The mid-2020 deadline for the European Digital Agenda 2020 (A2020) has been reached. As already announced in the mid-term evaluations, the data reflect that the strategic objectives designed to boost the digital economy are far from being achieved. In 2016, the European Commission set out in the “Gygabit Society for 2025” what the complementary strategic objectives would be to achieve what was established in the A2020. The Digital Agenda for Europe was created in May 2010 to boost the European economy by exploiting the sustainable economic and social benefits of the digital single market. Given the strategic nature of the new generation networks (ultra-fast broadband networks) in the economy, the European Commission set almost a decade ago the goal that “by 2020, all Europeans will have access to speeds greater than 30 Mbps and 50% more European households will have access to ultra-fast internet, i.e. over 100 Mbps”. The European Commission thus encouraged the expansion of information highways through new financial and regulatory guidelines to help complete the single market for telecommunications and unify the connection of the continent. In September 2016, the Commission established the so-called “Gigabit Society for 2025” where three strategic objectives were set to complement those established in the Digital Agenda for 2020: “1. Connectivity of at least 1 gigabit for all major socio-economic drivers, 2. 5G uninterrupted coverage for all urban areas and major land transport routes and 3. All European households, rural or urban, will have access to an Internet connection offering download speeds of at least 100 Mbps, upgradeable to high speed”.
The technological dynamism of the sector and the heterogeneous implementation of new generation networks between the economies of the European Union make it difficult to pinpoint a single explanatory factor for these figures. Nevertheless, and given that, like other networked sectors, the Internet has been a traditionally regulated market, in this work we are going to focus on the main regulatory policy for the Internet in the 2010-2020 time horizon, known as net neutrality, and its role as a (dis)incentive for investment in high-speed infrastructures, in the restructuring of the Internet services market and in the efficiency of its operation.
The implementation of the regulation on net neutrality in 2016 in the European Union took place in the midst of a broad and controversial political, academic and social debate where empirical and theoretical tensions have been evident due to the ambiguous results that weaken the arguments for or against such regulation. Cambini (2016) in his analysis of the first years of operation of the A2020 (2010-2015) already pointed out network neutrality as one of the key political factors when analyzing investment results, along with subsidies and their management, co-investment models and access regulation. Following this point, in this paper we analyze the inconclusive economic results on the obligation of network neutrality in the theoretical, experimental and empirical fields in order to point out the existing academic gaps and their relationship with the investment results in high speed networks set in the A2020 and GS25.