Analytical Paper Alina J. Johnson, MSI
I. The Key Issues of Net Neutrality
The Internet has spawned new and exciting debate over the public trustee model found within broadcast media
technologies as applied towards services offered in online environments. While the current cybersphere is largely
unregulated, there are both societal and governmental pressures for online organizations to adopt the public
trusteeship model and to offer an ever-increasing wide range of services for every consumer need. Net neutrality
can and has been defined a number of ways, but essentially refers to the ability to choose selectively among
content one desires in online environments. For the public, this means not only the ability, but the right to
selectively choose among alternative options. For online service providers, this can mean the ability to
distinguish among and offer both qualitative and quantitative content to the public, thus, the application of these
abilities have encouraged and inspired healthy debate as to the control of the Internet amidst lax legal, technical,
and policy regulations and/or guidelines.
In a networked world, network neutrality can be seen as a matter of choice, with content limitations imposed by
the online service providers to consumers, and very limited regulatory limitations given to the online service
providers. This unbalanced situation has produced a problem of incentives, as online service providers are
motivated to provide profit-seeking behaviors rather than that which open the market fully to the benefit of
consumers. In this way, the greater picture can be seen as an information asymmetry problem, with the online
service provider seen as the principal and the consumer in the role of the agent. The age old principal-agent
theory and solution set is one that transcends management science, and can be applied to this situation strictly for
the problems of extreme exploitation inherent on the side of the principal, the online service provider . Net
neutrality remains defined as the principal who must remain objectively and independently neutral with respect
to the manner and means of access and retrieval of Internet content by the consumer.
When one party holds an information advantage over another, there is potential for exploitation. For this reason,
the government has stepped in to mitigate the risk that the public will bear in industry situations known as the
natural monopoly. Auferheide tells us that “in both telecommunications and in mass media, the 1934
(Telecommunications) Act drew on the notion of natural monopoly”, one in which there are no competitors
which can duplicate the services offered by the initial player who has earned first mover advantage . On the
Internet, this scene plays out as many players congregate, debate, and coalesce as polarizing and conflicting
interests within the net neutrality issue. Indeed, in the not-so-distant past “dominant communications and media
corporations, especially the largest local phone companies, cable companies, and media conglomerates, spent the
early 1990s desperately struggling to increase their size and range and to reposition themselves as front-runners
in an era of convergence” . While a natural monopoly does not exist on the Internet currently, there are
certainly areas in which this example can be seen as harming the general public interests, especially in the areas
of online behavioral marketing, deep packet inspection, and network management.
One of the ideas behind network neutrality is that of freedom, that is, freedom of (content) choice and freedom
from (content) restrictions. Both online service providers and consumers would like the ability to dictate the
manner in which information shares and exchanges occur online, so it is up to the regulators to draft the law and
policies in such a manner that no one side unjustly benefits from an information advantage. In other words,
online service providers must not be given full monopolistic power to price gauge consumers, and consumers
must not unduly impacted. Online service providers must not be given the ability to selectively choose content,
nor should consumers be given more rights than the providers. The traffic on the Internet must remain content-
neutral with no one side given more power than the other.
III. Private and public interests arguments
The American Civil Liberties Union maintains that “without Net Neutrality, network providers are free to
discriminate” . They cite what they view as bad decisions by both the Federal Communications Commission
and the Supreme Court as eliminating basic non-discriminatory practices found within the Communications Act
(1934) and further erosion of competition in the marketplace towards an ever smaller and smaller numbers of
service providers. In July of this year, they implored the FCC to consider the unbalanced power between the
Analytical Paper Alina J. Johnson, MSI
gatekeepers (service providers) who can discriminate and target specific Internet traffic and speeds, with that of
the average consumer who is forced to select from a smaller pool of providers . In addition, they cite deep
packet inspection (DPI) as a privacy violation of Internet users because the service providers have the ability to
monitor and inhibit network traffic and information flows, yet another way of discriminating against otherwise
unfettered user activities . It has also been questioned that behavioral advertising follows this same extreme
by using content in attempts to tailor advertising. It is seen as an extreme because it is unregulated by the
industry and the government, and can be exploited in other unforeseen ways.
Network Neutrality as... The public (includes public Online Service Providers
online behavioral advertising allows unregulated and provide targeted services the
unwanted monitoring among a public wants
population of users who are
unaware of the dangers;
deep packet inspection unnecessarily and too broadly aid and assist law enforcement in
allows for snooping and the identification and locating of
monitoring of network traffic; violators, infringers, and
network management too much control over the provide load balancing and
information flows (content) network traffic management to
which should be unfettered make the online experience
access to information; better for the public
unregulated, and could become a
Figure 1: Pros and Cons of Network Neutrality
International organizations, trade and state industries, government entities, public interest groups, and online
service providers have each adopted similar policies with which to effectively handle the opposing demands.
While the ACLU looks at the matter as individual control versus corporate control, American Library
Association views it as online non-discrimination, and the National Academies of Science views it as spectrum
management and distribution rights. Similarly, the Federal Communications Commission sees it as behavioral
advertising, Electronic Frontier Foundation looks at data integrity, the government considers this issue and
debate a matter of economic policy affecting competition, commerce, and markets, and finally, service providers
see the issue as network (traffic) management, it is a highly complex issue that warrants careful study. On the
international front, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) also supports the ideals of net neutrality
in principle. The ITU supports a new telecommunications standard for home users which would include an
ability to protect network traffic from any outside interference, including that of the service provider . This
information is also posted on the CyberSecurity Gateway and a recommendation of the ITU . As the leading
United Nations agency for information communication technologies (ICTs), they are a powerful international
voice for policy matters, working with groups such as world standards organizations and academia to help it
achieve its goals. One of their stated goals is the “unfettered access” of content by users . It is a foundation
of Network Neutrality.
Service providers such as Google, AT&T, Comcast and Phorm have certainly joined the fray, weighing in on
their ability to provide high, quality services to its users. They seek to point out what they believe are the
benefits of behavioral advertising as net neutrality. The benefits, in their eyes, are an informative and useful set
of advertisements specific to the needs of individual users, as well as the provision and delivery of better, new
Analytical Paper Alina J. Johnson, MSI
services to consumers . Some marketers do believe that the benefits of behavioral advertising far outweigh
the perceived negative impact to consumers . However, contrastively, behavioral advertising via deep packet
inspection is seen as overly broad and highly invasive to consumer protection laws, including the First
In the United Kingdom, cable giant BT Broadband admitted to monitoring its user's online activities and habits
and selling the information to the company now known as Phorm . Earlier this year, Bell Canada, Canada's
largest communication company, admitted to network “throttling” in what they deem to be simple network
management practices . Without notification, they began reducing network speed of its wholesale
customers, and interfering with peer-to-peer (P2P) downloads. These examples demonstrate that the United
States is not alone in its observance of new, online predatory practices of online service providers. In addition,
the actions of the providers is seen by me as paternalistic, and overarching the very services they seek to provide.
A 2006 Princeton University report reminds us that “discrimination doesn’t have to operate by dropping packets.
It can also work by reordering packets” .
IV. Final Thoughts
The ability of an online service provider to monitor and indeed shape network traffic runs against net neutrality,
as it runs counter to the idea of open and free choice by consumers. Likewise, behavioral advertising
discriminates network traffic content in terms of content and thus, does not maintain neutrality in any sense of
the word. Deep packet inspection is seen as problematic largely because it runs in the background and is unseen
and unknown by the online user. These control practices utilizing technology available today are not evil in of
themselves, but instead, promote preferential treatment by largely nameless criteria, as each online service
reserves the right to change aspects “without notice” to the consumer. As a foundation to good and sound
information practices, we must begin with full transparency. Transparency is lost when the consumer does not
know what or when traffic is being targeted, and where the content (information) may be stored or otherwise
viewed by (unknown) others. In particular, should a breach occur there is nothing preventing a service provider
from hiding this fact to protect the reputation or profits from public knowledge and the subsequent negative
consequences. As such, in absence of internal self-regulation by the industry and external government
regulation, full transparency, oversight, privacy, accountability, and security should be requirements from any
entity seeking consensus for Network Neutrality. The dangers of network neutrality are broad-reaching and have
the potential to reach every aspect of our online lives. It is for this reason that a holistic policy approach be
adopted, and transparency is but the first of many aspects to be utilized. Both oversight and accountability are
key points to supplement decision-making, and should be incorporated into standard government policy
approaches affecting citizenry.
Analytical Paper Alina J. Johnson, MSI
 http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/garson/PA765/agent.htm Accessed 2 November 2008.
 Auferheide, P. (1999). Background, Communications policy in the public interest: the telecommunications
act of 1996. New York: Guildford Press, 14.
 Bagdikian et al as quoted in Auferheide, P. (1999). The shaping of the 1996 Act, Communications policy in
the public interest: the telecommunications act of 1996. New York: Guildford Press, 40.
 http://www.aclu.org/freespeech/internet/26829res20060922.html. Accessed 15 September 2008.
 http://www.aclu.org/images/asset_upload_file106_36056.pdf. Accessed 15 September 2008.
 Ibid, 14.
 http://www.itu.int/rec/T-REC-X/en. Accessed 15 September 2008.
 http://www.itu.int/cybersecurity/. Accessed 15 September 2008.
 http://www.itu.int/ITU-T/ngn/definition.html. Accessed 15 September 2008.
 http://www.lightreading.com/document.asp?doc_id=111404. Accessed 15 September 2008
Accessed 15 September 2008.
phorm-systems-in-2006 Accessed 15 September 2008.
throttling.html Accessed 15 September 2008
 Felton, E.W. (2006). Nuts and bolts of net neutrality. Princeton University Center for Information
Technology Policy, 16.