Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ed Vaizey on an open internet and net neutrality


An interesting speech from Ed Vaizey today (related BIS press release here), setting out the UK government's take on net neutrality. A well-informed speech, making reference to developments elsewhere in the world such as the FCC's four/six principles (as discussed previously here) as well as approaches taken in Canada and by the European Union (see this previous post from April of this year).

The importance of transparency, openness and the need for ISPs to be able to innovate and experiment are common threads across all these developments. It's also good to see the acknowledgement that ISPs already manage traffic and have been doing so for years, a fact which I think comes as news to some campaigners. If the principles above are properly adhered to by all parties, there is little reason to intervene. I agree with this in theory, but I do have some concerns over how such principles might be ignored in practice. But let's hope for the best.

Coverage from the BBC ("ISPs are supposed to treat all web traffic equally - serving only as a one-size-fits-all pipe for whatever data is passing from content providers to end users"...hmmm...are they really?) and the FT (Internet blow for Google and BBC: "Internet service providers should be free to favour traffic from one content provider over another as long as they inform customers"...surely their current network management already favours certain types of traffic?) rather over-simplifies the issue, and  further convinces me that the term net neutrality is actually no longer helpful, given its negative connotations and the increasing complexity of the debate ("two-sided markets" anyone?). Has the internet ever been truly neutral? I don't think so, and neither do the ITIF.

I think Neelie Kroes nailed the heart of the matter best back in April:
"...over time, we should continue to monitor whether traffic management is a spur to future network investment, and not a means of exploiting current network constraints."
A difficult call though. Very close monitoring will be essential if they various parties are to be persuaded from misbehaving; without this, intervention and regulation are inevitable.

Play nicely, children?

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