Research Handbooks in European Law series
Edited by Andrej Savin and Jan Trzaskowski
Chapter 2: Net neutrality law
Network neutrality is a growing policy controversy relating to traffic management techniques used by Internet Service Providers (ISPs), which affects all Internet content and user rights. To take an example, an access provider that also provides a bundled voice service to its subscribers may degrade the rival Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service of a provider that needs access to end-users. ISP blocking is widespread in controlling spam email, sexually graphic illegal images, copyrighted content and other content types. In the absence of regulatory oversight, ISPs could use Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) to block some content altogether, if they decide it is not to the benefit of ISPs, copyright holders, parents or the government. These types of degradation may form a breach of network neutrality. The term ‘ISP’ has different legal meaning in different contexts, though it is used much more often than more legally specific terms for access providers in both Europeand the United States. General liability limitations apply to all ISPs, though with some specific applications that only apply to access providers. The distinction is most important, as network neutrality relates to the manner in which access providers employ Quality of Service (QoS) across their networks, and how this in turn improves or degrades the end-user’s experience. The net neutrality law debate began in 1999 with scrutiny of mergers between US cable and telephony companies, and specifically the danger of foreclosure of Instant Messaging services.
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