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An Introduction to Net Neutrality

At a glance, a topic like net neutrality seems to be of little interest to early career researchers (ECR), but it is quite the contrary. Privacy and data protection have far-reaching consequences on how ECRs personal data are used or accessed, by whom, and for what purpose. Unauthorized access of data can result in identity theft, misuse, sale, and even wrongful distribution of data. Privacy rights may also stand to be breached when it comes to lawful interception of data. This leaves the academia and research community to formulate policy that caters to the interception requirements as well as protects citizen privacy and data.

The term Net Neutrality was coined by Professor Tim Wu in 2002, according to whom:

Network neutrality is best defined as a network design principle. The idea is that a maximally useful public information network aspires to treat all content, sites and platforms equally. This allows the network to carry every form of information and support every kind of application.

This means that all information on the internet would be treated neutrally without the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) or Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) prioritizing any traffic over others or discriminating between traffic generated from different sources.

The opposite of this would imply that due to prioritization of some network traffic over others, corporates would get priority over the traffic generated and consumed by the public and one would have to pay more to be able to assign a higher priority to the traffic generated by them or pay more to consume information which is assigned higher priority by the ISPs.

There is, however, an interesting matter to be considered with respect to net neutrality and data packets. Since data packets are of different types, based on different purposes it is imperative that some form of network traffic management tools will be required to be used for purposes like securing networks, providing quality of service, and even for legal compliance.

Across the globe, some of the issues related to net neutrality, that have been discussed by different governmental and technical bodies include:

  • Specifications of end users’ rights with regard to an open internet.
  • Processing of personal data due to traffic management.
  • Reporting obligations of ISPs and TSPs.
  • Definition and specification of legal content, application, or service on the Internet, or any kind of legal Internet activity or use.
  • Rights of citizens in terms of Right to Privacy and Data Protection.
  • Effect of net neutrality on user choice, innovation, and free speech.
  • Regulations and rules to handle net neutrality disputes to be generic or vary on a case-to-case basis.

Various studies on the use of illegal content over the Internet can be helpful guides for ECR Community to understand or even formulate technological solutions towards handling such issues. Already artificial intelligence (AI) based solutions are being suggested for web content filtering.

Net neutrality as a relatively new topic can be taken up by ECR Community for research in the direction of policy-related issues mostly pertaining to net neutrality, data protection, and citizen privacy law. Technical research can be possible in the realm of how net neutrality can be adapted so as not to hinder innovation that is accompanying 5G technology and how technology can be used to filter out legal and lawful content and activity from unlawful or illegal ones.

In the recent and coming days net neutrality continues to be an important topic and a potential research area for ECR community in that, it links security and privacy research to contemporary internet working issues. It is through such research that policy makers and organizations which formulate standards are enabled to serve better.

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay under Pixabay License (CC0).


Amalia, A., Gunawan, D., & Lydia, M. S. (2019, April). The Identification of Negative Content in Websites by Using Machine Learning Approaches. In 2019 5th International Conference on Computing Engineering and Design (ICCED) (pp. 1-6). IEEE.

Commission of the European Communities. (1996). Illegal and harmful content on the Internet. Brussels.

Congressional Research Service. (2021).  “The Federal Net Neutrality Debate: Access to Broadband Networks

Department of Telecommunications Government of India. (2015). “Net Neutrality Committee Report”.

Kantola, R. (2019). Net Neutrality Under EU Law–a Hindrance to 5G Success.

Radia, R., & Melugin, J. (2017). A Net Neutrality Primer.

UNODC. (2012). The use of the Internet for terrorist purposes. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Vienna.

van Schewick, B. (2015). Analysis of proposed network neutrality rules. Stanford Center for Internet and Society.

Wu, T. (2002). A proposal for Network Neutrality. June, available: http://www. ti.

About the Author
  • Sanghamitra De

    Sanghamitra De is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at St. Thomas’ College of Engineering & Technology, Kolkata. She did her B.Tech from West Bengal University of Technology in 2006, M.Tech from Jadavpur University in 2011 and is currently pursuing PhD from Indian Institute of Engineering Science and Technology (IIEST). After a brief stint at Tata Elxsi Ltd., she joined the research team at Center for Distributed Computing at Jadavpur University in 2008. Her research interests lie in the area of Network Security, Graph Theory and Information Security Management.

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