Understanding the net neutrality debate: Listening to stakeholders
Alexander Ly, Bertrum H MacDonald, Sandra Toze First Monday, Volume 17, Number 5 - 7 May 2012
The Internet is increasingly seen as integral to economic progress and prosperity. Yet how the Internet will be managed as it grows and diversifies remains a hotly contested topic, as the debate on net neutrality demonstrates. Whether the Internet is neutral or not has serious implications for Internet service providers (ISPs), businesses operating online, governments, and civil society. With these stakeholders and varying interests at play, the debate about net neutrality is often characterized in terms of polar positions, and the discussion has seemed intransigent and ongoing with an uncertain end point. To increase understanding about the debate, this paper combines a review of the literature on net neutrality with evidence from interviews with four individuals, each representing the viewpoint of a major stakeholder group in Canada. Analysis of the similarities and differences among key stakeholder positions shows that in fact the positions are more complex and considerably more nuanced than typically depicted. By focussing on components of the issues, and staying away from the politics of contesting net neutrality, progress in the debate can be made. While this paper gives attention to the Canadian context in particular, the findings echo those of international organizations, and adds to the global conversation on the future of the Internet.