/ Technology

Are you worried about the death of net neutrality?

Snail on a globe

Culture minister Ed Vaizey is supporting a ‘two speed’ internet that would throw some of your favourite sites into the slow lane. That’s unless they pay a premium – a cost that would no doubt be passed onto us.

Could this be the end of the internet as we know it? Maybe that’s a little bit hyperbolic, but recent comments by the government’s culture minister, Ed Vaizey, have raised concerns over one of the internet’s founding principles – net neutrality.

‘Net neutrality’ can be a little difficult to get your head around, but it basically means that all information transferred over the web must not only be treated equally, but that we should be able to access all of it.

Net neutrality in the UK

Our scientific policy adviser, Rob Reid, has already discussed the importance of net neutrality in a previous Conversation. But that was inspired by a deal between Google and the Internet Service Provider (ISP) Verizon in America.

The issue has now well and truly come home to roost in the UK. Vaizey has put his neck out, arguing that this country should see the ‘evolution of a two-sided market where consumers and content providers could choose to pay for differing levels of quality of service’.

In layman’s terms, ISPs would be able to charge websites more for ‘bigger pipes’, or faster internet. Sites, such as the BBC, Google or even Which? would have to pay a premium to get into the ‘fast lane’.

What’s the problem exactly?

‘But why is this so bad for us?’ Well, for a start, if internet traffic was managed in a discriminatory way it would likely stifle our freedom to access all of the web’s information. This is because websites that can afford to pay would be prioritised over those that can’t.

This would artificially damage startup sites that want to try their luck with a new online idea – it’s unlikely they’d be able afford such premium speeds. Thus, the free speech that we all know and love on the internet would no longer shine as bright.

Moreover, these premium charges would no doubt be passed onto us. If you haven’t got the cash to spend, you may not be able to access all of the internet’s content. For instance, your broadband provider could take a lesson from TV subscriptions and make you buy a more expensive ‘media package’ to access sites that use more juice, like YouTube or BBC iPlayer.

It’s too difficult to switch ISP

Vaizey also argued that there’s enough competition among Britain’s ISPs that, if you found your service was being throttled, you could simply switch providers. But as we already know – switching broadband provider isn’t as effortless as you think.

For this to be a realistic option, ISPs would need to make it much easier to switch (by scraping lengthy contracts for a start). They’d also need to be open about whether they were fiddling with your internet traffic, allowing you to make an informed decision about switching.

So now you know what the issue is, are you worried about net neutrality? We are, and have been talking to Ofcom about the matter for some time – we don’t think ISPs should be able to manage internet traffic in a discriminatory way.

We also think that Ofcom should develop an industry code of practice that protects the principles of net neutrality. ISPs must sign up and adhere to this, or face sanctions. Sadly, it looks like net neutrality may be in danger, so if you agree and think there shouldn’t be a ‘two tier’ internet, please support us in the comments.


Would this not also mean that newer, smaller websites don’t stand a chance of ever being visited?

Although our internet in the UK isn’t the fastest in the world, i’d prefer it to stay as it is, and if the government were to change it, it should only be because they’re bringing affordable high speed internet to everyone, as opposed to making it more expensive and unobtainable for even more people.

pickle says:
19 November 2010

This sounds nasty – there should be one fast speed for all, otherwise it will be just the rich who can afford the higher speed.

Scruff7 says:
19 November 2010

Wow, a two tier system would be monumentally bad… the internet would end up like every high street in the country, dominated by the same shops and businesses.

The great thing about the internet is that if gives space to everyone on a level playing field, all the niche products and services.

Bad news, but not unexpected. Tories hate anything like Net nuetrality and will always support and encourage a rich/poor divide; even more so when there is money to be made from such a scheme.

“Vaizey also argued that there’s enough competition among Britain’s ISPs that, if you found your service was being throttled, you could simply switch providers.”

Why should I have to? I’m strongly in favour of net neutrality. When will we get someone in power who understands how things like this actually work?

Truly Speechless says:
20 November 2010

Great idea….until they all do it, then you’ve no choice left!

Sophie Gilbert says:
19 November 2010

Culture minister in this guy’s case is rather a misnomer.

Should’ve known the current state of affairs was too good to be true. What’s the point in the Government wanting Internet access for all, if all, we end up with is an online Shopping Centre, with the same carbon copy stores? I’m over sixty and hate the crowds in my town’s Shopping Centre. I’ve now got used to the Internet and wouldn’t have believed only a few years ago the freedom that it gives you. I have finished – and enjoyed – my Christmas shopping – online apart from a couple of things and most of it from small, independent businesses.

This is one of the most absurd and ridiculous suggestions I’ve heard in a long time. Why do successive British governments of any political persuasion feel the need to tax us for every little aspect of our lives? Website owners and consumers determine how fast information can be accessed, the free market already caters for them/us. People really don’t want to pay any more but clearly, in their eyes, we’ve never had it so good.

However, if there is a two-tier internet, let’s hope the only site to be relegated to it will be the hideous DirectGov site, a lesson to every aspiring web designer in how not to design a web site.

“Tories hate anything like Net nuetrality and will always support and encourage a rich/poor divide”

Why do some correspondents take any and every opportunity to **** off a political party with whom they disagree. It is not informed speech, merely bigotry.

OK, this numpty Vaizey has suggested a very ill-considered course of action.
Instead of showing how bigotted you are, why not present a concise, well reasoned argument why it is wrong, just as the majority of correspondents have on this item. Your argument is far more likely to be read and considered instead of simply being dismissed as a bigotted rant!

Why does Which? censor a perfectly good word?
The word was used as meaning “Making a derogatory or denigratory reference”.

I’m extremely surprised that Which? lend themselves to any form of censorship unless the language used it extremely offensive.

Mellenoweth says:
20 November 2010

Seems this government understands as little as last one. Net neutrality is a must, anything else is a cable service.

I think I must have read something about this online or in the papers but didnt take a lot of notice so I’m glad it is being discussed here and I noticed it.
Its seems a completely hare-brained idea to me. Precisely what the advantages are to the consumer I do not know but there would be plenty of disadvantages. I hope Which? continues the dialogue with Ofcom in a very vigorous way.

Who gave the internet to big business in the first place? When it was first discovered they weren’t interested, even when internet businesses started making money they were reluctant to get stuck in. Now we’ve reached the point where they think its theirs and they’re busy discussing what to do with it. Shouldn’t this be up to the W3C?

As for ISP switching, of course it should be easier. It should be as easy as switching your electricity supplier. Tell your new ISP you want to join them and let them do the dirty work. I’ll have some of that…

Hi all,

Just wanted to let you all know that an open letter has been sent to the Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, Ed Vaizey asking him to clearly outline his support for the principle of net neutrality and to ensure that Ofcom will step in should ISPs do anything to threaten it. Which? have signed this letter along with Coadec, Ariadne Capital, Consumer Focus, eBay, Eden Ventures, Imrg, the National Union of Journalists, the Open Rights Group, Oxford University, Reevoo, Skype, TechHub, Truphone, The Filter, we7, and Yahoo Europe.

The letter calls on the Minister for Culture to put in place five key rules to safeguard the government’s commitment to open internet. These are:

1. The Internet should remain open so that everyone is able to send and receive the content, use the services and run the applications of their choice, on the device of their choice, within the law.

2. Traffic management should be kept to a minimum, and deployed for purely technical, security or legal reasons. There should be no discrimination in the treatment of Internet traffic, based on device, or the origin and/or destination of the content, service or application.

3. Meaningful information about any traffic management practices must be made available to all stakeholders, end users and businesses who rely on broadband infrastructure to reach their customers.

4. Future investment in network capacity and underlying infrastructure must take place in a way that is consistent with the end-to-end principle and where new models of Internet access do not compromise openness.

5. For competitive markets to function effectively, the regulatory framework must be fit for purpose and able to respond to abuses by network providers.

We will continue to work to make sure that the open internet and the principle of net neutrality are protected.

Pete says:
19 July 2017

Where did the government ever get the idea it had anything to do with the internet anyhow?…