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.

Comments (8)

  1. Matt:
    Nov 17, 2010 at 05:21 PM

    Mike Wendy wrote on his blog, whilst arguing for no government regulations:

    "...moving “control” of any given system to the “edge” as opposed to it being centrally manipulated."

    Yes, that is what has ensured innovation, contrary to allowing ISPs to centrally manipulate traffic that favours their own content or services (e.g. TV, VOIP, etc). ISPs should keep out of the business of "controlling" the system like that, and leave it to the "edge" -- i.e. be a common carrier, and there is clearly a place for the FCA (since you appear to be talking about the USA) to regulate.

    As for no evidence there being a problem, I refer you to the consultation response linked above, particularly the section marked "2 What do you think are possible incentives for potentially unfair discrimination?"

  2. Jason Kitcat:
    Nov 18, 2010 at 10:30 AM

    I agree that BT trying to become an in-effect subscription Cable operator to compete with Virgin/Sky is the "old" model. But I have no problem with two tier broadband packages provided one very important safeguard is in place:

    Only the true open internet portion of the customer's bandwidth is allowed to be referred to and advertised as "internet" and that is is unrestricted within itself and not throttled below that advertised amount.

    This means that BT would still be able to bundle enhanced IP services such as BT-vision and also up the bandwidth to partner sites (those that pay BT extra) and provide the end user with a 50Mb pipe to accomodate this. But if the open internet - those that have not paid BT extra - is only allocated 20Mb of that bandwidth it *must* only be sold as "20Mb Broadband"

  3. Rob:
    Nov 17, 2010 at 10:15 PM

    I see this as a blatant attempt by corporations to shift the balance of power from consumers to the producers of content. Their dream is for a two-tier internet of 'walled gardens' of paid content with only 'approved' websites being allowed premium speed. The end result being like current cable/sky tv.

    You buy a package of officially sanctioned websites which load properly with a second tier, slower, public internet with slow speeds, bloated with advertising and viruses.

    All data should be treated equally regardless of who created it.

    What is the openrightsgroup plan to resist this invidious change?

  4. kjr:
    Nov 18, 2010 at 01:06 PM

    Rob, another way to think of it is as Corporations attempting shift the balance of power away from consumers and producers of content, and back towards the large ISPs as middlemen, or gatekeepers, charging extra for traffic in both directions.

  5. JD:
    Nov 19, 2010 at 04:23 PM

    @Paul Lockett

    A lesson from History, Turnpike Trusts on a Global Scale. :(

    The end of the system

    By the early Victorian period toll gates were perceived as an impediment to free trade. The multitude of small trusts were frequently charged with being inefficient in use of resources and potentially suffered from petty corruption.

    The railway era spelt disaster for most turnpike trusts.

  6. Paul Lockett:
    Nov 18, 2010 at 09:36 PM

    What is being suggested is no different in principle to the operators of the M6 Toll Road taking payments from car manufacturers in return for the drivers of those cars being allowed to travel at higher speeds. It could see Fords being allowed to travel at 70mph and in all lanes, but Vauxhalls being capped at 60mph and banned from the outside lane.

    So why haven't I heard anybody waxing lyrical about the prospect of that kind of business model.

  7. Mike Wendy:
    Nov 17, 2010 at 03:23 PM

    Vaizey is right. Moreover, Net Neutrality "regulation" has been open source outside auspices of government control - a far more flexible and innovation-generating that promoting the Internet through ossifying regulations, as I have blogged on here:

  8. Chris Marsden:
    Nov 26, 2010 at 02:05 PM

    We've missed you! For more on recent European policy (which is where the action is), see