Connecting the Dots in Digital Politics

In the coming months, we can expect more curves, as we watch the lines connecting problems and solutions for net neutrality.
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'CONNECTing the dots' is the title of UNESCO's upcoming conference on digital politics (Paris, March 3-4 2015). What kind of lines can we expect to see, connecting the dots in digital politics? In computer engineering, dots are often connected using straight lines. Problems are identified and addressed in a straightforward, rational, and scientific way.

As this illustration implies, the further we move from science towards real life, the more the lines bend, a new curve is formed by each emotional requirement, and perceptions, divergent interests, institutional dynamics, and politics are just a few of the stimuli for detours.

Net neutrality is an example of a problem which cannot be linked to a solution with a straight line. The latest ruling (February 26, 2015) by the U.S. Federal Communication Commission (FCC), which endorsed net neutrality, triggered new controversies. While the FCC's ruling to treat all bits equally (the core principle of net neutrality) enjoys public support, the approach opens new problems for the telecom industry.

Should different types of traffic (e.g. e-mail and voice) be treated equally? While we do not notice small delays in our email traffic, any delay in voice traffic is easily perceived, as any of us using Skype, or other VoIP applications, have experienced. Doesn't this provide a good reason to prioritize voice traffic?

Most new net neutrality discussion will center on how to achieve a reasonable balance between treating all Internet traffic equally, and reasonably differentiating traffic to maintain efficient functionality of different types of services (e.g. giving priority to voice traffic). In the coming months, we can expect more curves, as we watch the lines connecting problems and solutions for net neutrality.

Most digital policy issues are similar to net neutrality. Typically, these issues involve complex interplays and delicate trade-offs which rarely result in straight lines between problems and solutions. We are observing with interest to see what will be the shape of the lines connecting the dots among the core themes to be addressed at the UNESCO conference: access, freedom of expression, privacy and ethics.

For background reading on Internet governance, consult An Introduction to Internet Governance. For events and resources on Internet Governance, consult the Geneva Internet Platform and DiploFoundation.

Follow Jovan Kurbalija on Twitter: @jovankurbalija

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