Earlier this week, many broadband ISPs spoke out in favour of the voluntary code of practice on traffic management transparency published on Monday by the Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG). A long list of broadband providers, both large and small, has put their backing to the proposal indicating that they are in favour of ISPs being open and honest about the services they provide, and how they handle traffic management across their network. Consumer Focus, a government backed consumer body also backed the proposals and are keen to point out that verification that consumers are sticking to it should be independent.
"This is a golden opportunity for internet companies to provide clear information to consumers. To keep consumer confidence, it is vital that the pilots of this code are independently verified and contribute to informing consumer’s actual experience of traffic management policies. But transparency should not be used as a tool to restrict consumers choice of accessing content, applications and services over the Internet nor discriminate against certain applications, services or content."Robert Hammond, (Head of Post and Digital Communications) Consumer Focus
The key to this proposal being successful is in information being clearly visible to consumers in an easily understandable way. Whilst some users will appreciate technical details, others will not be willing to trawl through tables of data to try and work out the difference between a broadband product from one provider and that of another.
Other concerns have been raised over this with some wondering if this will see ISPs start to offer a two-tiered Internet where some services receive a higher quality of service in comparison to others, but with ISPs being open about how traffic is treated. Net neutrality is a hotly debated subject, and pro-campaigners are keen to see that all traffic on the Internet be treated equally, no matter who sends it. A net-neutrality debate organised by the government saw ISPs defend their right to run a two-speed Internet, stating that if content providers want to pay to get a higher priority on the network, then they should be able to.
Whilst this is how things work in a free-market, there are strong concerns that this will cause long term damage to the way the Internet works. Smaller websites, and those who operate free-services could effectively find themselves priced off of the Internet by large content providers, and ISPs seem unwilling to compromise in the net-neutrality debate.
"They weren't willing to make any concessions on their ability to manage traffic. BT even said that if people want to block things they should be able to.
If people are blocking large sections of the internet and promoting a handful of service then they shouldn't be able to claim that they sell internet access.Jim Killock, (director) Open Rights Group
The BBC being one of the larger content providers in the UK are equally concerned about the issue, and have called for the creation of a 'broadband content group' to help represent content providers such as themselves and the likes of Google, Yahoo, Facebook etc. The BBC are hoping that a system to shame ISPs who are performing poorly could help users see when their ISP is performing traffic management on their connection. The BBC iPlayer is soon to receive a traffic light system which will rate their ISP based on the performance of the connection to the iPlayer service- Red for poor, amber for UK, and green for acceptable. Such a system is unlikely to be enough to qualm service providers though, and they will continue to press for the right to run their networks as best suit them.
For more information on the Net Neutrality debate, see our blog post Net Neutrality: Did it ever exist?