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The UK telecoms regulator has opened a consultation entitled  "Traffic management and ‘net neutrality'" which  provides eerie echoes of the EU Telecoms Package debate from 18 months ago.


The Ofcom consultation makes no pretence at preserving the neutrality of the Internet, and pushes away any debate on the interests of citizens - saying that this is a matter for government and not the regulator.  

 Ofcom's focus is on the network operators' right to use traffic management technology to block, throttle,  shape, prioritise and degrade users' communications.   Reading the consultation closely, Ofcom is not consulting on whether we should permit traffic management, or even whether  any limits should be put on it. Rather, the consultation concerns 

how Internet users should be told about it. 


The users are regarded purely as consumers, who need to be able to tell the difference between the restrictions and blockages on the ‘Internet' services  offered by the various operators, and therefore need to be told what they should understand about how their operator using such ‘traffic management' technology.


This is what Ofcom means by ‘consumer transparency' - you will be told what you get, and if you don't like it, you can see if another ISP gives you a better offer, with all the consequent hassle of moving provider.


It is also clear that Ofcom is not just talking about managing network congestion, which is a benign form of traffic management. Ofcom is talking about the right of ISPs to block access to websites and services, to block or prevent use of certain applications, and to implement measures such as 3-strikes against peer-to-peer file-sharers.


Ofcom works on the base assumption that the only problems arising will relate to commercial competition. It assumes  that competition law will be used to deal with such problems. It ignores the fact that competition law is inadequate to deal with many possible scenarios, and that many small businesses which could be affected will not have the legal budgets to pursue a claim under competition law.


Thus Ofcom is setting up a scenario where the large media and telecoms corporations get to control what we may see and do on the Internet, and a removal by stealth of citizen's  rights.


The Ofcom consultation is the British implementation of the Telecoms Package. All of these issues were raised during the Second Reading of the EU Telecoms Package, when a set of amendments - known as the Ofcom amendments - were circulated in Brussels. The Ofcom amendments came in tandem with similar amendments proposed by AT&T, which had the support of the large telelcoms corporations ( see my extensive coverage  on iptegrity.com).


At the time, British MEPs attempted to say that there was no intention of restricting the Internet. And yet,  around a year  later, we wee the Ofcom consultation is peppered with the language of restricting the Internet.


It is clear that the Ofcom policy  risks  the destruction of   the Internet as we know it. As such, it cannot be compared with the work of the Federal Communications Commission in the US, which displays more balance between the interests of the Internet users and those of the network operators.  This, in spite of what I have been told by American academics, who do not entirely trust the FCC, is a more citizen-friendly approach than that shown by Ofcom.


Ofcom apparently gets £142 million from the public purse. Given that sum, it ill-serves the British public with this industry-driven sham of a consultation, and it would well deserve a good, clean cut with the government's knife.


 Here are two paragraphs from the Ofcom Traffic management and 'net neutrality' consultation document. The meaning is self-evident. 


2.8 Traffic management per se is neither good nor bad. For example, it is widely accepted that the blocking of illegal content (such as images of child abuse) is necessary and that steps taken to address issues such as online copyright infringement would be viewed as acceptable traffic management. It can also have important benefits for consumers, through avoiding congestion problems and ensuring that certain types of time sensitive applications are given priority

2.11 At the other end of the continuum network operators and ISPs could seek to restrict certain types of applications. For consumers this might reduce their access to online content and services if exclusivity deals are struck or a rival’s content is blocked.  


For more comment on the  Ofcom Traffic management and 'net neutrality' consultation, the UK legal academic Chris Marsden has drafted a reply to Ofcom, which he has published. 


This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK:England and Wales License. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ It may be used for non-commercial purposes only, and the author's name should be attributed. The correct attribution for this article is: Monica Horten (2009) Ofcom: net neutrality or net destruction    , http://www.iptegrity.com  8 July  2010 .  


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About Iptegrity

Iptegrity.com is the website of Dr Monica Horten. I am an  independent policy advisor, with expertise in online safety, technology and human rights. I am a published author, and post-doctoral scholar. I hold a PhD from the University of Westminster, and a DipM from the Chartered Institute of Marketing. I cover the UK and EU. I'm a former tech journalist, and an experienced panelist and Chair. My media credits include the BBC, iNews, Times, Guardian and Politico.

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