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UPD3 Broadband ISPs Thrash Out Voluntary UK Net Neutrality Commitment with the BSG

Posted: 10th Mar, 2011 By: MarkJ
broadband stakeholder group ukThe Broadband Stakeholders Group (BSG), a UK government advisory think-tank on broadband internet access, has revealed that most or all of the country's largest fixed line internet providers (ISP) will next week adopt a new voluntary code of practice on Traffic Management transparency.

Most ISPs employ Traffic Management or Traffic Shaping as a means to balance the performance of their networks, which allows the majority of customers to avoid being unfairly affected by a minority of heavy users. This is often done by restricting internet traffic (speed) to busy services (e.g. P2P) or more generally at peak times of day. Many ISPs prefer this to either raising prices or being more realistic about their usage allowances.

Some providers, such as BT and TalkTalk UK, would apparently love nothing better than to start favouring content providers based on who pays them the most cash (e.g. BBC, Skype, Facebook, Google etc.). To date such a Digital Mafia style model hasn't worked because of regulatory concern and the simple fact that most content providers find such a notion to be unworkable.

The new code is likely to surface as a result of last year's Net Neutrality (the principal of treating all internet traffic as equal) consultation by Ofcom UK (here). The communications regulator, which has yet to reveal any official proposals, suggested that ISPs should make any internet traffic restrictions "transparent" to their customers (here).

BSG Statement to ZDNet UK

"The Broadband Stakeholder Group has been working with ISPs to develop a voluntary code of practice on traffic management transparency. We hope to launch this code of practice next week."

Similarly both the UK government and the European Commission (EC) have since told ISPs to ensure that consumers still had access to all "legal content [and] service[s]" (here). It also warned that any proposals, such as Ofcom's forthcoming recommendations, would need to take account of three basic requirements.
OpennessConsumers should be able to access any legal content or service. Content providers should be able to innovate and reach users.

TransparencyProviders should set out in detail the extent of their traffic management and the impact on customers.

Support for innovation and investmentISPs should be able to manage their networks to ensure a good service and have flexibility in business models. Competition is important for ensuring continued openness and choice.
Crucially a door has been left open for internet providers to pursue new business models. It's important to stress that, 9 times out of 10, this has more to do with new commercial IPTV (internet television) services and not typical access-only solutions.

To function properly IPTV services often require new content agreements and distribution models in order to become economically viable. Giving ISPs some flexible to do this, while not impeding standard access, may be needed. However, its success still rests upon content providers wanting to play ball. Meanwhile most ISPs remain fearful of the problems that could result if they were to penalise popular internet sites or services too aggressively.

UPDATE 10:00am

A senior figure within the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) just reminded us that they've had a similar Code of Practice in place for several years.

http://www.ispa.org.uk/home/page_327.html

UPDATE 12:43pm

The announcement should come on Wednesday 16th March, when ISPs will also reveal more about the specific measures they take to manage traffic.

UPDATE 12th March 2011

A blog post on PC Pro just made the point that, while the BSG is partly funded by the government and claims to be largely independent, it's also funded by all of the biggest broadband ISPs too. As a result we have a big ISP funded organisation that's making up new rules for ISPs, which the ISPA already has anyway.

The result is more than likely going to be yet more unreadable small print and slightly less vague descriptions about what kind of restrictions an internet provider has imposed upon its customers.

UPDATE 14th March 2011

The code is released, earlier than expected - HERE.
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