November 17, 2010 | Jim Killock

The Open Internet enhances our freedom of speech

Ed Vaizey’s speech on “net neutrality” misses a vital point: being “open” about “closing” the Internet won’t deliver competition and innovation on the Internet.

Money and commercial interest can easily over-ride public interest if we do not assert it. In this case, unlike the USA, there is a degree of collusion going on which may lead our governments down a dangerous path.

For instance, Ed Vaizey states that a key principle for the ‘net neutrality’ debate is:

The ability to support investment and innovation. Creating the content and networks of the future requires investment. … It means allowing flexibility in business models.

In other words, ISPs should be encouraged to find ways to charge for content delivery to help invest in their networks. We see the start of this with services like BT Vision, which uses BT’s networks deliver television programmes through a service that is only accessible to BT customers.

Such services work in stark contrast with delivering content through services like Netflix, iTunes or the current BBC iPlayer. Each of these services competes directly, and customers can easily choose between them in a fully competitive market.

It seems that regulators like Ofcom and ministers of our governments do not see the future of the Internet as being best served through such competition, but wish to encourage “walled gardens” of ISP-provided services.

This might suit ISPs who want income, or governments who want easy answers to pay for network investment, but it will not serve customers of services well. It will undermine the competitive nature of the Internet, and provide opportunities for market abuse.

Walled gardens can easily work to further segment and control markets, and tip the balance against innovation, towards established copyright industry players. By doing so, they can limit the access of different voices to audiences, and limit the power of our freedom of speech. This is why this debate matters, and why Ed Vaizey is wrong to dismiss it.

See our recent Ofcom consultation response here.