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ISPs Divided On UK Net Neutrality Code of Conduct

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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BT, Sky and TalkTalk have signed. Vodafone and Virgin Media have not.

UK ISPs are divided on a new voluntary code of practice that sets out a number of guidelines for an open internet.

Ten ISPs (Be, BT, BSkyB, KCOM, giffgaff, O2, Plusnet, TalkTalk, Tesco Mobile and Three) have endorsed the Open Internet Code of Practice, but a number have decided not to sign up. These include Everything Everywhere, Virgin Media and Vodafone, which told TechWeekEurope that it although it agreed to the principles set out in the code, it could not agree to it in its current form.

The European Commission only yesterday launched a consultation into the issue of net neutrality, in which no specific services are restricted or blocked. The Netherlands became the first European country to pass such a law in May, but a number of European ISPs have defended their right to charge more for better services.

Open Internet

Signatories of the new code will ensure that full and open internet access, with no blocked services, will be the norm within their portfolio of products. They will also have to provide greater transparency when certain types of legal content or application are unavailable on a product, such as VoIP apps like Skype.

Any offending product will not be allowed to be marketed as providing “internet” access and the restrictions must be clearly communicated to consumers. Finally, ISPs are forbidden from targeting or degrading the content of certain services.

The code also allows for a new process for content providers to raise possible cases of targeted and negative discrimination by ISPs. If such conflicts are not satisfactorily resolved, they can be lodged with the Broadband Stakeholders Group, which facilitated the agreement, who will then share them with Ofcom and the government.

“This voluntary agreement is great news for consumers. It marks a significant commitment from the leading ISPs to uphold the principles of an open internet and gives certainty to their customers,” said Ed Vaizey, minister for culture, communications and the creative industries. “. The internet has been built on openness and low barriers to entry, and this agreement will ensure that continues. By committing to transparency, these ISPs are empowering their customers to make informed decisions about the services they want.”

However not everyone is happy, with Everything Everywhere stating it was simply “too early” to know what kind of impact such a code would have.

Divided On UK Net Neutrality

Vodafone said that it believed in the open internet, the current wording of the agreement meant it could not sign it. It said that it was concerned about confusing customers by telling them that their phones do not have ‘internet access’ when they can access the internet.

“Vodafone UK is committed to being open and transparent with customers about the services they can use and the measures we take to ensure that everyone can enjoy the benefits of the internet and we are signed up to the Transparency Code of Practice, published last year,” said a spokesperson“Unfortunately, we have been unable to sign up to the new code because the language chosen by the signatories is impractical and does not reflect the services enjoyed by millions of mobile phone users every day. We have a range of internet access plans and provide customers with full details of the products and services that can be accessed with each plan.”

“However, we continue to support the overall work that the Broadband Stakeholder’s Group is undertaking in this area and will continue to engage with them,” the added.

Virgin Media told TechWeekEurope that the code was simply to vague for it to consider signing up.

“We have no intention of discriminating or treating data differently on the basis of who owns or publishes it but we are not signing up to the Code as it stands,” said a spokesperson. “We had tried to encourage something that would be clearer for industry and give consumers improved transparency. However, these principles remain open to misinterpretation and potential exploitation so, while we welcome efforts to reach a broad consensus to address potential future issues, we will be seeking greater certainty before we consider signing.”‬

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