You might think “self regulation” must have had its political day in the UK in the wake of the LIBOR banking and the newspaper phone hacking scandals (ongoing), but here we go again with a voluntary net neutrality code. It’s been cosily drawn up to suit the very companies that need the closest watching and so, naturally, it is just a collection of loosely-described escape hatches. By I.D. Scales.
In fact it’s so bad that two of the UK’s big providers won’t sign. Virgin Media (the single remaining UK cable company) says it doesn’t go far enough and is too vague. On the other side of the argument, according to the BBC, Vodafone implies it goes too far and is impractical because it means some services that it already deploys won’t be able to be called ‘Internet Access’.
And there is the big escape hatch.
Under the code, now signed by 10 of the UKs largest Internet access providers, ISPs will be able to deploy all manner of partially blocked and weirdly tariffed services (think uncounted video traffic) as long as they keep unblocked, open services available as an alternative at the same time. The dispensation depends on such “innovative” services not being marketed or described as “Internet Access”.
With that in mind read the official summary of the code as laid out by UK regulator, Ofcom. The signatories undertake to:
1. Ensure that full and open internet access products, with no blocked services, will be the norm within their portfolio of products.
2. Provide greater transparency in instances where certain classes of legal content, applications and/or services are unavailable on a product.
These products will not be marketed as “internet access” and signatories will be obliged to ensure that any restrictions are clearly communicated to consumers.
3. Not target and degrade the content or applications of specific providers.
Also - says Ofcom - a new process is being established to allow content providers to raise potential cases of targeted and negative discrimination with ISPs. If they are not satisfactorily resolved, these issues will be lodged with the Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) who will share them with Ofcom and government.
The key (above) in principle 3 is the word ‘specific’ providers and targetted and negative discrimination. So it will apparently be allowable to design a service in such a way that it discriminates against an entire class of traffic (say, for instance, streaming video services). This, be aware, is actually INSIDE the “Internet Access” part of the code.
The real big escape hatch is in ‘2’ with the concept that an ISP can deploy what is essentially an internet access product (as long as they don’t call it such) with specific blocks on it. As long as the provider communicates clearly what’s being blocked it can apparently do as much business discrimination as it likes.
I can hear the marketing slogans now. “Internet AND movies for only.... etc”.
Two-tier Internet here we come, but only if Internet users put up with it. Stand by for a fight.
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