Social Network Structure of Network Neutrality

Hypothesis 1: shared transnational actors

The first hypothesis posits that the network neutrality debates in Canada and the United States share the same pool of actors because the economic interests are transnational corporations. Figure 5 shows three paths between SaveOurNet.ca and SaveTheInternet.ca with the connection node in red, the first degree in yellow and the second degree in green. At the top of the figure are the World Association of Christian Communication and P2Pnet (a website dedicated to advocating peer-to-peer file sharing software) while the Free Press, with four edges, is lower down (the Free Press’ relationship to SaveOurNet.ca appears more distant that it is because the intermediary nodes are individuals participating in both organizations).

The next closest path between SaveOurNet.ca and SaveTheInternet.com, the largest grass-roots campaigns in Canada and the Untied States, requires five degrees of relationship: the Public Interest Advocacy Centre is a member of both SaveOutNet.ca and the Canadian Association of Internet Providers, of which Google is a member; Google is also a member of the Open Internet Coalition which is a partner in the SaveTheInternet.com campaign. If kind words were coded as relationships (they were not in this study) then Google and SaveTheInternet.com would share an edge.
When focusing upon the largest grass-roots campaigns, there is little support for the first hypothesis: it is unlikely that 4 bridges between 1530 nodes can be interpreted as “the same pool of actors” in both Canada and the United States. While it is possible that closer inspection of the funding for the three bridge organizations will reveal substantial support from transnational economic interests, it is perhaps indicative of a larger trend that three organizations are intermediary nodes between the two campaigns and any corporation or industry association: the nodes marked in red in Figures 6 are, from left to right, the Open Internet Coalition, the Canadian Association of Internet Providers and the Coalition of Broadband Users and Innovators.

Hypothesis 1, as originally articulated, is probably disproven but observations of this data set suggest an alternate hypothesis involving transnational membership in intermediary industry associations which represent business interests in partnership with civil society NGOs.

Hypothesis 2: a conflict between the supply side and demand side

Hypothesis 2 draws from Dan Schiller’s work to posit that the relationships between actors in the network neutrality debate will reveal a conflict between the supply side (telecommunication carriers) and the demand side (content providers and industrial conglomerates). As discussed in the previous section, there is no corporation directly bridging SaveTheInternet.com or SaveOurNet.ca or any industry association, so this discussion will look for support for Hypothesis 2 in relationships to organizations one degree removed.

The Canadian Association of Internet Providers has several direct ties to the CATA Alliance (a technology industry association) as well as Bell Canada, Sprint, Telus, AOL-Time Warner and Google (other members, including MCI and Allstream, are leaf nodes); of these five corporate giants, only Google is strongly in support of network neutrality. SONY, Google, eBay and Sling Media (a set-top video over the internet manufacturer) are the most connected members of the Open Internet Coalition, a pro-network neutrality industry organization. The Consumer Electronics Association is connected to the Open Internet Coalition through SONY and Sling Media, while the Information Technology Association of Canada is connected via eBay.

While large industry associations including the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Electronics Association, the Information Technology Association of America, are one degree removed from Coalition of Broadband Users and Innovators, the CBUI is two degrees from either of the American network neutrality coalitions. Figure 7 highlights the National Association of Manufacturers in red; its 438 edges are in yellow and relationships of the third degree are in green.

These observations suggest that Hypothesis #2 is false and that there is no widespread engagement of the network neutrality issues debate by business users. This may indicate that industrial giants are confident in their ability to use their market power to negotiate the terms of service and thus view network neutrality as a retail issue irrelevant to their organization’s telecommunications infrastructure (Schiller, 2008, p.94). Financial giants, for their part, may view the end of network neutrality as an opportunity to recoup losses from devalued loans and investments made during the telecommunications investment boom (Schiller, 2008, p. 92). Regardless, Hypothesis 2 is here tentatively disproved, baring new information.

Hypothesis 3: alignment between corporate and NGO actors

Hypothesis 3 posited that corporate actors have relationships with NGOs which share their policy preferences. This hypothesis derived from a comment by anti-network neutrality activist (and NetCompetition.org founder) Scott Cleland, alleging that Google was using NGOs and pro-network neutrality campaigns as proxies for Google’s interests (Cleland, 2007). While there is little support for this hypothesis in observations of pro-neutrality groups, the data set does not include direct and indirect financial contributions, or official publications which encourage users to join SaveTheInternet.com and sign a petition to the U.S. Congress (Google, n.d). Figure 8, however, illustrates the ties between the two main anti-neutrality organizations, their telecommunication industry members and the National Association of Manufacturers.

Conclusion

While the experiment provides support for the use of social networks to explore elite cleavages in the study of policy issues and suggest further areas of inquiry, a number of methodological weaknesses may undermine the attempts to conclusively prove or disprove the three hypotheses posited above. For example, the implausible discovery that the only member of the openNet Coalition (early 1990s) with more than one edge is AOL-Time Warner strongly suggests a deficit in the data set. While these weaknesses primarily draw from the use incomplete data about the subject population to study a whole network, the results of combining ego-centric networks of known key actors better represents the structural form of the network neutrality debate than any single ego-centric network.

While the findings do suggest some validity to the assumption that membership in coalitions and industry associations is an indication of policy preference, the stated goals of the organizations should be separately coded. The participation of both pro- and anti-network neutrality companies in organizations like Canadian Association of Internet Providers cautions against the assumption that all organizations concerned with telecommunications policy are engaged in the issue because of their membership. Future studies should be expanded to incorporate political contributions, charitable donation, lobbying expenditures and legal council in key litigation.