September 17, 2007 12:42 PM PDT

A call for Net neutrality debate in U.K.

The time has come for the United Kingdom to join the growing debate surrounding Net neutrality, the president of the British Computer Society told ZDNet UK.

Professor Nigel Shadbolt said late last week that, because so much of the Internet's content is derived from the U.S., the U.K. and Europe would be affected by any Net neutrality-related decisions made across the Atlantic.

The term "Net neutrality" refers, in its most extreme sense, to the idea that all bits are created equal and that Internet traffic should under no circumstances be tiered in any way. Opponents of Net neutrality argue that certain types of traffic are already necessarily prioritized over other types--voice over Internet Protocol, or voIP, is a frequently used example--and that to mandate Net neutrality would limit both that functionality and the ability of Internet service providers to charge different rates for different connection speeds.

Because Internet users in the U.S. tend to have a smaller range of ISPs to choose from than do users in the U.K., the consensus in the U.K. has been that Net neutrality is a U.S.-centric debate.

The U.K. government and the U.K.'s regulator, the Office of Communications, have both argued that, with a competitive U.K. ISP market to ensure choice and existing European Union legislation to protect the customer, U.K. businesses and consumers have nothing to worry about. However, Shadbolt argues that the time has arrived for the U.K. and Europe to stop sitting on the fence.

"We might feel that we're happy with the degree of market force and flexibility in the U.K., but...what is clear is that some of the major content providers originate out of the U.S., and if things actually became tiered in any sense we would feel the impact in the U.K. and the EU," said Shadbolt. "When there are proposals floating around before Congress or whatever, whatever your view, it is required to examine the issues. It is a complex field."

The Bush administration recently made it clear that it saw no need for Net neutrality to be enshrined in legislation. A public filing by the Department of Justice suggested that such regulation might "inefficiently skew investment, delay innovation and diminish consumer welfare."

However, what worries many content providers in the U.S. is the prospect of ISPs telling them to pay extra to have their traffic prioritized--companies such as Google claim they already pay enough in bandwidth costs on the server side--or even degrading the delivery of certain content types to those users not willing to pay a premium.

"In broad terms, the presumption that content should be equally accessible to all those at the point of being a node on the Internet is seen as vital," said Shadbolt. "The other aspect of that is that people are perfectly free to go out and buy superior bandwidth. That's never been argued--nobody's arguing that there should be equivalence there--(but) if you don't keep an eye on this and in some sense monitor it (it becomes) a precedent for partitioning, which becomes more explicitly built into the fabric of the infrastructure."

Shadbolt described as an "injunction" the presumption that the Web was "all about making content visibly available to anybody who chooses to take it and not have intrinsically built in a system of ways of applying explicit filtering." But he also conceded that many people had concerns about potentially heavy-handed Net neutrality legislation having a negative effect.

"We can't not have the discussion," added Shadbolt. "It's not as if it's of no relevance to us. What happens in the U.S. will make its way here. Regulation can have a long reach in a different way than people think."

Tom Espiner of ZDNet UK reported from London.

See more CNET content tagged:
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Net Neutrality - Industry Convincing Polititions it is a GOOD Move
The issue of Net Neutratily is simply about money. Industry doesn't want to spend to upgrade. When the phone system was set up the telephone companies HAD to provide a phone number and a pair of wires to the residence or business of the customer. The Internet is just as bad as as the road system across North America. You can add unlimitted cars to a road and you can add unlimitted customers to the Internet. No one, least of all the politions cares about the driver and the ISPs don't care about the subscribers. Over the past 3 - 4 weeks the Internet response time has been abismal. Like the road system, there are insufficient resources to either move traffic or in Internet terms cope with the influx of new students on the Internet who managed to convince their parents that the fastest service was the only one that would work. The issue is that ISPs like mine, Bell Canada Sympatico, aren't spending enough to expand the "system". They keep offering me faster service, but aren't woking with the players across the continent to allow a service connection in a timely fashion. If I tried to download a Microsoft file from their servers it could take several minutes (if at all on some evenings) to contact their server, but if the connection could be made the file would download at 600KB/sec. THe Internet is unreliable!!!!! When I pick up the phone (not voice over IP) I EXPECT to get dial tone. When the Internet is as reliable as my telephone I'll try voice over IP. In Canada the telephone service is controlled by the CRTTC (Canadian Radio TeleVision & Telecommunications Commission and industry wants it scrapped. Can we trsut business to fix this. If Bell Canada, Verizon, AT&T and the others cared about us customers (over 15 years on the Internet) we would have a reliable Internet service. AT&T and Bell Canada(years ago) used to share technology. Everyone had their own teritory. Now everyone is a competitor and no one is sharing anything. The phone system was once described to me (in design terms) as at the same level as a nuclear reactor or the race to the moon. The phone sysem was designed to have a down time of 1 (one) hour in 40 years. Nuclear reactors and space travel aside, the phone system is pretty reliable and the Internet is crap. What's dissapointing is the the same people run both systems. They do have the technology and the profits to fix this bu have decided to p*** off the customers because their is always a new one tomorrow. After 15 years maybe I should go to cable or WiFi. If I wait long enough Bell Canada will probably own Rogers Cable (or the other way around), but guess what, the service probably won't be any better.
Posted by Hamilton.CA (1 comment )
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Don't Get The EU Courts Involved...
Because after all isn't the Internet a monopoly? There is only ONE Internet. Uh-Oh....
Do you have a choice of which Internet to get on?
I think the EU would suggest European companies string a completely different network out of RS422.
Posted by fred dunn (793 comments )
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