Yahoo and eBay plead with Vaizey for UK net neutrality

Organisations including Which? and the Open Rights Group have written to the communications minister, calling on the government to preserve the open internet in the UK
Written by David Meyer, Contributor on

Organisations ranging from eBay, Skype and Yahoo to the Open Rights Group, Consumer Focus and Which? have written to communications minister Ed Vaizey, pleading with him to protect the open internet in the UK.

The pro-net-neutrality letter, signed by representatives from 19 organisations, was sent to Vaizey on Thursday. It was a response to a speech given by Vaizey on 17 November, in which he indicated the government would keep net neutrality as lightly regulated as possible. The speech was widely interpreted as giving a green light to ISPs that want to charge content providers to prioritise their content over that of rival providers.

TalkTalk, BT and O2 have all indicated that they would be keen to ask the likes of YouTube and the BBC to pay money to have their services delivered at a higher quality than other services. By implication, such behaviour would mean the degradation of services provided by companies that do not pay up. The BBC has responded by saying it is developing software to tell iPlayer users if their ISP is downgrading their video consumption experience.

The signatories began the letter by welcoming Vaizey's statement that "consumers should always have the ability to access any legal content or service [and] 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," the signatories wrote, before laying out what they saw as the principles needed to back up this commitment.

These principles included traffic management being kept to a minimum and deployed only for 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," the signatories wrote, adding that regulators had to be ready to respond to abuses by ISPs.

"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," they wrote. "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."

The signatories also reminded Vaizey that the government's policies should take citizens' access to public services into account, and called on ISPs to "urgently develop meaningful self-regulation to ensure fair principles around traffic management".

The signatories were: the Coalition for a Digital Economy (Coadec), Ariadne Capital, Consumer Focus, eBay, Eden Ventures, the Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG), the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), the Open Rights Group, the Oxford Internet Institute, Reevoo, Skype, TechHub, TruPhone, The Filter, We7, Which?, XIX and Yahoo Europe.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) said in response to the letter that it welcomed the contribution to "the extremely important debate around the future direction of the internet".

"The internet is vital to the future prosperity of the UK and it is essential we provide the right conditions for the internet to grow," BIS's statement read.

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