The Shifting Geopolitics of Internet Access: From Broadband and Net Neutrality to Zero-rating

The nature of Internet access is constantly shifting. How infrastructure technologies are arranged and marketed directly determines conditions of access and participation. In the recent past, the Internet was normally accessed via “broadband” or fixed landline connections. However, the proliferation of smartphones, Wi-Fi access and high-speed cellular telephony networks has dramatically shifted the access landscape, particularly in emerging markets.

Access policies also go beyond engineering considerations: the nature of the connections is shaped by political context and emerging approaches to gain competitive advantage among private companies. Authoritarian information policies and anti-competitive forces continually come into tension with forces of openness, digital diffusion and interoperability.

In a global digital economy and public sphere, governance and infrastructure issues, such as the regulation of network interconnection, are not merely local problems or ones affecting end-users but intensely debated issues at the international level. Some countries view them as matters that should be highly regulated by the state. Others view Internet governance functions as primarily multi-stakeholder arrangements led by the private sector.

The many challenges surrounding access make it clear that global growth of the Internet cannot be taken for granted. The Global Commission on Internet Governance coalesced around the primary objective of “One Internet” that is “protected, accessible to all and trusted by everyone.” This volume’s authors remind us that half of the world’s population is still not online and that much works needs to be done to create a digital future for all.

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