Net Neutrality debate in Westminster – surprise vote turnaround

portcullisIn Westminster yesterday BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones chaired a Net Neutrality debate on a motion entitled:

“That this House agrees that traffic management is essential for the running of modern networks and that improved and enforceable transparency and market competition will ensure that consumers are protected from potentially negative effects.”

In an initial vote 50% of those present were in favour of the motion with perhaps 10 – 15% against but there was a twist.

The panel comprised Ian Roy (O2), Stephen Collins (Skype), Alex Blowers (Ofcom) and Julian Huppert, Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge and Vice Chair of the Digital Economy APPG.

In summary all panellists thought that Traffic Management was essential for the proper running of ISP networks. The difference came out in the ancillary discussion:

O2 supported the market competition angle and stated that the cost of expanding network capacity was such that in order to pay for it Operators should be allowed to publish tiered pricing that gave some people or applications priority over others. This was more of an issue for mobile connectivity than fixed.

Skype was extremely concerned that all users should be treated equally and that no one application or service should be allowed better quality of service than any other.

Ofcom said there was not yet enough evidence to suggest that regulation in this space was necessary and Julian Huppert MP did not believe that free market competition would protect the consumer in this space.

The big surprise came out in the vote at the end. Everyone agreed that Traffic Management was essential so the vote was taken on the second half of the motion – ie do you think free market competition will be adequate protection for the consumer. This was a complete about turn on the first vote and went roughly 10% in favour of the motion (all the ISPs present) and of the remainder, half were against and half sat on the fence.

The motion was therefore defeated. A majority of the attendees at the workshop thought that  this area needs to be regulated!

A couple of other interesting notes arose:
Skype claimed that the O2 Ts & Cs specifically prohibited the use of Skype and other VoIP services over their data network. This was categorically denied by O2 but embarrassingly, someone in the audience Googled the question and indeed found the relevant part of the contract O2. Skybe does not appeared to be blocked. Just contractually not allowed!

Julian Huppert began his pitch by talking about the DEAct and how he had been on a visit to China with Lord Peter Mandelson. Lord Mandelson had been railing against Chinese internet policy telling them that it was physically impossible to block access to websites! Such short memories…

PS I was afterwards asked to report back toi the main conference on this workshop – RC-J had to rush off in search of a topical scoop. Something to do with a mine rescue – apparently a cat was stuck down a shaft and there were dramatic rescue scenes involving the local fire brigade.

PPS There were many more points made but I can’t fit them all in to a single post.  This is a complex subject that is going to be talked about for years.

Published by Trefor Davies

Liver of life, father of four, CTO of trefor.net, writer, poet, philosopherontap.com

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1 Comment

  1. I have my doubts about whether free market competition will be adequate protection for the consumer, naturally ISPs would say it is because of their vested interest. Traffic Management I have no problem with, so long as ISPs are transparent about it, but consumers who find they can’t use crucial sites or services, such as Skype, with adequate performance will be less forgiving.

    On the other hand maybe this will be where smaller providers get to show their competitive teeth, by not following bad big boy practices.

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