Luca Belli

Net Neutrality, Zero-rating and the Minitelisation of the Internet

The Internet is a general-purpose network grounded on openness, decentralisation and interoperability. Such features have allowed innovation to flourish, lowering barriers to communication, participationand cooperation, thus empowering endusers. ‘General purpose’ means that the purpose for which the Internet is used is not predefined by the operator but can be autonomously decided by the enduser. In this sense, the network neutrality (NN) principle mandates non-discriminatory treatment of Internet traffic to preserve theend-to-end environment which then fosters the general-purpose nature of the Internet, unleashing endusers’ creativity.

This paper starts by briefly exploring the NN debate, stressing that the rationale of NN is to preserve an open and decentralised Internet architecture, empowering end users and protecting their rights. Subsequently, I stress that the combination of reduced data caps and zero rating (ZR) schemes may create artificial scarcity and jeopardise the achievement of the NN rationale. I provide a taxonomy of ZR models and argue that several ZR practices might limit the Internet to a centralised configuration that characterises limited-generativity networks, such as the Minitel. The phenomenon that I define as ‘Minitelisation’ of the Internet consists of the shift from a user-centric, general-purpose network to one with a predefined purpose, thereby creating passive consumers of predetermined services, rather than active Internet users.

Leave a Comment