Net Neutrality: An Issue of Democracy

Net Neutrality: An Issue of Democracy

Valérie Schafer (National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), France), Francesca Musiani (Georgetown University, USA & MINES ParisTech, France) and Hervé Le Crosnier (University of Caen-Basse Normandie, France & National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), France)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6038-0.ch003
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Abstract

Beyond the likes of a purely technical issue, situated at the heart of the transport layer of the TCP/IP protocol, net neutrality takes the form of a complex political debate. This chapter's endeavour is to study the set of dimensions that make it possible for net neutrality to be read as a global political issue. The chapter follows the constantly evolving notion of net neutrality as it interrogates the Internet as a laboratory of governance, the actors and dynamics involved in the establishment of a “technical democracy” and the dialectic between the Internet's universal, egalitarian ideal and the techno-political measures shaping the “network of networks.”
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Background

In Protocol Politics, Laura DeNardis showed to what extent protocol adoption, particularly of IPv6, is the site where “markets meet protocols” (DeNardis, 2009, p. 227). She argues that changes in architecture imply changes in power arrangements; one could add that changing power arrangements repeatedly engender changes in architecture.

To analyze information and communication technologies and the so-called “new media,” particularly those that are based on the Internet, software studies, critical code studies and cyberinfrastructure studies have recently responded to the challenge of inter-disciplinarity (Fuller, 2008), drawing on past studies in the sociology of technology and science that have explored the social and political qualities of infrastructure (Star, 1999). Elsewhere, some authors operating at the crossroads of computer science, sociology, law, and Science and Technology Studies (STS), have shown that innovative methodological approaches and studies on network architectures, integrating the connection between these and networked practices, are possible (Agre, 2003; Braman, 2011; Elkin-Koren, 2006; Star & Bowker, 2002). Modifications in architecture have not only causes, but also consequences, that are economic, political and social, and it is the constant interaction between these issues that is put into question in any discussion of net neutrality. These considerations cannot be separated from those of the uses and practices taking place daily on the Web, and from the power relations at work in the Internet economy.

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