opposed to network neutrality. Should we consider innovation as universal right in the Internet, and thus to be allowed in all segments of the Internet value chain –including in access networks and ISPs–, network neutrality and network enhancement could marry and live happily ever after.
  • The description of the main session, named Network Neutrality, Towards a Common Understanding of a Complex Issue can be found at IGF 2014 website. The session will be divided into three segments with three discussion leaders for each segment, looking at technical, economic, end-user, social and human rights perspectives. Regulatory and development perspectives will be dealt with as cross-cutting issues. Having the technical segment first will help to frame issues, understanding how the Internet works and what approaches different ISPs are taking for traffic management and why, thus avoiding to get lost in vague "theological" discussions. The range of topics to be discussed along these three segments should be wide and include among others freedom of expression, ensuring consumer choice, unfettered access to the Internet and access to all legal content, network transparency, ensuring competition among OTTs and network management. The main session will last three hours, so despite the high number of discussion leaders and discussants, there should be enough space for participants, including remote participants.          

 

What I would expect of this main session on Net Neutrality is what its name suggests, a common understanding on it, so that we all have a clear, transparent and unbiased picture on how best achieving an Open Internet for the end benefit of users and society.

 

This expectation could as well be also extended to the whole IGF, a process to share knowledge, ideas and different point of views; a process where all stakeholders can participate and be heard. This is the best possible outcome for a sustainable and ever- lasting IGF.

 

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Chema Alonso

Chief Data Officer, Telefonica.