A Solution for a Real Problem: Challenges for Effective Network Neutrality in Latin America
2 Pages Posted: 2 Apr 2015
Date Written: March 31, 2015
The attack against the need of network neutrality regulation for lack of incentives to block or discriminate applications is not only theoretically weak but also disproved in practice by the behavior of Internet providers. Focusing on the experience in Latin American countries, this paper shows that there is a considerable amount of examples of blocking and discriminatory practices executed by Internet providers. In particular, a research of public databases like academic articles, press articles, regulatory agencies’ and courts’ archives, from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, reveal a set of examples of harmful practices that show that network neutrality regulation is a solution for a real problem.
Initially, these practices focused on blocking of Internet telephony services, a competitive threat to ordinary telephony, which had been a long-standing source of revenue for telecommunication companies. Timely responses by the Regulatory Agency in charge of the telecommunications sector (in the case of Brazil) or of the Antitrust Agency (whose decision was upheld by the Supreme Court in Chile) made the infrastructure providers step back and look for more subtle practices. Subsequently, it was possible to identify practices of traffic shaping, usually related to slower performance of peer-to-peer applications and streaming of video.
The Internet as a free space may be extremely valuable in Latin America. It has the potential to positively impact long-standing inequalities, reducing the gaps among different layers of the population. It may also strengthen democratic institutions and empower people that would not have voice in traditional media vehicles. This potential may never be turn into reality if network neutrality principles are not observed. Thus, the network neutrality debate is particularly relevant in Latin America and needs to be taken seriously by policymakers, academics and companies.
Brazil, Colombia, Chile and Peru have issued network neutrality regulations recently, but the level of public debate has been relatively limited. The scarce academic discussions, press coverage and debates preceding the enactment of network neutrality rules are a clear signal that network neutrality has not been the subject of robust and thorough debates in Latin America. An important consequence of the limited debate over appropriate regulation is the risk of incomplete regulation and ineffective enforcement. An analysis of the regulation issued in these countries reveal a lack of a clear ban on all types of prioritization, and the adoption of open concepts that might leave too much space for harmful practices and case-by-case interpretation, increasing the costs of regulation, uncertainty and the risks of innovation.
Against this background, current practices in such countries show that preferential treatments not based on “fast lanes” have become recurrent. In particular, strong players like Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp have frequently used zero-rating apps and application-specific pricing to consolidate their market positions. Moreover, network providers have favored applications they own offering special plans with unlimited bandwidth for such applications. This scenario seems to support the case for weak regulation and ineffective enforcement, demanding an in-depth debate about the established regulatory framework.
Keywords: Network neutrality; Internet; Innovation; Latin America
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation