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Network Neutrality and Quality of Service: What a Non-Discrimination Rule Should Look Like


Publication Date: 
June 11, 2012
Working Paper
Bibliography: Barbara van Schewick, Network Neutrality and Quality of Service: What a Non-Discrimination Rule Should Look Like, Stanford, Calif.: CIS, Center for Internet and Society, 2012.


Over the past ten years, the debate over "network neutrality" has remained one of the central debates in Internet policy. Governments all over the world, including the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, France and Germany, have been investigating whether legislative or regulatory action is needed to limit the ability of providers of Internet access services to interfere with the applications, content and services on their networks.

Beyond rules that forbid network providers from blocking applications, content and services, non-discrimination rules are a key component of any network neutrality regime. Nondiscrimination rules apply to any form of differential treatment that falls short of blocking. Policy makers who consider adopting network neutrality rules need to decide which, if any, forms of differential treatment should be banned. Network neutrality proponents generally agree that network neutrality rules should preserve the Internet’s ability to serve as an open, generalpurpose infrastructure that provides value to society over time in various economic and noneconomic ways. There is, however, a lot of uncertainty on how to get from a high-level commitment to network neutrality to a specific set of rules.

The decision for a non-discrimination rule has important implications: Non-discrimination rules affect how the core of the network can evolve, how network providers can manage their networks, and whether they can offer Quality of Service.1 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.

This paper proposes a framework that policy makers and others can use to choose among different options for network neutrality rules and uses this framework to evaluate existing proposals for non-discrimination rules and the non-discrimination rule adopted by the FCC in its Open Internet Order. In the process, it explains how the 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.