Network Slicing and Net Neutrality


Whether network slicing complies with the net neutrality rules currently in force in Europe and previously applicable in the U.S. presents a key issue in the deployment of 5G. In many ways, both regimes frame the issues in a similar manner, with the exceptions for reasonable traffic management and specialized services likely to play the most important roles. Both regimes also focus on similar considerations, including the requirement that measures be based on technical rather than business considerations and the distinction between measures aimed at improving the performance of the entire network or specific applications, although both distinctions are problematic in some respects. Both regimes also emphasize application agnosticism and end-user choice, with European law finding the former implicit in the latter. At the same time, European and U.S. law reflect some key differences: the regimes cover different types of entities, frame the issues in terms of nondiscrimination versus throttling and paid prioritization, take different positions on whether measures must be limited to temporary or exceptional circumstances, and place different weight on the impact of the rules on investment and on the relevance industry standards. The relatively undeveloped state of both legal regimes means that the ultimate answer must await enforcement decisions and actions by NRAs, and any subsequent judicial challenges to these decisions.