A Study of Network Neutrality and Differentiated Services


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Award date23 Dec 2020


During the last two decades, we have witnessed a continuous debate on whether net neutrality policies should be adopted to maintain the openness of the Internet. This debate has led the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to adjust its Internet regulation policies several times in the U.S., while there is still a lack of understanding of net neutrality-related issues among the public. Network regulation policies are important because society increasingly relies on the Internet. With our ever-increasing dependence and use of the Internet, such policies have a significant impact.

This multi-disciplinary study aims to provide useful information for analyzing and understanding the network neutrality debate. It begins with a comprehensive literature study on net neutrality from three perspectives: policy, economic, and engineering. From this literature study, we found that sometimes proponents and opponents of net neutrality policy are not clearly distinguished: A party considered to be a proponent of net neutrality may also adopt actions that in fact violate its policy.

Aiming to achieve the two opposing objectives, namely, to follow the spirit of network neutrality, and to allow differentiated services, this thesis uses queuing models to comparatively study the tradeoffs between the economic cost of ISPs, and the delay of end-users. The results demonstrate that offering all users the same bandwidth is not an optimized solution to meet the requirements of different services. In addition, we differentiate data packets by their transmission protocols, such as TCP and UDP, to examine the quality of services perceived by users. By using real datasets, we demonstrate that this approach can improve users' experience while using the same or even less bandwidth than treating all packets in the first come first served manner.

Alongside the performance analysis on net neutrality, we conducted a public opinion survey on network regulation policies in Hong Kong. We emphasize two of the key issues about net neutrality, namely zero-rating and differentiated prioritized services in Internet access. Since the concept of net neutrality is rather elusive and complex, we use novel 2X2 factorial vignettes to illustrate the network regulation policies to be implemented in Hong Kong. The polling data show that most of the respondents acknowledged the importance of the network neutrality policy for Hong Kong while also accepting both zero-rating and differentiated services.