The internet is a general-purpose network grounded on openness, decentralisation and interoperability. Such features have allowed innovation to flourish, lowering barriers to communication, participation and cooperation, thus empowering end-users. ‘General purpose’ means that the purpose for which the internet is used is not predefined by the operator but can be autonomously decided by the end-user. Accordingly, the network neutrality (NN) principle mandates non-discriminatory treatment of internet traffic to preserve the general-purpose nature of the internet, unleashing end-users’ creativity.
This paper starts by exploring the NN debate, stressing that the NN rationale is to preserve an open and decentralised internet architecture, empowering end-users and protecting their rights. Subsequently, it argues that the combination of reduced data caps and zero-rating (ZR) schemes may create artificial scarcity, raise the price of the open internet and jeopardise the achievement of the NN rationale. It provides a taxonomy of ZR models and emphasises that several ZR practices might impose on the internet a centralised configuration that characterises less innovative networks, such as the Minitel. The phenomenon that I define as ‘Minitelisation’ of the internet consists of the shift from a user-centric, general-purpose network to one with predefined purposes, thereby creating passive consumers of predetermined services, rather than active internet users.
Author: Luca Belli
From Journal of Cyber Policy, Volume 2 (2017).