Network neutrality by policy design empowering the European cosumer

Increasing debates and controversies have emerged during the past years around the Network Neutrality issue and especially concerning the risks of possible abuses of the principle as affecting content and users in the Internet environment. A core symbol of network equity advocated by the fathers of the Internet, Net Neutrality is nowadays being challenged both technologically and from a regulatory point of view especially in the United States and the European Union. However, up to date, there is no concrete regulatory stance on how to tackle the issue, neither in the US, nor in the EU, where the debate emerged over half a decade later than in the US, in 2006. Today, the extent of the Network Neutrality relevance as subject for EU regulation is currently under debate at the level of the European Commission (EC). Coupled with several recent alarming cases of abuse on content and consumer access in the US and EU, the momentum is optimal as the EC is undergoing a process of reviewing its framework for Telecommunications services. The paper captures the opportunity and engages in assessing the state of the Net Neutrality debate in EU with attention to the various opinions and policy alternatives preferred by key European stakeholders such as NRAs, Internet Service Providers, content providers and last but not least, consumers. While presenting a general overview of these stakeholders’ interests and initiatives toward the issue, the paper will concentrate on a deeper theoretical and policy analysis of the consumer perspective, as an identified area where little direct regulatory support has been granted. Moreover, a policy mechanism of “consumer empowerment”, as a new policy paradigm, will be developed in direct connection with the issues of Net (non)Neutrality risks facing the European Internet user today. As end result, the study will introduce the scheme of a novel consumer empowerment policy framework, which beyond its EU applications, may be considered adequately ‘neutral’ so as to be implemented in other regions, especially US.