Traffic management is a tool used by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to effectively protect the security and integrity of networks. This tool helps deal with temporary or exceptional congestion or to give effect to a legislative provision or court order. It is also essential for the continuous delivery of certain time-sensitive services such as voice communications or video conferencing that may require prioritisation of traffic for better quality.
However, there is a fragile balance between ensuring the openness of the Internet and the reasonable and responsible use of traffic management by ISPs. Drawing the line between legitimate and unjustified traffic management is challenging.
The blocking and throttling of Peer-to-Peer(P2P) and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is the most common example of unacceptable traffic management by operators: around 21% of fixed Internet access subscribers and around 36% of mobile subscriptions (200 million) were affected by restrictions in 2012 (see detailed report).
ISPs may use different techniques to improve internet traffic. Some of these techniques may be very intrusive, and even let ISPs know the content of the traffic that passes through their networks.
Depending on the level of intrusion, such techniques may infringe on the principles of data minimisation: accessing personal & identification data as little as possible and proportionality: the action taken should not exceed that which is strictly necessary to achieve the set objectives. Therefore it could be incompatible with EU data protection law, in particular the ePrivacy Directive and the Data Protection Directive. Moreover, the content of communications is protected by the right to confidentiality of correspondence, which is guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights (Article 8) and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (Article 7 and Article 8).
Users' appetite for services and applications which require continuous data exchange keeps growing. Mirroring the market evolution, the traffic conveyed on networks has been increasing continuously. Overall annual IP traffic is estimated by Cisco to triple from 2014 to 2019 and reach 2 zettabytes.
One of the main objectives behind the use of traffic management is the reduction of network congestion resulting from this outstanding growth in data traffic. ISPs commonly apply differential treatment of traffic, in particular during certain times of the day, to ensure that the end user's experience is not disrupted by network congestion.