The Internet has become the backbone of modern life, sometimes nicknamed “digital society,” where activities (including banking, commerce, accounting, social interactions, advertising, referencing, and entertainment) are conducted over the Internet using an Internet browser and content is displayed using Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) pages. Various content providers compete with each other for users, and the Internet uses a device connected to an information and communications technology (ICT) network to reach them. This process is helped by ICT service providers, content delivery networks (CDNs), Internet service providers (ISPs), transit networks and devices, administration/regulatory setups, and others. Various professional and government bodies have tried to enforce standards and rules to ensure the neutrality of support services.
The book covers the current scenario, requirements, techniques in use, and possible mathematical models and regulations required and in use. The authors include the reference notes to encourage healthy debate. The book has ten chapters and lists 184 references. It should interest general and/or academic readers interested in Internet neutrality. The book is largely easy to read.
The opening chapter provides general notes on Internet history and the current scenario. Serious discussion starts with chapter 2’s definitions of Internet-related terms as given by various agencies. It highlights the difficulties faced in such attempts. Chapter 3 discusses the “pros and cons” of neutrality. It explores various arguments in the debate on net neutrality. Chapter 4, “Mathematical Analysis,” gives some rudimentary techniques and benefits a mathematical model can offer. It shows how a mathematical model could bring out hidden factors and results that could be counterintuitive. Chapter 5, “Non-Neutrality Pushed by Content Providers,” attempts to highlight how slack management and the commercial interests of ISPs/content providers can block attempts to enforce neutrality.
“More General View of Neutrality” (chapter 6) covers the various roles of actors and interactions, and presents a rudimentary mathematical model. Chapter 7, “Search Neutrality,” discusses the role of search engines. It shows how bias in search attempts compromises neutrality. Chapter 8, “Algorithmic Transparency,” defines the attributes of an algorithm that make it transparent: awareness (to build among all stakeholders), defining the roles of actors, (limited) asymmetry, accountability and responsibility, loyalty (to all users), and nondiscrimination, fairness, intelligibility, explainability, traceability, auditability, proof and certification, performance, and ethics. Such algorithms are required to ensure truthfulness to users, stop anti-competitive behavior, enable vertical integration, prevent abuse of a dominant position, collision/cartel-formation, data-driven barriers to entry, privacy and abuse of personal data, fake e-commerce, fake/incomplete information, lack of information from vendors, and filter bubbles. Operating, monitoring, and management tools are often based on AI algorithms, and it is imperative that they are transparent.
Chapter 9, “Tools to Monitor Neutrality,” discusses neutrality metrics and the available tools. A list of infringements for an ISP includes blocking (of a port, a protocol, a source, or traffic to a designation), throttling of some traffic, and denial-of-service by domain name system (DNS) manipulation. Several available tools are discussed and their limitations pointed out. Besides ISPs, this chapter underlines the need to monitor CDNs and search engines along with an assurance of transparency and fact-checking. These tools/artefacts and their features play a crucial role in determining user experience.
The last chapter (10) presents the authors’ conclusion, that is, the need for neutrality in the digital society is broadly understood. There is confusion with regards to exact definitions of terms in use, related concepts, and the enforcement of laws. These are topics of ongoing debate. Some mathematical and AI-based tools are also in use. However, issues and challenges that need to be tackled include definitions for “fairness” and “quality metric,” a legally binding definition for “neutrality of services,” the monitoring of services, and the enforcement of quality metrics and regulatory laws.