Labour MP counters Vaizey with net neutrality motion

Tom Watson, a longstanding parliamentary proponent of digital rights, has put forward an early day motion against communications minister Ed Vaizey's anti-net-neutrality stance.Watson tabled the EDM on Wednesday, after Vaizey indicated the government would not legislate to preserve net neutrality.

Tom Watson, a longstanding parliamentary proponent of digital rights, has put forward an early day motion against communications minister Ed Vaizey's anti-net-neutrality stance.

Watson tabled the EDM on Wednesday, after Vaizey indicated the government would not legislate to preserve net neutrality. Vaizey had called for a light regulatory touch, and said competition would serve to keep the internet "open". Net neutrality advocates have taken this as a green light for ISPs to try charging content providers such as the BBC and Google for the privilege of having their content given priority over that of rivals — a move they say will lead to a 'two-speed internet'.

The motion expressed "concern at the recent comments made by the Minister for Communications and Creative Industries that internet service providers should be allowed to abandon the principle of internet neutrality and prioritise users' access to certain content providers".

In fact, there is currently no net neutrality principle in place — TalkTalk regulatory chief Andrew Heaney told ZDNet UK in September that, while it did want to charge providers such as YouTube, the only reason it had not yet done so was that some providers "might turn round and say they're not paying and might withdraw their service, and our customers might not like it and might leave us".

"Open Internet has delivered competition, innovation and unlimited access to new services [and] has played a pivotal role in enhancing democratic participation and freedom of expression," Watson's EDM read. "Abandoning the principle of internet neutrality will stifle online innovation and lead to websites paying internet service providers to ensure their content gets priority."

Watson added that transparency was unlikely to "lead to protection of customers and citizens from harm, especially as ISPs seeks to lock their customers into long-term bundled service agreements with telephones, televisions, mobile telephones and internet". He also called on the government to impose minimum service guarantees on ISPs.

Early day motions are not binding in any way, and are in fact often used to raise trivial matters in Parliament. They effectively call for a matter to be debated at some unspecified future date. However, they do ensure that the motion is recorded in Hansard, and are often used for serious matters, such as climate change.

On Thursday, musician Peter Gabriel also added his voice to the net neutrality debate, telling The Guardian that the issue was part of a wider "battle for the internet".

"Freedom of access [to information online] is going to be an important battleground," Gabriel is quoted as saying. "It's vital to a free and open democracy: [net neutrality] serves everybody."

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