Telecoms business users call for net neutrality

Summary:Allowing ISPs to prioritise specific web services over others depending on how much their providers are willing to pay would be bad for businesses, the International Telecommunications User Group has warned

Enterprise and public-sector internet users require network neutrality to keep their business processes running consistently, the executive vice president of the International Telecommunications User Group has warned.

Speaking at a Westminster eForum on net neutrality in the UK, the telecoms business user group's Nick White argued against the idea of internet service providers (ISPs) charging web companies to prioritise their traffic over that of rival web companies. He said such an abandonment of net neutrality principles will make it more difficult for firms and organisations to work with partners within the UK and across international borders.

"Enterprise users of ICT... want efficient business processes that work consistently whatever they do," International Telecommunications User Group's (INTUG) White said on Tuesday. "It would be unacceptable to find that because one of your business partners is using a different internet service provider, you cannot continue your business operations.

"This is an issue of: 'Can businesses and public sector organisations continue when individual components of the supply chain change their choice of ICT providers?' It's pretty critical," he added.

White was speaking at an event attended by regulators, parliamentarians and industry representatives, all of whom are currently debating whether new regulation is needed to protect net neutrality.

In its most extreme definition, net neutrality is the principle of all bits being equal and opposes the idea of any management techniques being applied to internet traffic. Realistically, though, management techniques are already frequently applied. For example, ISPs may prioritise VoIP traffic, which requires low latency, over email traffic, which does not.

The issues being discussed on Tuesday largely related to two scenarios: traffic management being applied to entire classes of traffic, such as IPTV, and discrimination being applied to specific services within a class, such as charging the BBC to give iPlayer a better quality of service than rivals. Ofcom recently closed a public consultation on whether it should regulate such matters, and the European Commission is about to close a similar consultation.

"It is only going to be acceptable to differentiate if people know what is going on and it doesn't destroy the competitive market," White said. "[Traffic management policies] have to be open to everybody so they can be monitored independently."

White pointed out that whatever decisions are taken within the UK, "telecoms is not an island. Even for the SMEs [small to medium-enterprises] that share the same challenge that large enterprises do, you need consistency of approach across national boundaries".

"Certainly within the EU we need a consistent application of net neutrality rules," White said. "Our plea is to make sure the definition is understood and consistently applied."

TalkTalk regulatory affairs chief Andrew Heaney argued that regulators should not stop content providers and ISPs from striking deals to ensure high quality of service for specific services.

"This is a normal supply-customer relationship," Heaney said. "It would be perfectly normal to offer differentiated services to different customers at different prices. A one-size-fits-all approach would be breaking the market economy.

"Look at YouTube and the BBC — we should have the freedom to [make a deal with each]," he said. "If YouTube doesn't like the deal, they can walk."

Speaking to ZDNet UK after his panel discussion, Heaney hedged TalkTalk's bets. "We might not...

Topics: Networking, Government : UK


David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't be paying many bills. His early journalistic career was spent in general news, working behind the scenes for BBC radio and on-air as a newsreader for independent stations. David's main focus is on communications, of both... Full Bio

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