The Citizens' Internet: The Many Threats to Neutrality

27 Pages Posted: 17 Apr 2015

Date Written: March 31, 2015


This reports aims to bridge the gap between media policy (diversity of opinion and content) and telecommunications policy (net neutrality). In doing so, the report points out the policy issues that require consideration in order to protect the well-functioning of the public sphere. These issues include net neutrality and communal broadband (to ensure universal access); data portability (to ensure that the fragmentation of services and applications does not diminish the function of the public sphere); the proper allocation and maybe re-allocation of funds which so far have been dedicated to public service; plus rule setting for content carriers and, finally, putting limits to the use of Big Data for the purpose of opinion-engineering (in order to control the power of opinion).

The report also offers criteria to assess the issues by, and is based on a model that describes the critical design dimensions that are relevant for the role of the public sphere. There is set parameters in each dimension that has an impact on how well the public sphere can perform. These run in tandem to the established values of Freedom of Expression, Public Participation, Liberalism, Privacy, and Public Rationality.

Beyond these parameters are further overarching issues requiring mention. Concerning regulation, the EU is the sole actor charged with imposing new rules for companies, invariably headquartered elsewhere, to operate along within EU borders. In cases where regulation proves to be the best option, the EU should strongly consider utilizing its power to introduce new international laws.

Market orthodoxy is another notable point. Mere competition, this report argues, is not sufficient to ensure that all services and contents which are of relevance for the maintenance of the public sphere will be made available via the market. Also, policies that aim at enabling the provision of the public sphere should not only focus on consumer protection and economic welfare, but also on the delivery of public and social goods.

Finally, institutionalized monitoring and coordination should be a topic of consideration. In practical terms policy issues related to the networked public sphere are highly interconnected, yet conversely disconnected in regard to legal and technological matters. Therefore, the coordination of efforts to secure the upkeep of the networked public sphere would be a worthwhile endeavor. This report suggests that the EU should strongly consider institutionalizing this coordination.

Keywords: media policy, democratic theory, net neutrality, network neutrality, device neutrality, service neutrality, common carrier, public service, public sphere

Suggested Citation

Groetker, Ralf, The Citizens' Internet: The Many Threats to Neutrality (March 31, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

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