The British are distracted by a royal wedding and the government is eager to change the fundamental principles of the internet! After the radical social welfare cuts, the big society joke, the increase of student fees which are linked to a privatisation of higher education, this is another great idea of the British government…
Under the new provisions providers must present information about their service, including the nature and extent of their traffic management policies and their impact on service quality in a clear, visible and easy to understand form for all their customers.
A transcript of the speech is available here. The essence of the argument:
Consumers should have the ability to access any legal content or service. Content and service providers should have the ability to innovate and, most importantly, to reach end users. (…) This means ISPs should be allowed to manage their networks to ensure a good customer service. It means allowing flexibility in business models. (…) A lightly regulated internet is good for business, good for the economy and good for people.
The rhetoric of the speech is clever because he uses the language of the supporters of net neutrality (Just look at the title of the document: “The Open Internet Speech”). However, I think it is important to note that he only talks in terms of customers and consumers – and not of citizens. So the only worry he seems to have is how to please businesses. He basically misses the point that net neutrality is probably the most important factor for innovation and growth with regards to the internet. And he talks a lot about transparency and openness – but only to justify restrictions that could be imposed on consumers. Everything is allowed as long as you are open and transparent about it! Screw the people but tell them that they have been screwed.
[Update: Rene Obermann, the CEO of Deutsche Telekom in Germany is also thinking about "different levels of internet quality ".]
What is the problem with the idea to abandon net neutrality? It is basically the idea that some data packages get favourable treatment and can be transmitted faster than other data packages. In order to get this favourable treatment for a certain website or service, somebody needs to pay extra – either the company or the consumer or both. Basically your internet provider (the company that provides your internet access!) can decide what kind of services and websites are more important. It is obvious that this has huge implications for democratic principles and basic rights. The internet could be transformed into a huge broadcasting channel for wealthy content providers. You can find a good introduction at the excellent La Quadrature du net. To illustrate the problem, have a look at the following image and think carefully whether you want to have an internet that looks like that: