Berners-Lee argues net neutrality case

Sir Tim Berners-Lee pushes his pro-net neutrality argument during a Government-held roundtable.


Web creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee argued the case for net neutrality during a Government-held roundtable yesterday.

Communications minister Ed Vaizey brought together industry and consumer groups, including the BBC and Facebook, to discuss the issue of an open internet.

"While transparency about traffic management policy is a good thing, best practices should also include the neutrality of the net," Berners-Lee said.

"The web has grown so fast precisely because we have had two independent markets, one for connectivity, and the other for content and applications."

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Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, and another attendee at the meeting, claimed internet service providers (ISPs) were "not putting forward anything that looks like meaningful self-regulation."

"In contrast with the US, where rules are being put in place through the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), or Norway where ISPs have agreed a meaningful code, our ISPs are not offering us what we and the UK economy needs," Killock said.

"If that continues to be the case, then Ed Vaizey will find himself with the task of breaking the log jam."

Another attendee was Dominique Lazanski, from campaign group the Big Brother Watch, who told IT PRO little was achieved at the meeting.

"There is nothing new on the net neutrality front - or rather nothing earth shattering," Lazanski said.

"Basically, Ed Vaizey and Ofcom are going to take a cautious approach on it and see how the voluntary code of practice goes."

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The issue could escalate when, on 25 May, the EU Directive is set to make transparency on traffic management an obligation.

Ofcom is also due to release guidance on how it will look out for transparency breaches, among other open internet issues, Lazanski noted.

Despite the apparent stalemate at the meeting, which also featured the likes of Yahoo, Skype and Ofcom, Vaizey described the roundtable as "productive."

Vaizey previously voiced a preference for a two-tier internet, saying ISPs should be allowed to manage their networks and charge content providers and users for faster access.

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Yesterday, he praised the move by a number of ISPs to be more transparent with their traffic management.

Earlier this week, BT, Virgin Media and Sky were amongst a host of companies who signed up to a new code of practice, drafted by the Broadband Stakeholders Group (BSG), to reveal how they restrict broadband speeds.

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"It is good to see that industry has taken the lead on agreeing greater transparency for their traffic management policies," Vaizey said.

"I am pleased that someone with the expertise of Sir Tim has agreed to work with industry on expanding that agreement to cover managing and maintaining the open internet."

The communications minister said the agreement should ensure users could access all legal content, whilst no discrimination against content providers on the basis of commercial rivalry should exist.

Furthermore, traffic management policies should be clear and transparent, Vaizey added.

Following the meeting, BSG chief executive (CEO) Antony Walker said any decision on net neutrality should be "based on the realities of what is happening in the UK market, rather than what is happening elsewhere in the world."

"The challenge ahead is to build a common view on how we safeguard the benefits of the open internet whilst also ensuring ongoing investment and innovation," he added.

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