Net Neutrality is Imperfect and Should Remain So!
Network neutrality is often mistakenly assimilated with the non-discrimination of Internet usage. Although this rough view is acceptable at first sight, as far as blocking of content or clearly anti-competitive discrimination are concerned, it becomes confusing at second sight, when the efficiency of traffic management, on the supply side, or the differentiation of consumers' requests, on the demand side, are considered. A neutrality principle ignoring traffic efficiency and demand differentiation through enforcing a strict homogeneity in the treatment of data packets on the network would prove inappropriate as it would downgrade the quality of service while not meeting consumers' needs.In order to clarify the on-going debates, an unambiguous and formal definition of the concept of neutrality is required. In this contribution, a tentative definition is proposed, based on the economic principle of efficiency. Perfect neutrality is first shown as being efficient, i.e. welfare maximizing, in an ideal context C*. Then, by definition, the efficient network design in some real context C distinct from C* is called “C-imperfect neutrality”. Depending on the specification of context C, neutrality may involve some form of efficient discrimination and becomes a flexible concept as it translates into different settings in various technological or political environments and as it may change overtime in a given environment.This approach of “the most efficient imperfection” provides an adequate framework to discuss the main net neutrality issues presently at stake in the North-American and European scenes. Among those, we shall emphasize traffic management, segmentation of demand, funding of the next generation access networks, interference of governmental policies with networks' operations, regulation of neutrality.
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