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Content Providers Urge UK Government to Protect Open Internet from ISP Abuse

Posted: 02nd Dec, 2010 By: MarkJ
Net Neurtality and the UK world wide webA significant group of 19 internet content providers, including eBay, Skype, We7 and Yahoo!, have today issued an open letter to Ed Vaizey (MP) that calls on the UK government to put in place "actions" that stop broadband ISPs from being able to use "discriminatory business practices" against their businesses.

The move follows last month's speech (here) by the governments Communications Minister (Ed Vaizey) on Net Neutrality (the principal of treating all internet traffic as equal). Vaizey was heavily criticised for taking a "lightly regulated Internet" approach, which some feared might pave the way for a two tier internet.

However Vaizey later warned internet providers to ensure that "consumers [could still] access any legal content or service" and later threatened tighter regulation if the market developed in an anti-competitive way. He also called on ISPs to ensure that any restrictions they impose "should [be] set out in detail" (transparent).
To The Hon. Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries

CC: the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the Rt Hon Dr Vince Cable MP, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.

2 December 2010

Dear Minister,

The Open Internet


We welcome your recent statement that the UK Government supports access to the open Internet. In particular we support your call for adherence to the openness principle both for fixed and mobile access to the Internet, whereby
- “consumers should always have the ability to access any legal content or service,

- content and service providers should have the ability to innovate and reach end users.”
This is the first time that such a clear political commitment has been made in the UK to preserve the end-to-end principle that underpins the Internet, and the benefits it brings to citizens, consumers, businesses and economic growth.

In order to safeguard these benefits for all stakeholders in the future, five key principles are important complements to this political commitment:
1. The Internet should remain open so that everyone is able to send and receive the content, use the services and run the applications of their choice, on the device of their choice, within the law.

2. Traffic management should be kept to a minimum, and deployed for purely technical, security or legal reasons. There should be no discrimination in the treatment of Internet traffic, based on device, or the origin and/or destination of the content, service or application.

3. Meaningful information about any traffic management practices must be made available to all stakeholders, end users and businesses who rely on broadband infrastructure to reach their customers.

4. Future investment in network capacity and underlying infrastructure must take place in a way that is consistent with the end-to-end principle and where new models of Internet access do not compromise openness.

5. For competitive markets to function effectively, the regulatory framework must be fit for purpose and able to respond to abuses by network providers.
End-users' choice of which applications, content, and services to view, use or run is already restricted in the UK today, especially when accessing the Internet on mobile. The Government's commitment to the open Internet must be reflected in action on the ground to remove any such arbitrary restrictions to the open Internet. We also recommend the Government’s policies on the open Internet and traffic management take account of citizens’ access to public services online in the future.

In conclusion, we call on the UK Government to add more detail to its position in support of the open internet by:
* protecting the open internet through a judicious implementation of the new EU legislation for electronic communications.

* requiring Ofcom to closely monitor the market and demonstrate that effective and timely enforcement processes are in place to respond to complaints about unfair discrimination from any affected stakeholder.

* pressing UK Internet service providers to urgently develop meaningful self-regulation to ensure fair principles around traffic management to serve as a benchmark for assessing what is or is not acceptable practice, as has been done in other countries. Ofcom should step in if ISPs do not deliver this in a timely way.

* ensuring that Ofcom’s forthcoming review on switching delivers real benefits to broadband subscribers in terms of their ability to change providers and drive meaningful choice between broadband Internet packages.

* conducting a wide-ranging policy debate about this crucial subject for the future competitiveness of the UK’s economy and well-being of UK society, and adopting a joined-up approach in policy making, by assessing long-term implications of traffic management practices and the maintenance of an open Internet for the economy, for consumers and citizen’s interests, including freedom of expression, access to public services and digital inclusion.
Coadec, Jeff Lynn, Chairman, The Coalition for a Digital Economy

ARIADNE Capital, Julie Meyer, CEO

Consumer Focus, Robert Hammond, Head of Post and Digital Communications

eBay, Stefan Krawczyk, Senior Director and Counsel Government Relations Europe

Eden, Charles Grimsdale, Partner

imrg, Andrew McClelland, Director of Operations

National Union of Journalists, Jeremy Dear, General Secretary

Open Rights Group, Jim Killock, Executive Director

Professor William Dutton, Director, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

Reevoo, Richard Anson, CEO

Skype, Jean-Jacques Sahel, Director of Government and Regulatory Affairs, Europe, Middle-East & Africa

techhub, Elizabeth Varley, Co-Founder / CEO and Mike Butcher, Co-Founder

Truphone, James Tagg, Chief Technical Officer

The Filter, David Maher Roberts, CEO

We7, Steve Purdham, CEO & Founder Investor

Which?, Louise Hanson, Head of Advocacy

XIX Article 19, Agnés Callamard, Executive Director

Yahoo! Europe, Emma Ascroft, Director of Public & Social Policy -- Yahoo! UK & Ireland
It's unclear how productive such a letter will be, especially one that comes after both the UK and Europe appear to have already made their minds up. As it stands there is not enough evidence to support the need for new regulation, at least not on fixed line broadband services.

The letter does at least point out how "accessing the Internet on mobile" can already be restrictive, especially to rival voice call services, such as Skype. Yet in fairness the mobile data market is constructed in a very different way from fixed line access and Mobile Broadband is, in many ways, still relatively new to the field and already suffering from complicated capacity issues.

At present it remains to be seen whether any of the big broadband providers would be foolhardy enough to test the water and risk high customer churn by acting like a modern day digital mafia. Big ISPs might love the idea of getting free cash from Facebook, Google, YouTube, Skype and others, but many would refuse to pay (after all, they already paid their bandwidth bills and can't cough up to everybody who asks).

Content is ultimately what makes the internet worth visiting and gives purpose to having an ISP connection in the first place. Perhaps if some providers were a little more realistic with what they charge and how they advertise then we wouldn't be in this situation. Wishful thinking for an aggressively competitive market.
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