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Ed Vaizey Says UK Regulators Could Step in to Stop Internet Net Neutrality Abuses

Posted: 22nd Nov, 2010 By: MarkJ
uk parliament logoThe UK governments Communications Minister, Ed Vaizey, has moved to clarify his speech last week (here) on Net Neutrality (the principal of treating all internet traffic as equal). Vaizey was heavily criticised for taking a "lightly regulated Internet" approach, which appeared to give big broadband ISPs the ability to favour some online content over others, depending on who coughed up the most cash.

However, speaking in a weekend clarification to the Daily Telegraph newspaper, Vaizey has since appeared to take a somewhat tougher line to that of his initial speech. In particular he spoke of support for an "open internet" and warned that the government and Ofcom (regulator) would intervene if the market developed in an anti-competitive way.

Ed Vaizey said:

"My first and overriding priority is an open internet where consumers have access to all legal content. Should the internet develop in a way that was detrimental to consumer interests we would seek to intervene.

I don’t accept the premise that I am not protecting the internet from enormous commercial concerns. I’m all in favour of innovation providing it’s not detrimental to consumers. People are already entitled to choose the speed of their connection, but we’re not saying one ISP should be able to prioritise one provider’s content over another and I don’t support the commercial decision to downgrade a rivals site."

In fairness, and excluding mobile operators, there is currently not enough evidence to support the need for further regulation of fixed line broadband services. Net Neutrality is a big issue but regulators are predominantly a reactionary force.

Ofcom already has the power to step in if any practices are deemed to have become too anti-competitive. In addition the UK market is aggressively competitive, with both TalkTalk and now BT (see more ISP feedback) admitting that clamping down too hard on content from popular sources, such as YouTube, Facebook or Google, would probably be a bad idea.

A BT Spokesperson said:

"[ISPs] should also be free to strike commercial deals should content owners want a higher quality of service delivery. But the good news for UK consumers is that it is unlikely that service providers will discriminate against particular traffic since its customers can easily switch to a provider who doesn’t do this."

We've also seen some reports suggest that Ed Vaizey's approach is out of step with Europe, although from our perspective they actually appear to be almost identical (here and here). It's just a shame that Vaizey didn't speak with more clarity on this point during his original speech. A clearer threat to take action, if necessary, would have gone down far better.

As it stands now the debates surrounding Net Neutrality have become quite well rehearsed and we don't really need to go over them again. ISPs know that consumers have, over the past couple of years, become much more aware of service quality and are an extremely mobile customer base. The first provider to penalise one service over another would surely face a rough ride.
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