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Spluttering UK net neutrality movement gets breath of life

Jupiter lights the way

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Efforts to get the net neutrality bandwagon rolling in the UK continue, with new predictions that ISPs are set to charge content providers for faster loading.

The current dog eat dog market for broadband will make a two-tiered model too tempting for cash strapped providers, according to a report by Jupiter Research analyst Ian Fogg.

Traffic managment gear, which is already used to deprioritise peer to peer downloads by most ISPs, could easily be adapted to nudge services who cough up higher in the pecking order.

Margins are indeed very slim on broadband, and a new revenue stream would be more than welcome at financial strugglers like Virgin Media and Pipex. The gigantic money piles at BT can always get bigger too. But how likely is it right now? Fogg told us: "It's something which could happen tomorrow."

The rapid consolidation in the ISP market could help forge the brass balls the industry would need to attempt such a risky move. A commoditised market with a few huge players might have enough coherence to throw its weight around.

The question of who they would charge is more open. Presumably, the cartel would go after sites who need a stable pipe: streamers. Newspapers, who're scrambling to provide video, have their own financial problems to deal with at the moment, and it would surely be foolhardy to brave the backlash which results from messing with the BBC. As for nascent online TV efforts like Joost, they've got no coffers to raid yet.

Jupiter's report covers an alternative scenario: that ISPs may prioritise their own VoIP and TV services. In fact, BT's already moving this way in an attempt to differentiate itself.

In summary: don't panic. Ofcom isn't. And in the unlikely distant future event of a syndicate, there's government defender of the internet, David Miliband, who's still only 12.

Fogg has a blog post here, which focuses on the dilemmas for mobile operators as they join the ISP ranks, and the BBC has its knickers in a twist here.

According to Jupiter's polling, 16 per cent of net users want their ISP to promise not to restrict access to third party websites, and 29 per cent want flat-rate pricing with no usage limits.

And in other news, we want the moon on a stick.®

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