Net-neutrality hasn't reared its head much on this side of the Atlantic but has been hotly debated in the US. Its principles lie in users of the Internet having equal access to content on the Internet where they have bought an equivalent access product to other users. Content should not be blocked or limited in favour of one set of users whether for a commercial advantage or other reasons. Ofcom have today published a discussion paper on net neutrality to debate what plans should be set in place for the UK, particularly with regard to traffic management which is being regularly deployed by broadband providers.
The main concerns surrounding net-neutrality are that a broadband access provider could gain an advantage over rivals by favouring its own content as opposed to that of its rivals. An example of this could be that Sky would prioritise traffic to its own recently announced movie-on-demand service in favour of that of rival Virgin Media. By using traffic shaping such that Virgin's movies-on-demand service was unusable, or only delivered poor quality video to Sky broadband users, Sky could gain a competitive advantage by customers access its content instead. A similar issue exists where mobile phone networks block access to voice over IP (VoIP) services from mobile phones so users can't save money by using VoIP instead of the networks voice call service. Concerns also exist that content providers could have to pay network operators to receive a premium service or to even allow network users to access their content at all.
Ofcom intend to examine how it could deal with issues such as these under its current and future regulatory powers and what action should (if any) be taken to stop them. The debate also looks at the transparency of traffic shaping to ensure that consumers are informed what the effects of shaping will be on their service so they have the option to choose the best product or provider to give them the level of access they require.
"New EU rules give regulators a clear responsibility to address the emerging issues around traffic management. The question is how Ofcom uses these and existing powers to further the interests of consumers, while supporting vibrant, innovative content production and network deployment.
The internet is playing an increasingly central role in the lives of citizens, consumers and industry. It provides access to an ever growing range of content, applications and services that we have come to both expect and depend on. How this access is controlled by ISPs affects us all and is of wide reaching significance.
At the heart of this discussion is how to ensure that traffic management practices are transparent and how to ensure that traffic management is not used for anti-competitive discrimination.Ed Richard, (Chief Executive) Ofcom
The consultation is open until the 9th of September and Ofcom will be conducting roundtables with industry and consumer groups over the summer to gain feedback. The full document and details on how to respond can be found here.