The government have spoken out in favour of dropping net-neutrality by suggesting that the Internet should only be lightly regulated. The communications minister, Ed Vaizey, spoke today at the FT's World Telecoms Conference detailing the governments position, and suggested that light regulation would be "good for business, good for the economy and good for people". He also suggested that three factors would be considered before the government takes any proposals forward.
- Openness – consumers should be able to access any legal content or service. Content providers should be able to innovate and reach users.
- Transparency – providers should set out in detail the extent of their traffic management and the impact on customers.
- Support for innovation and investment – ISPs 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.
This opens a whole kettle of fish as it would allow ISPs to favour content from one website over another by giving faster access to specific companies, for example, those who pay more. By allowing providers to innovate, Vaizey believes that the open market place will regulate access by consumers and businesses choosing a different provider should the one they use not provide the level of equality of access that they desire. Both the BBC and Google have spoken out about breaking the equality of access that currently operates over most of the 'net.
"The founding principle of the internet is that everyone – from individuals to global companies – has equal access. Since the beginning, the internet has been 'neutral', and everyone has been treated the same. But the emergence of fast and slow lanes allows broadband providers to effectively pick and choose what you see first and fastest."Erik Huggers, (Director of future media and technology) BBC
"We have got to continue to encourage the market to innovate and experiment with different business models and ways of providing consumers with what they want. This could include the evolution of a two sided market where consumers and content providers could choose to pay for differing levels of quality of service. The market could develop in many different ways. The important thing is that ISPs and networks remain free to innovate. In doing so they may make mistakes and consumers should have the ability to make them pay for those mistakes."Ed Vaizey, Communications minister
Of course, current Internet access isn't entirely equal at the moment. Many broadband providers already operate traffic shaping to try and avoid their network being swamped with too much traffic that they can't handle at once. This means that customers often see slow downs at peak times where some services (such as gaming) may be prioritised whilst file downloads or peer-to-peer file sharing are de-prioritised. Crucially, this traffic management doesn't tend to focus on where the traffic is going but instead looks at the type of traffic. By allowing network operators to act as they see fit for their own commercial gain and prioritise traffic to specific destinations we may see a divide in the UK Internet.