12 Nov 2008

I own the pipes, you call the tune: The net neutrality debate and its (ir)relevance for Europe

Andrea Renda

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The debate of the so-called “net neutrality” has been under the spotlight in the US for many years, whereas many believed it would not become an issue in Europe. However, over the past few months the need to revise the current regulatory framework to encourage investment in all-IP networks has led to greater attention for net neutrality and its consequences for investment and competition. After the Commission adopted a “light-touch” approach to the issue at the end of 2007, the European Parliament has started to reconsider the issue, and it is reportedly considering a move towards more pro-neutrality rules. This paper summarises the main issues at hand in the net neutrality debate and the views expressed by advocates and opponents of the neutrality principle. The problem is described from a multi-sided market perspective, stressing the role of network operators as intermediaries in the “layered” architecture of all-IP networks. Finally, the paper discusses whether the European regulatory framework and its interaction with ex post competition policy are likely to solve many of the concerns of net neutrality advocates without any need for ad hoc regulation; and whether currently proposed solutions are likely to prove welfare-enhancing and conducive to a better regulatory environment for future e-communications.