Interconnection, access and net neutrality: regulatory issues and aspects [update of 3 July]

Of Fulvio Ananasso

Over the years, the Internet has become a place of aggregation and exchange of contents of ever increasing commercial value, with significant economic interests and consumer profiling ("if a service is free, we are the product"). The continuous growth of internet traffic requires investments in new generation networks (NGN) and increasingly complex interconnection relationships (between the various autonomous networks that make up the internet) by telecommunications companies (Telcos), which collect less and less revenue from traditional services (voice, SMS, … ) and suffer from competition from content providers (CP) on IP platforms.

The IP network is in fact capable of making the transport of information, charged to the Telcos, and the content delivery by the CPs. That is, one has a decoupling between applications and infrastructures, which allows independent evolution of networks (from services) and convergence of services, contributing to the success of player Non-infrastructured CPs (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, etc.), also called OTT (over the top) given that they sell contents/services conveyed by Telco infrastructures, acting “on top of the networks.

Thanks to the "two-sided market" of the internet, OTT revenues come from both the "upstream market" (eg advertising) and from the “downstream market” — content and services (especially video, such as Netflix for TV series and movies in stream) offered to consumers, generally Telco customers as regards access to the network.

Telcos therefore complain of competition from OTTs, which use their infrastructures to sell contents and services, and often represent the weak link in the chain, imposing the search for solutions that also protect them, balancing the measures to protect users with those protection of economic operators in the sector. For example, in order to optimize the performance of the networks and limit the development costs of new infrastructures, the Telcos hope for the possibility of using traffic management on their networks, to be balanced however with the principle of "net neutrality", which excludes unjustified forms of traffic treatment.

On the other hand, citizenship rights on the Net – right to access, to literacy (digital and otherwise), to privacy, to oblivion, … – require that the internet cannot be assimilated to others average, and that the protection of individual rights must prevail over profits - beyond the (albeit legitimate) expectations business of the various stakeholders — Operators, OTT, …

USA, EU and individual countries including theItaly have adopted their own rules regarding the net neutrality. Fromsince the Net has no geographical borders, it would be desirable to converge on rules as common as possible, hopefully participatory and transparent processes for Internet governance and policies, in order to guarantee a free and open Internet.

Last but not least, the advent of 5G (2020-2022), with specialized and personalized services, both fixed and mobile, ultra-broadband and cybersecurity increasingly stringent, will probably require a complete review of the entire theme of "neutrality" (network, services, platforms, etc.) as hitherto declined.

The extreme relevance of the issues in question for the digital transformation and consequent socio-economic development of our country prompted our partner Fulvio Ananasso to plan a series of popular articles in the Corriere delle Comunicazioni relating to the technical and regulatory issues of the Internet. mentioned problems and aspects relating to NGN networks, traffic and interconnection of IP networks, network neutrality and traffic management, international regulations, Internet Bill of Rights and evolution towards 5G networks.

The outputs available so far concern:

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