The Impact of Net Neutrality on Global Internet Freedom and Human Rights – A GW Law Conference

By TAP Staff Blogger

Posted on October 8, 2014


Last month, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) received 3.7 million responses to its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for new net neutrality rules. According to a recent FCC blog, “Many of these comments focused on potentially harmful effects of paid prioritization on innovation and free expression, among other values.”

The George Washington University Law School Global Internet Freedom and Human Rights Project is convening a conference that will examine these concerns. The Net Neutrality and Global Internet Freedom Conference will focus on the impact of net neutrality and net discrimination on global Internet freedom and human rights.

The first panel of the conference will explore net neutrality issues in the United States. The moderator is GW Law Professor Dawn Nunziato. Professor Nunziato is an internationally recognized expert in the area of free speech and the Internet. She anticipates that the panel will “focus primarily on the relationship between broadband providers, edge providers, and end users.” Additionally, Professor Nunziato said the panel will discuss “how the FCC's proposed rules may enable broadband providers to limit and distort the free flow of information and impair end users' freedom of expression and access to information.”

Professor Nunziato’s recent book, Virtual Freedom: Net Neutrality and Free Speech in the Internet Age (Stanford University Press), shows that while the Internet broadband providers, email providers, and search engines have the power to facilitate communication and expression, these Internet speech conduits are not currently regulated in a manner to protect an individual’s First Amendment right of freedom of expression or to ensure the public’s access to content that is free of discrimination.

From Chapter 7 of Virtual Freedom: Protecting Free Speech in the Internet Age:

The arguments for and against regulation of broadband providers are extensive, complex, and, in some cases, quite technical. Many such arguments – especially with respect to prioritization and traffic shaping – are framed predominantly in economic terms. Christopher Yoo, for example, one of the most prominent voices in the net neutrality debate, advances his arguments against regulation primarily in economic terms and explicitly forgoes “any discussion of non-economic issues, such as network neutrality’s implications for democratic deliberation or the First Amendment.” My emphasis and the thrust of my analysis are different: I focus on individuals’ free speech interests in communicating within this unprecedented public forum, free from censorship by broadband providers and other powerful gatekeepers of Internet content such as dominant search engines. I have argued that courts should consider broadband providers to be state actors chargeable with First Amendment obligations that prohibit them from discriminating on the basis of content, both in their function as email providers and in their function as gatekeepers regarding the content accessible by their subscribers. I contend further that if courts decline to conceptualize broadband providers as state actors, they should be regulated as common carriers that are at least subject to nondiscrimination requirements.

The second panel of the Net Neutrality and Global Internet Freedom Conference will focus on net neutrality issues around the world, and will be moderated by law professor Arturo Carrillo. Professor Carrillo is the Director of the International Human Rights Clinic at The George Washington University Law School. His expertise is in public international law, transitional justice, human rights and humanitarian law, and comparative clinical legal education. For this globally-focused panel, Professor Carrillo says, “the idea is to generate a comparative perspective on net neutrality policy using the European and Latin American experiences, both of which tend to be more protective of net neutrality, as well as from the experience of companies that operate in those regions.”

Columbia Law Professor Tim Wu is the event’s keynote speaker. Professor Wu coined the term “net neutrality” in his 2003 paper, “Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination.” His expertise is in the areas of the Internet, media & communications industries, and international trade. He is the author of The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires (2010), and co-author of Who Controls the Internet?: Illusions of a Borderless World (2006). In 2006, Professor Wu was recognized by Scientific American for his work on network neutrality theory.

Conference details:

The George Washington University Law School
Global Internet Freedom and Human Rights Project
The Net Neutrality and Global Internet Freedom Conference
Thursday October 23, 2014, 9:00 am to 1:30 pm