Why progressives need to wake up about net neutrality

At present your Internet Service Provider (ISP) does not discriminate between different types of web data. So the text, images etc. of this Left Foot Forward article are delivered to you at the same speed as a page from the BBC News website or an auction page on eBay.

Net neutrality: it sounds a bit geeky, a bit nerdy, and no one in British politics really seems to understand it. The term might have entered your consciousness yesterday if you read one of the stories appearing in the media with a title along the lines of the BBC’s “Minister Ed Vaizey backs ‘two-speed‘ internet”. So what’s the problem I hear you ask?

Public versus private is essentially the problem – that’s the reason why Labour needs a resolute response to Mr Vaizey’s proposals, and why Liberal Democrats should also be profoundly concerned about the coalition’s thinking on this.

At present your Internet Service Provider (ISP) does not discriminate between different types of web data. So the text, images etc. of this Left Foot Forward article are delivered to you at the same speed as a page from the BBC News website or an auction page on eBay.

Fast forward to the internet system advocated by Mr Vaizey and that would not necessarily be so. eBay could strike a deal with your ISP, meaning eBay pages load much faster than Left Foot Forward or BBC pages do.

For text and images you might not notice the difference. But how about video? Not only does online video require considerably more data transfer, but the major UK player in the online video sector – BBC’s iPlayer – is run by a public sector broadcaster. It would, as a matter of principle, not enter into bargains with some ISPs rather than others for faster provision of its services.

There’s an alternative company that would have no such qualms; News Corp, already dominant in the UK newspaper market, is aiming to take full control of Sky, and Sky is already an ISP as well as a television company. Get Sky Sports on your PC in HD quality, but iPlayer will be clunky and slow.

Mr Vaizey says all of this is not a problem in a liberalised market as consumers can change their ISP freely. True in theory, but anyone who’s ever gone through that process knows it is time consuming and fraught with difficulties. A simple choice akin to buying one brand of baked beans or the other it is not. As ever Tom Watson is doing his best to highlight these issues – and yesterday pubished a Commons Early Day Motion on this issue – but he seems to be rather a lone voice in the Labour party just now.

It is time more progressives woke up to these issues.

• For more on the issue see ArsTechnica and The Guardian’s Organ Grinder blog.

40 Responses to “Why progressives need to wake up about net neutrality”

  1. Dilettante Music

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why progressives need to wake up about net neutrality: http://bit.ly/d7FIrx writes @JonWorth >THIS ISSUE IS CRITICAL

  2. Other TaxPayers Alli

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  3. Lee Hyde

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why progressives need to wake up about net neutrality: http://bit.ly/d7FIrx writes @JonWorth

  4. Clay Harris

    Good basic outline RT @OtherTPA RT @leftfootfwd Why progressives need to wake up about net neutrality http://bit.ly/d7FIrx writes @JonWorth

  5. Rooftop Jaxx

    RT @OtherTPA: RT @leftfootfwd Why progressives need to wake up about net neutrality: http://bit.ly/d7FIrx writes @JonWorth

  6. Jon Worth

    Wow, 4 RTs in a matter of moments after my net neutrality piece was published on @leftfootfwd http://bit.ly/bhJEOX

  7. SCIO Training

    RT @dominiccampbell: RT @leftfootfwd: Why progressives need to wake up about net neutrality: http://bit.ly/d7FIrx writes @JonWorth #gov20 !!

  8. Sean Kirwan

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why progressives need to wake up about net neutrality: http://bit.ly/d7FIrx writes @JonWorth

  9. Gerry AKA

    RT @OtherTPA: RT @leftfootfwd Why progressives need to wake up about net neutrality: http://bit.ly/d7FIrx writes @JonWorth

  10. bill bold

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why progressives need to wake up about net neutrality: http://bit.ly/d7FIrx writes @JonWorth

  11. Morgan Dalton

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why progressives need to wake up about net neutrality: http://bit.ly/d7FIrx writes @JonWorth

  12. Rob Coley

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why progressives need to wake up about net neutrality: http://bit.ly/d7FIrx writes @JonWorth

  13. dan mcquillan

    RT @OtherTPA: RT @leftfootfwd Why progressives need to wake up about net neutrality: http://bit.ly/d7FIrx writes @JonWorth

  14. christine clifford

    RT @dominiccampbell: RT @leftfootfwd: Why progressives need to wake up about net neutrality: http://bit.ly/d7FIrx writes @JonWorth #gov20

  15. StephenH

    Indeed this seems like the ultimate in crony capitalism.

    Does BT get to regulate the bandwidth of Skype?

    Plus it throttles any startup that relies on explosive growth prior to producing revenues. twitter, facebook, vimeo…

    It also confines non-profit organisations such as Wikipedia to a low bandwidth text only slow-lane.

    This cannot be allowed.

  16. Jonathan Waring

    RT @OtherTPA: RT @leftfootfwd Why progressives need to wake up about net neutrality: http://bit.ly/d7FIrx writes @JonWorth

  17. NetNeutralUk

    Don’t let the great services from the BBC and YouTube be destroyed.

    Sign the petition to keep the UK Net Neutral
    http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/keeptheuknetneutral/

  18. Emrys Schoemaker

    An easy win: “@dominiccampbell: RT @leftfootfwd: Why progressives need to wake up about net neutrality: http://bit.ly/d7FIrx #gov20”

  19. J.P.E. Harper-Scott

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why progressives need to wake up about net neutrality: http://bit.ly/d7FIrx writes @JonWorth

  20. Joe Cassels

    RT @leftfootforward : Jon Worth on why progressives need to wake up about net neutrality http://bit.ly/aWiq4b

  21. Ganja Bot

    Why progressives need to wake up about net neutrality – Left Foot Forward http://ff.im/-u1M9E

  22. scandalousbill

    StephenH,
    I agree with your response. N addition, Vaizy has conveniently overlooked the consolidation occurring within the UK media. The policy proposed creates walled corridors can be used to not only impact competition from start-ups, but from established providers as well.
    The vertical integration that News Corp would achieve with the BskyB purchase is illustrative of the problem with the creation of walled corridors by ISPs. The proposed scheme would allow News Corp through its BskyB ISP to allow high speed traffic to its own services but to virtually eliminate user access to competitors, whether the BBC, the Guardian, any blogs Murdoch doesn’t fancy etc. In your example, BT could throttle off, or charge a premium to its user base for Skype access

    The impact of the ill advised two tiered internet will become even more apparent as the rise in bandwidth intensive and multimedia applications and services increase. (IPTV is a particular case in point.) Current technology enables the identification and manipulation of data stream by ISP on a per user or per website basis. The concentration of this power with a select few vested interests will not foster any new innovation or serve the public interest. It simply creates a system of rigid monopolies. Instead of providers using innovation and service enhancement to generate revenue, they simply retain the status quo under a more favourable pricing scheme.

  23. London Chit Chat

    There remains plenty of issues that divide Labour and the Tories, Net Neutrality should be one of them http://bit.ly/aX1Nxm

  24. cim

    Article: At present your Internet Service Provider (ISP) does not discriminate between different types of web data.
    Petition in comment 2: [ISPs] shouldn’t discriminate between different kinds of content and services

    I appreciate some of the general principles of net neutrality, but these are problematic statements. Different types of internet traffic have different requirements.

    Live Video: Needs extremely high bandwidth (connection speed) and low latency (time to establish connections)
    Streaming pre-recorded video: Still needs extremely high bandwidth, but high latency is tolerable.
    Audio (e.g. Skype): high bandwidth, low latency
    Web pages: low bandwidth, moderate latency
    Bulk file transfers: bandwidth needed varies, but very high latency is acceptable.
    Online games: variable bandwidth, but usually fairly low – but needs very low latency.

    I’d far rather ISPs were able to control different types of traffic differently, to give them the type of network connection that they need, on networks not physically capable of providing every request from every user with high-bandwidth, low-latency connections, rather than being legally forced to run everything at some sort of inadequate single setting.

    I’ve yet to see a “net neutrality” proposal that allows this sort of (legitimate and vital!) network traffic management while still disallowing the activities objected to in the post. In at least some cases, it seems fairly clearly to be the intent of the “net neutrality” proposers that traffic management is outlawed.

    scandalousbill/3: In your example, BT could throttle off, or charge a premium to its user base for Skype access

    Given that Skype does have higher network requirements than web browsing, charging a premium for it (or giving a discount for connections that don’t need it) isn’t actually unreasonable.

    If you mean BT Broadband placing an unreasonable premium on it to discourage Skype usage, well, this isn’t the USA with its regional monopolies and duopolies on consumer internet, where that sort of behaviour is worrying plausible – people can choose a different ISP if that happens. The vast majority of negative consequences from this sort of activity can be avoided by having competition – as we do – in the ISP market. A consumer ISP could very easily make “net neutrality” a selling point, even (just as there are already niche ISPs where you pay slightly more for a connection tailored to heavy internet use).

  25. L DTUC

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why progressives need to wake up about net neutrality: http://bit.ly/d7FIrx writes @JonWorth

  26. Kunglu

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why progressives need to wake up about net neutrality: http://bit.ly/d7FIrx writes @JonWorth

  27. scandalousbill

    Hi Cim,

    Good post, but I feel that your position underestimates the nature of triple/quadruple play service offerings, their growth potential, particularly the future of IPTV and other on demand and interactive multimedia services, and the increased capacity demands these services will imply. . As the so called home gateways, femtocells etc. increase, multiple in home usage of bandwidth intensive applications will follow, (e.g. Dad and mom watching web delivered HDTV, junior playing video games, sister making Videocalls etc. This occurs within a context where business demands for bandwidth capacity are also rising rapidly. Within this context, the deployment of usage based pricing can be problematic. Let us review your example in this context.
    You state: “Given that Skype does have higher network requirements than web browsing, charging a premium for it (or giving a discount for connections that don’t need it) isn’t actually unreasonable.”

    First of all, this is a rather one sided approach in favour of the bandwidth provider. If a premium is to be charged for more capacity usage, should the user not be entitled to a discount for the provider’s failure to deliver a consistent level of bandwidth rate contracted for to the user? If I contract for 50 Megs and get 10megs, why should my contract remain valid? If you paid a contractor to provide a new kitchen, and he simply gives you a new cooker, can you not refuse payment and take further legal action?
    The present approach allowed by OFCOM, citing the infamous “up to” clause has resulted in not one single supplier delivering the contracted bandwidth. Yes, last mile traffic inhibitors and limitations always apply, but none of these factors are reflected in the provider’s marketing or pricing of the service. Although more subscribers are added to the service, the concentrators and backhaul remain largely the same and users are required to divide up the bandwidth available. The more users connected, the greater the concurrency, the less bandwidth for each individual user. Even though long term contracts are the norm, there is no Service Level Agreement afforded to the user. This practice enables an easy method of cost recover to the provider, i.e. more subscription revenue for the same deployments.
    .When you then permit the provider to implement a differentiated prioritization and pricing scheme within this already one sided relationship, you stack the deck further in favour of the service provider. Any business manager who wants to retain his job, when confronted with a situation of, say, a pay per view revenue stream for 100 subscribers will prioritize this stream even if he has 200 users who pay a basic rate, who may not enjoy or face service disruption their lower capacity level services. Money talks, pure and simple. To change provider, in most cases in the UK, invokes a penalty for early termination. Although these factors are generally common to all providers, they are by nature, internal business matters. The playing field is the same. They all do it!
    The situation will only exacerbate as the bandwidth demands increase. The growth in network capacity, to the levels required to facilitate the Coalition dream of high speed bandwidth for all, under the proposed two tiered system is most likely to be much slower than if a net neutral system was adopted by legislation. From my experience, a startup telecom company, or large scale ISP, in the present UK licensing environment, has as much chance of survival as a turkey at Christmas.

  28. Shaun Dyer

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why progressives need to wake up about net neutrality: http://bit.ly/d7FIrx writes @JonWorth

  29. Look Left – Cameron adviser resigns after "disgraceful" remarks | Left Foot Forward

    […] In essence, what Mr Vaizey proposes is an online ‘free market’, which, as Jon Worth explained on Left Foot Forward today, could result in text and images loading slower on some sites than […]

  30. Spir.Sotiropoulou

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why progressives need to wake up about net neutrality http://bit.ly/digMEe

  31. Mr. Sensible

    Fully agree, Jon.

    Can’t believe that people like News Corp could be able to manipulate internet traffic in this way.

  32. SteveTaff

    Why progressives need to wake up about net neutrality http://bit.ly/d6OO12 -FREEDOM!

  33. Lee Hyde

    Reading: "Why progressives need to wake up about net neutrality | Left Foot Forward" ( http://bit.ly/9O6SZS )

  34. the_no

    RT @anubeon: Reading: "Why progressives need to wake up about net neutrality | Left Foot Forward" ( http://bit.ly/9O6SZS )

  35. James Grant

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why progressives need to wake up about net neutrality: http://bit.ly/d7FIrx writes @JonWorth

  36. cim

    scandalousbill: I do agree with a lot of that. Bandwidth requirements are going to increase significantly in the future, and the current infrastructure isn’t going to be able to deal with it.

    I don’t, however, see “net neutrality” as the right solution, and I think it rules out a lot of things that are necessary or useful parts of the solution.

    With the exception of consumer ISPs, there’s never been “net neutrality”. You run a server, you pay a hosting company £X for some combination of total bandwidth usage and connection speed, backed up by Service Level Agreements. The hosting company will then negotiate an SLA with its network providers to let it meet your SLA with it, who’ll negotiate with their network partners, and so on. No “neutrality” whatsoever, but everyone gets the level they pay for.

    Forcing consumer ISPs on to that model, by abolishing the “up to” get-out clause, would be far more useful than “net neutrality” and would achieve the Berners-Lee definition of “net neutrality” anyway. It might be an easier sell to the public than the relatively technical (and hardly universally-agreed in definition) “net neutrality”

  37. Jon Worth

    @anthonypainter We have to make alternatives work. And the left needs to be aware of Net Neutrality http://is.gd/xdN3ph

  38. Alison Charlton

    Also, worth #ff'ing @jonworth and reading – the left needs to be aware of Net Neutrality http://is.gd/xdN3ph

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