An open letter from Skype, eBay, and Yahoo is the latest round to be fired in an ever-hotter net neutrality debate in the UK. The addressee is the Minister responsible, Ed Vaizey, who has been under attack since mid-November, for supporting the notion of a two-tier Internet.
But will such tactics turn him round, when his every action is dictated by the regulator - anti-net neutrality lobbyist, Ofcom?
Ed Vaizey, UK Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries has been sent an open letter by Skype, Yahoo, eBay and a number of citizens and consumer groups, calling on the government to protect the open Internet. The letter is cc'd to his two bosses, Jeremy Hunt, Minister for Culture, and Vince Cable, Minister for Business.
The letter highlights how end-users access to content, services and applications is already restricted today in the UK. It calls on the government to "to remove any such arbitrary restrictions to the open Internet". The letter goes on to say "We also recommend the Government's policies on the open Internet and traffic management take account of
The letter is one of the strongest yet to demand that the government obligate Ofcom to use the powers - which it does have - to properly regulate traffic management:
" requiring Ofcom to closely monitor the market and demonstrate that effective and timely enforcement processes are in place to respond to complaints about unfair discrimination from any affected stakeholder."
It suggests that the Internet industry should develop acceptable and meaningful code around traffic management and that the government should make Ofcom " step in if ISPs do not deliver this in a timely way"
The letter has been prompted by the Ed Vaizey's public statements which support a two-tier Internet. The matter emerged at an FT conference on 20 November, when Mr Vaizey stated :
"We have got to continue to encourage the market to innovate
and experiment with different business models and ways of
providing consumers with what they want. This could include
the evolution of a two sided market where consumers and
content providers could choose to pay for differing levels of
quality of service. The market could develop in many different
The weakness of the letter is not in its content, but that it is rather like firing a bow and arrow at a tank.
The tank being Ofcom and its cosy relationship with the telecoms and content industries - both of which want unruly traffic management.
As I have previously reported, Ofcom is lobbying in Brussels against any net neutrality principle being further embedded into EU law. It is very clear - and has been ever since the Telecoms Package went through the European Parliament - that Ofcom favours some kind of two-tier Internet.
It is also becoming clear just how much the UK Internet is becoming restricted. Skype's Jean-Jacques Sahel, in an interview with today's Guardian , highlighted the problem "UK citizens face restrictions for over-charging - depending on operators - on uses of the internet such as voice over IP, audio, video, streaming, peer-to-peer. And this has nothing to do with the need to manage traffic for technical reasons in times of congestion to improve consumer experience".
In a written Parliamentary answer Mr Vaizey showed his ignorance of the problem, and his reliance on Ofcom for policy matters:
"There is not yet any evidence that discriminatory practices are emerging, or that there is a problem with regards to how ISPs or networks manage the traffic that flows over them (something they all engage in for technical reasons to deliver the best possible service to consumers). And this is enforced by the initial responses to Ofcom's recent consultation on the issue."
One hope for net neutrality in the UK, is that the topic is finally being reported in the UK media, who latched onto it very quickly and created a storm. That storm - coming as does from heavyweights such as The Guardian - may be sufficient to embarrass the government into listening at last - and maybe even to push Ofcom of its ill-deserved pedestal.
Here is the full text of the Open Letter on net neutrality to ED Vaizey, from Skype, Yahoo, eBay and a coalition of civil society groups ( as published by ISP Review ):
To The Hon. Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries
CC: the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the Rt Hon Dr Vince Cable MP, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.
2 December 2010
The Open Internet
We welcome your recent statement that the UK Government supports access to the open Internet. In particular we support your call for adherence to the openness principle both for fixed and mobile access to the Internet, whereby
- "consumers should always have the ability to access any legal content or service,
- content and service providers should have the ability to innovate and reach end users."
This is the first time that such a clear political commitment has been made in the UK to preserve the end-to-end principle that underpins the Internet, and the benefits it brings to citizens, consumers, businesses and economic growth.
In order to safeguard these benefits for all stakeholders in the future, five key principles are important complements to this political commitment:
1. The Internet should remain open so that everyone is able to send and receive the content, use the services and run the applications of their choice, on the device of their choice, within the law.
2. Traffic management should be kept to a minimum, and deployed for purely technical, security or legal reasons. There should be no discrimination in the treatment of Internet traffic, based on device, or the origin and/or destination of the content, service or application.
3. Meaningful information about any traffic management practices must be made available to all stakeholders, end users and businesses who rely on broadband infrastructure to reach their customers.
4. Future investment in network capacity and underlying infrastructure must take place in a way that is consistent with the end-to-end principle and where new models of Internet access do not compromise openness.
5. For competitive markets to function effectively, the regulatory framework must be fit for purpose and able to respond to abuses by network providers.
End-users' choice of which applications, content, and services to view, use or run is already restricted in the UK today, especially when accessing the Internet on mobile. The Government's commitment to the open Internet must be reflected in action on the ground to remove any such arbitrary restrictions to the open Internet. We also recommend the Government's policies on the open Internet and traffic management take account of citizens' access to public services online in the future.
In conclusion, we call on the UK Government to add more detail to its position in support of the open internet by:
* protecting the open internet through a judicious implementation of the new EU legislation for electronic communications.
* requiring Ofcom to closely monitor the market and demonstrate that effective and timely enforcement processes are in place to respond to complaints about unfair discrimination from any affected stakeholder.
* pressing UK Internet service providers to urgently develop meaningful self-regulation to ensure fair principles around traffic management to serve as a benchmark for assessing what is or is not acceptable practice, as has been done in other countries. Ofcom should step in if ISPs do not deliver this in a timely way.
* ensuring that Ofcom's forthcoming review on switching delivers real benefits to broadband subscribers in terms of their ability to change providers and drive meaningful choice between broadband Internet packages.
* conducting a wide-ranging policy debate about this crucial subject for the future competitiveness of the UK's economy and well-being of UK society, and adopting a joined-up approach in policy making, by assessing long-term implications of traffic management practices and the maintenance of an open Internet for the economy, for consumers and citizen's interests, including freedom of expression, access to public services and digital inclusion.
Coadec, Jeff Lynn, Chairman, The Coalition for a Digital Economy
ARIADNE Capital, Julie Meyer, CEO
Consumer Focus, Robert Hammond, Head of Post and Digital Communications
eBay, Stefan Krawczyk, Senior Director and Counsel Government Relations Europe
Eden, Charles Grimsdale, Partner
imrg, Andrew McClelland, Director of Operations
National Union of Journalists, Jeremy Dear, General Secretary
Open Rights Group, Jim Killock, Executive Director
Professor William Dutton, Director, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford
Reevoo, Richard Anson, CEO
Skype, Jean-Jacques Sahel, Director of Government and Regulatory Affairs, Europe, Middle-East & Africa
techhub, Elizabeth Varley, Co-Founder / CEO and Mike Butcher, Co-Founder
Truphone, James Tagg, Chief Technical Officer
The Filter, David Maher Roberts, CEO
We7, Steve Purdham, CEO & Founder Investor
Which?, Louise Hanson, Head of Advocacy
XIX Article 19, Agnés Callamard, Executive Director
Yahoo! Europe, Emma Ascroft, Director of Public & Social Policy -- Yahoo! UK & Ireland
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 (2010) UK Minister Ed Vaizey under heated net neutrality attack , http://www.iptegrity.com 2 December 2010.