Putting the internet into neutral, or neutering the net?
Laws should defend the public, not ISPs
Opinion The usually perspicacious Neelie Kroes, the European Digital Agenda Commissioner, has finally hit a wall in Net Neutrality legislation, perhaps seeing the conflicting sides to the net neutrality argument. These are the same arguments that the US Government and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have been unable to sort out for the past five years.
Across the globe there are those who, plainly and simply, hate markets to be too highly regulated and will resist any attempt to force the internet down the same road as telecoms. But Kroes had not previously been one of these.
This position is probably equally balanced by people who fear that without regulation, major companies, especially ISPs, will block or slow traffic streams from rivals. In the past Kroes might have put herself in this camp.
But suddenly, in a speech given at a Net Neutrality Summit in Brussels, Kroes said that she thought that in general ISPs have upheld the principle of open access and said that now was not the time to create new legislation to guard the internet. She also said that the recent European Union 2009 Telecoms Framework gives regulators sufficient tools to protect the openness of the Internet. Well you might hope so, but this failure to act will immediately cause an avalanche of change on the internet and one day later it is already happening.
UK gov backs ISPs, rather than the British public
Within a day of the confession by Kroes that she will not be pursuing the creation of a Europe-wide piece of network neutrality legislation, the UK Culture, Communications and Creative Industries minister Ed Vaizey came out and said that ISPs should be free to favor traffic from one content provider over another as long as they inform customers. What was he thinking?
He issued this opinion at an FT Conference, saying that the market will decide how far ISPs can go in charging for preferential or guaranteed content delivery and QoS. Suddenly the UK government appears to have broken the deadlock on net neutrality and put itself on the side of major ISPs, instead of the public.
Part of the reasons for all this is that for five years there has been a legislation stand-off between the two sides. Back in 2005 the FCC in the US caught Comcast blocking Vonage VoIP traffic, so that its customers could not subscribe to Vonage. This week Kroes admitted that the cellular equivalent of this – cellular networks blocking Skype calls – was almost inevitable with no legislation. So who or what is going to protect Skype? Consumers' freedom to change operators, says Kroes.
Back in 2005 the FCC said that it was committed to creating an internet adhering to four principles: (1) consumers are entitled to access Internet content of their choice; (2) consumers are entitled to run applications and services of their choice; (3) consumers are entitled to connect their choice of devices to the internet; and (4) consumers are entitled to competition among internet providers.
But item 3 is already being widely broken, where US broadcasters have blocked the delivery of their video web sites to Google TV devices... and there appears to be no legal remedy in sight.
There are several key arguments here which balance each other out. The first is that if network operators cannot choose which traffic travels fastest over its internet channels, then this will reduce investment in broadband networks. They can prove this is true simply by refusing to grow their networks until the government gives way – and in the US, Verizon and AT&T have used this tactic in the past. However, they are both living with the legacy of this tactic and they lost ground considerably against cable operators in broadband.
Another argument is that 5 per cent of the users use 95 per cent of the traffic on the internet, so traffic shaping is needed to block in particular video piracy, to slow down the packets which are delivered from illegal P2P downloading sites. Except that of course they are not downloaded from those sites, but come from uplinks all over the internet.
All ISPs can do is establish that they are video packets, by using packet sniffing appliances in the network, and then marry this to where they come from and block accordingly. That would mean that an upload of Granny‘s holiday videos would be indistinguishable from a pirated movie, especially if it is encrypted, which can be achieved by using a boring old VPN.
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Hear Hear! I agree. I would like to see data sellers put in their place, and legislated to accept the position of so-called dumb pipes they are so resistant to becoming. Why not? Data is just another consumable like electricity or gas, and you're not telling me the companies that sell these aren't making millions. I would like to see data sold to consumers just like electricity - extremely high bandwidth capable lines into each property, then you pay for what you use, in units on top of a fair standing-charge. Just like leccy, no judgement on what you connect, or how many, for however long, because you pay for what you consume. Same with mobile - on top of a fairly priced standing-charge, classify voice as simply a flow of data and charge for units used.
Could we make a minor change to provider pays?
Trying to get the BBC to cough up so that iPlayer is a stupid idea and should stopped dead in it's tracks.
However all off those irritating little adverts that clutter the place up, can't we at least get the advertisers to pay for the bandwith that they take up. If you want to sell me stuff that's one thing, asking me to pay to let you do it, well that's a whole other thing.
I don't know about this.
This is Steelie Neelie we're talking about here. She has a long history of doing what's right for the consumer and sticking it to Big Business with a sharp stick in the eye. Of all politicians on this planet and all corporate leaders of all corporations I am more inclined to trust her than any other. This may be something as simple as a play to draw out her opposition. Make them commit to clearly anti-consumer policies so that she can return to this game a year from now and nail the buggers to the wall.
It is quite simply not like her to do something this overtly anti-consumer without it being part of a larger game. Time will tell.