Stanford scholar provides roadmap for enforcing net neutrality

New white paper by net neutrality scholar discusses the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet rules and the relationship between network neutrality and Quality of Service

Barbara van Schewick, faculty director of the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School and a professor of law and electrical engineering at Stanford University, today published a white paper titled Network Neutrality and Quality of Service: What a Non-Discrimination Rule Should Look Like.

Currently, the relationship between network neutrality and Quality of Service is uncertain and contentious. Often, it is not immediately apparent how a specific non-discrimination rule affects network providers’ ability to offer Quality of Service. At the same time, it is unclear which forms of Quality of Service, if any, a network neutrality regime should allow. The paper explains how eight different non-discrimination rules affect network providers’ ability to offer Quality of Service and which forms of Quality of Service, if any, a non-discrimination rule should allow.

The paper:

* Provides the first detailed analysis of the FCC’s non-discrimination rule and of its implications for network providers’ ability to manage their networks and offer Quality of Service;

* Offers the first in-depth analysis of the relationship between network neutrality and Quality of Service; and

* Proposes a non-discrimination rule that policy makers should adopt around the world – a rule that the FCC adopted at least in part.

The paper is particularly timely. This month, the FCC announced the members of its Open Internet Advisory Committee, and, whether the FCC wins or loses the legal appeal of the Open Internet order, the question of which, if any, network-discriminations require legal action will remain relevant for years to come in the U.S. In addition, across the Atlantic, the group of European Regulators for Electronic Communication Networks and Services (BEREC) started a consultation in June focused on various aspects of the relationship between network neutrality and Quality of Service – the very topics rigorously addressed in this White Paper.

Barbara van Schewick says: “Many network neutrality proponents were disappointed by the FCC’s Open Internet rules. While they are not perfect, they provide the FCC with a powerful set of tools to protect users and innovators against discrimination by providers of Internet service. In addition, the FCC can rely on the network neutrality conditions governing the C-Block of the 700 MHz Band, purchased by Verizon Wireless, and those in the Comcast-NBC merger agreement – if the FCC were interested in using these tools.”

“The network neutrality debate is often framed as a debate for or against Quality of Service. The reality is much more nuanced. Many network neutrality proposals allow some, but not all forms of Quality of Service. Many forms of Quality of Service allow Internet service providers to distort competition among applications and interfere with user choice. These forms of Quality of Service should be banned. However, some forms of user-controlled Quality of Service do not similarly threaten application innovation, competition or user choice. They provide the social benefits of different types of service without the social costs. These forms of Quality of Service are the ones a network neutrality regime should allow. Thus, it is possible to protect users and innovators while allowing the network to evolve. Regulators can have their cake and eat it, too.”

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