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In the UK and across most of Europe we have no legislation to protect net neutrality, the principle of treating all traffic equally on the Internet. The reason for the lack of legislation is because most parties within the industry believe it is unnecessary and can be managed through self regulation and voluntary codes. However, two civil groups, La Quadrature du Net (France) and Bits for Freedom (Netherlands) disagree and have introduced a new website via which citizens can report any net neutrality violations.

Neil Watson, Head of Service Operations

Neil Watson, Head of Service Operations

The main concern with regards to net neutrality revolves around ISPs using their traffic management strategies to give priority to certain content providers who pay a premium, or alternatively blocking or restricting the performance of content from rival organisations or content providers that have not paid the ISP. For example, a mobile provider could restrict content from Skype or if an ISP had an agreement with the BBC they could prioritise their traffic over rival content providers. Such agreements could stifle creativity and lead to a tiered Internet.

Earlier this year seven of the major ISPs operating within the UK developed a Voluntary Code of Practice with the BSG (Broadband Stakeholder Group) which protects the principle of net neutrality. By signing up to the code, ISPs commit to providing their consumers with detailed information about the traffic management policies they employ, agree to a set of best practice principles which govern how they communicate this information to consumers and commit to publishing a Key Facts Indicator (KFI) table which will make it easier for consumers to compare providers based on traffic management policies.

Entanet advocates net neutrality and agrees that ISPs should be open and honest about their traffic management policies, enabling consumers to make an informed decision. We also agree that the market’s current policy of self-regulation appears to be working and that legislation to protect net neutrality isn’t required, although we do suggest that this continues to be closely monitored. However, the new website (RespectMyNet.eu) can only help to ensure net neutrality is protected and gives the public a voice to raise any concerns and monitor the industry’s approach. I doubt it will result in the legislation the founders are hoping for but maybe it will help to keep the industry in line and demonstrate that regulation is not currently needed.

Elsewhere legislation is being introduced. In the US the FCC’s (Federal Communications Commission) rules on net neutrality will come into effect on 20th November and will force US ISPs to disclose network management practices and performance characteristics; stop them from blocking any form of lawful content, applications or services; and fixed broadband providers will not be allowed to discriminate in transferring lawful network traffic.

We think one clear flaw of the new regulations is the differentiation given to mobile and fixed providers. Whilst fixed providers are unable to discriminate, mobile providers are not restricted by the same regulation – making it possible for mobile providers to discriminate against traffic from, say, Skype. It seems odd that the FCC would allow this when they have clamped down so harshly on the rest of the net neutrality principles.

This new legislation is likely to suffer a number of legal challenges as both wired and wireless providers attempt to resist the reforms. One such law suit is the case brought by Verizon who filed an appeal, arguing that the agency had no authority to impose its net neutrality rules. Verizon has already attempted to argue against these regulations but were denied as the rules were not official at the time. Activist group, Free Press, who are strong supporters of net neutrality have also appealed for a federal appeals court to review FCC’s rules because of wireless companies being exempted from most of the rules. We will therefore wait to see who wins.

So, we can see two very different approaches to protecting net neutrality between Europe and in particular the UK and the US. Where we feel legislation is not currently necessary the US obviously disagrees, although they differentiate between the practices of fixed and mobile providers. Usually in the case of technology where the US leads the UK tends to follow, so it will be interesting to monitor this situation closely. Who knows – if the new website reports several infringes – maybe we will be forced to rethink our earlier assumptions and consider legislation after all. Either way, we appear to be singing from the same hymn sheet in our belief that net neutrality needs protecting and a tiered Internet should be avoided.

Have your say!

What are your thoughts on net neutrality? Do you believe it should be protected and all traffic should be treated equally or do you think ISPs and content providers should be allowed to make agreements as they see fit and prioritise/discriminate against certain types of traffic? Let us know your thoughts by leaving us a comment below.

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