UK Regulator Ofcom NOT Neutral on Net NeutralityIanFogg | March 22, 2007, 12:54 PM
On Tuesday, the net neutrality debate arrived at the UK's seat of government. The debate centred on the industry view, not consumers (unlike Jupiter's recent report), but was revealing nevertheless.
Despite the headlines of many articles I've read, Ofcom does not rule out action. It just believes, rightly, that new legislation is not needed to ensure a functioning Internet market:
Scott [Ofcom] also said it would not be wrong for an ISP to approach an application provider offering to guarantee service quality for a fee — unless that ISP had significant market power [my emphasis], in which case Ofcom could weigh in on the grounds of anti-competitive behaviour.
Net neutrality (or not) is a fundamental part of the business models of both Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and for any company offering products across the Internet.
Dougal Scott, Ofcom's director of policy development on Tuesday as quoted by ZDnet:
"There is a very rapid increase of traffic on the internet," said Scott on Tuesday, pointing to a "change in the nature of applications that people are using on the internet", particularly time-sensitive applications like voice over IP. He went on to characterise the "all bits are equal" advocates as the "most extreme" fringe of the net neutrality lobby, and insisted that there were "real advantages to consumers in treating certain types of applications differently to others".
This goes wide of the mark: It's not giving different types of Internet usage different priorities, or quality of service, that is at the heart of the debate. It's whether different companies' traffic, or bits, are treated differently from other companies, or from an ISP's equivalent products.
Will Skype be prioritised over Vonage by an ISP?
Will Apple TV be impeded, or degraded, by an ISP while Joost and Babelgum are not?
Will all of them suffer second class treatment compared with a BT's IPTV or Orange's Wireless & Talk VoIP services? (both of whom are ISPs)
The real issue, said Scott, was not the "traffic shaping" policies of ISPs, but the way in which those were communicated to the public. "If you use BitTorrent, how do you know which ISP to go to?" he asked, adding that there "needs to be greater clarity to the consumer on ISPs' traffic-shaping policies".
Yes, absolutely, it's good to see some UK decision makers catching up with what I wrote about last year here If ISPs are to resist downward price pressure for broadband packages, consumers need to understand why they should pay a premium for one package over another, or one ISP over another. How will consumers know whether the broadband connection they are paying for does what they want?
For a consumer view, read Jupiter's new 'Net Neutrality in Europe' report. This contains a segmentation based on attitudes to net neutrality and looking at the potential to monetize each group.