Tech Firms Call On Vaizey To Safeguard Net Neutrality

Skype and eBay are among signatories to an open letter which has called for the government to back its promises over net neutrality

Internet heavyweights such as Skype and eBay have added their names to an open letter to culture minister Ed Vaizey, in which they call for a clear political commitment from the government to preserve net neutrality.

Last month, Vaizey clarified his stance on net neutrality (i.e. the unbiased running of Internet service access), saying that he is a supporter and that his comments at the Financial Times World Telecoms conference earlier in November had been misunderstood.

He had been reported as saying at that event that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should be allowed to prioritise traffic from certain content providers, bringing an end to the principle of net neutrality.

Two Speed Internet

This appeared to indicate that Vaizey endorsed a “two-speed” Internet, where ISPs could potentially charge content providers such as the BBC with its bandwidth hungry iPlayer for faster transmission into UK homes.

But he later denied this was the case.

“My first and overriding priority is an open Internet where consumers have access to all legal content,” Vaizey told the Daily Telegraph. “Should the Internet develop in a way that was detrimental to consumer interests we would seek to intervene.”

Despite this, concerns remain. For example the founder of the web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee has previously told The Guardian newspaper that net neutrality has been a topic of conversation between Vaizey and himself. “We have discussed it on the phone but I can’t say, yet, that we’re entirely in line,” he was reported as saying.

Open Letter

And this concern has prompted the open letter from big businesses to Vaizey, which calls for him to put in place five key rules to stand by the government’s commitment to net neutrality. A copy of the letter is available on the ISP review website.

“We welcome your recent statement that the UK Government supports access to the open Internet,” the letter starts off. “In particular we support your call for adherence to the openness principle both for fixed and mobile access to the Internet.”

“This is the first time that such a clear political commitment has been made in the UK to preserve the end-to-end principle that underpins the Internet, and the benefits it brings to citizens, consumers, businesses and economic growth,” the group said in the letter.

The letter then sets out five key principles to complement the government’s commitment.

First it says that the Internet must kept open for anyone to use in any way they wish, within the law. Second, the letter asks that traffic management be kept to a minimum and, crucially, deployed for purely technical, security or legal reasons. In addition, the letter also asks that information about traffic management is relayed to anyone who may need to know.

Fourthly the letter asks that “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.”

The fifth and final demand is that “For competitive markets to function effectively, the regulatory framework must be fit for purpose and able to respond to abuses by network providers.”

Neutrality Concerns

The letter is signed by 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, Which? and Yahoo Europe. Interestingly however, it seems that the BBC has not signed the letter, despite the corporation’s head of future media and technology, Erik Huggers, advocating the need for net neutrality last month.

The letter signals the concern of many organisations keen to ensure a free Internet where everyone is treated the same. However both Ofcom and the European Commission have questioned the need for net neutrality regulations in a highly competitive market, and a consultation is currently being carried out on the issue.

The letter in the UK comes at time of ideological firestorm in the United States over intervention, after the the US regulator, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) which has proposed “rules” for an open Internet designed to stop mobile operators and telecoms providers from discriminating against Internet traffic from rivals.

The FCC, has had to deal with complaints that ISPs are not fairly treating the companies that use their data pipes.