Device Neutrality - The Missing Link for Fair and Transparent Online Competition?

Device Neutrality CERRE

This issue paper explores some of the arguments on whether and to what extent an additional “device neutrality” regulation is warranted, above and beyond the existing regulations on net neutrality and on online intermediation services. The paper also points to some practical implementation issues.

“Neutrality regulation” originated in the context of net neutrality where the central policy concern was that Internet Access Service (IAS) providers are dominant Internet gatekeepers that could use their market power to distort competition between content and service providers (CSPs) on one side, and access to content and services by consumers on the other side, as well as to undermine human rights.

It has been argued that comparable gatekeepers also exist at different points along the Internet value chain. That is, the IAS providers are only one part of the total “Internet supply chain” that is involved when accessing content and services online. Hence, net neutrality regulation may not be sufficient to ensure non-discriminatory access to content and services. To this end, EU policymakers have subsequently turned their attention to online intermediation services, realising that “non-neutral” behaviour with respect to different CSPs may be exercised here as well.

The regulatory quest for a neutral Internet supply chain may not be over yet. In a recent series of reports, ARCEP, the French telecoms regulator, argues that devices through which services and content on the internet are accessed (e.g. smartphones, tablets, personal voice assistants) and their associated mobile operating systems are now the remaining “weak link” to ensure an “open Internet”.

Jan Krämer