Are There Universal Standards for Network Neutrality?
49 Pages Posted: 2 Oct 2019
Date Written: Summer 2019
The regulation of the Internet in general, and network neutrality in particular, has become a priority for many governments around the globe. The United States is no exception. It enacted new rules protecting net neutrality in 2015 and then famously undid them in 2017. Other countries similarly struggle to regulate net neutrality effectively, including Brazil, India and those that comprise the European Union. Most national debates of net neutrality policy tend to be fractious affairs. There is deep disagreement surrounding the best way to approach the issue. In previous work, I have shown how the design and implementation of net neutrality norms by States can lead to more coherent, just, and sustainable policies when they are guided by universally-recognized human rights norms. This Article advances that thesis by identifying which human rights norms apply to net neutrality across the board and explaining how those norms fully address the most critical issues at the heart of net neutrality policy debates everywhere. These include: defining the content and scope of net neutrality; promoting Internet access to help close the digital divide; and regulating zero-rating, among others. To substantiate the novel claim that universal standards govern net neutrality, this Article engages in a comparative analysis of the major human rights legal frameworks erected by the United Nations, the Organization of American States (“OAS”), and Europe. It also surveys the practice of States that have adopted some form of net neutrality regulations to date. These comparative studies reveal a significant degree of normative convergence suggesting that standards have begun to crystallize, at least with respect to the basic definitional elements of net neutrality. The Article concludes by explaining why the existence of universal standards for net neutrality matters to and in the United States.
Keywords: Net neutrality, human rights law, Internet freedom, freedom of expression online, privacy rights online
JEL Classification: K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation