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back to article UK.gov ignores 'net neutrality' campaigners

ISPs will be allowed to charge content providers to prioritise their traffic, the government indicated today. A speech by the communications minister Ed Vaizey confirmed that the concept of "net neutrality" remains irrelevant in the UK under the coalition. As long as providers are open about their policies, he said, the …

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Ummm

"ISPs should be allowed to manage their networks to ensure a good customer service"

That's not the same as asking the BBC to pay them if they don't want iPlayer to stop working.

And many users don't have a choice of ISP, because moving to a real ISP from (say) their cable/satellite bundle costs much much more.

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WTF?

Rubbish

"And many users don't have a choice of ISP"

Rubbish.

"because moving to a real ISP from (say) their cable/satellite bundle costs much much more."

So they don't have a choice... but they do. Only good service costs money. You want first class travel for the price of a cheap off-peak fare, but don't want to pay for it.

Boo-hoo!

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Anonymous Coward

You know nothing

I can only get cable where I am because all the phone lines are aluminium

I can't get ADSL over 512k no matter what and I have tried.

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Same here

Same here, except my 80's-built estate (nothing special here) has some sort of weird covenant forbidding any further excavations (and outside TV aerials, to boot, despite lousy off-air signals), so when the ancient Rediffusion cable system that had been in the town since Noah was a boy (complete with vicious picture patterning!) was replaced with Telewest (as was), we didn't get cabled. The only other thing I was looking at was a firm called VFast http://www.vfast.co.uk

that do a wireless system around Kent, UK and I am in the catchment area. Do away with the landline, use mobile phone only (hardly use it for calls, anyway) and the running costs are more-or-less the same.

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Flame

Sick of the victim culture!

What kind of numptie moves into an estate with such stupid regulations?

Rather than blame the ISPs perhaps you should blame the estate, or, more to the point, yourself!

You have choices, be man enough to take responsibility for your life. Stop being a victim.

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That would only work if...

... you could live in the house for a week to test the speed of the broadband line.

I can't see many landlords allowing that. A property is a huge investment; it's not always an option to ditch it and move just because the broadband isn't up to speed.

That's like selling and buying a new car because the radio doesn't receive your favourite station while at work - something you'd only find out if you used it for a week before you bought it, but something that isn't a concern of the sales garage. Yes, you can replace the radio, but you'll get the same effect because the infrastructure isn't there.

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FAIL

how long before

business email is classed as "priority" that needs paying for?

reminds me of how many GP's jumped on the 0870 you pay for their golf membership lines

"your call is important to us, please hold for a further 20 mins at 14p per minute until we cut you off suddenly"

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Anonymous Coward

Did anyone really think....

That the conservatives would be better than Labour when it comes to protecting the consumer over business?

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Anonymous Coward

Filth, bloody tories will allow fatties to get fatter

Its all about money!

We'll all have to pay more, just watch and learn!

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Anonymous Coward

How could this work fairly?

I realise it's only prioritisation through the ISP's network, anything outside of that is still unprioritised. (presumably it's cheaper than investing in network infrastructure!)

The problem is, I decide what is high priority for me, not the company that has the most money! If I create a stunning open source alternative to Skype, that beats it hands down in every way, it's no good if all the calls keep getting dropped because Skype can pay to have it's traffic prioritised over my application's.

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Pirate

Open Source

Great example, I hadn't thought about how open source systems would suffer under this.

Future Microsoft Quote

"Access to Windows update will now be faster for UK customers, because we are nice and paid your ISP to make it work faster for you."

Small Print

"Oh but if you use Ubuntu then forget about updates, they might time out, sorry..."

--Pirate, because what the hell its bittorrent that will end up slower!

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@AC

>>"The problem is, I decide what is high priority for me, not the company that has the most money!"

Well, you potentially decide what's a priority (or not) for your computer/network, and they decide what's a priority or not for theirs.

I'm sure that if enough people actually noticed a difference, and wanted to pay more for a more 'neutral' service, someone would offer one, and most people would be able to choose it.

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Re: How could this work fairly?

I don't understand your scenario here. You develop an alternative to Skype. OK. Now, either your customers all connect to your server, in which case it is up to you to pay the premium for QoS, or your customers connect to each other, in which case it is up to them. In neither case does the traffic pass through a connection that Mr Skype is paying for, so I don't see how it matters how much money Skype have.

Maybe you mean that Skype could pay ISPs to perform deep packet inspection and sabotage any packets carrying your protocol. In that case, I think you need to refer to the Phorm case, where the consensus was that such inspection was a criminal offence.

At the risk of drawing an analogy, the Royal Mail and various courier companies carry stuff in exchange for cash. Presumably there's a risk that one company might pay (bribe) couriers to lose or refuse to carry packages from that company's rivals. However, I've never heard of that happening.

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Re: Future Microsoft Quote

"Access to Windows update will now be faster for UK customers, because we are nice and paid your ISP to make it work faster for you."

Pointless if *I* have paid *my* ISP to prioritise all *my* packets, which is what the government are talking about here.

I think that's the key to the whole net neutrality debate. If you are unable to imagine paying for QoS out of your own pocket, then you simply get the quality paid for by the other end of your conversation. For freetards on peer-to-peer networks, that's a terrifying prospect. For the rest of us, the option to pay a little extra and queue-jump aforesaid freetards is quite attractive.

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Boffin

There are going to be a lot of comments along these lines...

... so I would like to know what people like Ken Hagan use the internet for that makes their packets so much more important than a "freetard"'s. A good answer would, inter alia: comprehensively define what is a "freetard" and, equally, what constitutes a "good netizen" (or whatever word is preferred); why certain packets are more "worthy" than others; and then, based on the answers to the other parts of the question, explain why a two-tier internet is *objectively* justified.

I bet I don't get any decent answers ...

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@Ken Hagan

>> Pointless if *I* have paid *my* ISP to prioritise all *my* packets, which is what the government are talking about here.

No - that is exactly not what the government is talking about. Nobody is worried that you can buy a more expensive broadband package and get higher bandwidth.

This is about *Microsoft* (or some other large company) paying your ISP to prioritise their traffic above other companies, so that I guess someone with the cheap broadband package would get higher data rate for windows updates than you with your expensive package would get with Ubuntu updates or whatever.

Of course, the government's argument is that you could always change ISP in this case.

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Unhappy

Interesting move

One way to cut p2p file sharing to 300 b/s.

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WTF?

The MP's showing once more what they are like!

“Under the light-touch plans “ … more like Under the light-torch paper (and stand well back) plans!

These absolute bastards in power keep showing they don't give a damn what we think or what almost the whole planet wide Internet community thinks! ... So once again, they show they just want to force through their ideas on to us and we just have to bend over and keep taking it and they just don't want to know what we think!

Proof if ever we needed it that the MP's we have over us are some of the biggest close minded arrogant bastards in the world. No other MP's in the world have yet to force a way to kill net neutrality.

Oh and how do they monetize the data stream ... they use Deep Packet Inspection technology to spy on us to work out exactly what data they are carrying!

To hell with them. (Disclaimer to the Police State, this "To hell with them" phrasing is a statement of anger, not a literal statement, you bunch of Police State building two faced, arrogant, corrupt, corporate loving, greedy, closed minded, bastards!).

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@Asgard

It wouldn't surprise me if dropping net neutrality is the carrot to persuade ISP's to start policing their pipes under the digital economy bill. The biggest issue there (for the ISP's) was cost to the ISP, now they can effectively operate a toll service they'll be free to rake up the £££'s to pay for the snooping gear and the threatening letters, whilst at the same time throttling p2p to the slowest possible speed.

That said, some ISP's have already landed in hot water over not delivering on their advertised speeds, if anyone doesn't get the speed advertised as a result of their traffic not being "priority" (i.e. paid a premium for) then I would suggest everyone takes their ISP to court en masse for false advertising.

Welcome to the tory internet, super fast broadband for the "proper folk", super fast broadband throttled to 1998 speeds for the plebs, just to remind them of where their place is.

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@Asgard

>>"These absolute bastards in power keep showing they don't give a damn what we think or what almost the whole planet wide Internet community thinks!"

What 'planet wide internet community' would that be?

I'd have thought that the majority of net users either worldwide or in the UK haven't even heard of 'net neutrality', and of the ones that have heard, most don't care unless it impacts on them.

After all, why *should* they care? - Many of the people who do care only care because they think it might slow down their filesharing, not out of any deep moral principles.

Do people only count as part of the community if they agree with you?

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"continue to be ignored by those holding the regulatory levers"

Not surprising, look how Phorm was buried and this isn't half as controversial.

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changing isp

"As long as providers are open about their policies, he said, the competitive market means consumers can take their business elsewhere."

Pretty sure I'm on a 12 month contract, so when their 'policies' change I'd have to cough up a cancellation fee

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Doubtful

That would almost certainly entail a change of service, which would necessitate a change of contract and if you refused to agree to the new contract (or weren't notified of it, etc.), you wouldn't be able to be charged just for that (i.e. they are trying to renegotiate a contract that you signed into one that you didn't and thus are obligated to allow you to continue as before or take advantage of early termination clauses in their contract because they are literally moving the goalposts on you, but they wouldn't be able to get you under the "you didn't complete the contract" pre-12-month fee clauses because of that). Worst that happens is you have to find another ISP and write a couple of threatening letters back if they send you some.

Don't accept that what they tell you is legally correct. If someone changes their service so that it is different to what you were promised and/or not suitable for your reasonable, stated intended use, then you can damn well get out of the contract just as easily as they can. It's hassle, yes, but then so is fighting a case that you weren't guilty of in the first place - doesn't mean you should just let it go and have them charge you for it.

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Anonymous Coward

Not quite

The 12 month contract is on the terms you signed up for. If either party, you or the ISP, decides to make changes then that's a new contract. My last ISP used to write to me periodically about changes, buried in the T&Cs would be the right to cancel. Basically the customer had a right to reject those terms within 14 days of receipt of the new details and terminate the contract without penalty. One day I didn't like the changes so I excercised that right.

It's part of consumer contract law the way it stands at the moment, but remember the coalition wants to change that too...

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Re: Changing ISP

I agree with what Lee and AC said, but:

My parents have changed to teleworst for phone, 'net and TV. If teleworst suddenly decide to de-prioritise VOIP packets, then my Dad has a right to cancel, right? But then does he cancel the whole lot (it's a special package)? Does he get a refund for the installation charge? If it was Sky, would he get a refund on the cost of his dish?

Then who does he go to? What if BT decide that they don't like the way that VOIP eats into revenue? What if the other ISPs take money from Skype and drop SIP VOIP? What choice does he have then?

Also from what I've read, people who change ISP loose the net for anything upto a couple of weeks. Very customer friendly.

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@Lee Dowling

>>"That would almost certainly entail a change of service, which would necessitate a change of contract ..."

Surely that's only the case if they have something in the contract about being packet-neutral, and their new behaviour breaches the contract.

It doesn't seem likely that a smart company would have gone out of their way put a clause in a contract promising to do something unless they thought that more than the odd potential customer would be likely to

a) look for and find such a clause

and

b) care

I'd wonder if the people who make the loudest noises about net neutrality are the kind of people the average ISP really wants as customers?

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Right to cancel

"then my Dad has a right to cancel, right?"

Depends on the wording of the contract. It could be argued that they were getting more than the contract offered them and the ISP is now paring back on their excessive services and are still providing service levels that meet the contractual obligations.

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Anonymous Coward

At the end of the day...

... if the contract is written in a way that consumer is confident they understand yet the company who wrote the contract actually meant something different then the court 9 times out of 10 will favour the consumer, had 2 such successful cases in small claims court based on that principal.

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Anonymous Coward

How this works then

Some ISPs already offer "low ping" _to their customers_ for an extra couple of quid each month, for those for whom that is important. It makes sense to me, for some people simply don't need that, and for others, a few quid is far less than they'd be willing to pay if the guarantees were hard enough.

The thing is, of course, the customer pays and now certain content providers will also want to pay the ISP. Since you can only do that if you're big enough, that will pose a problem for start ups.

Still and all, there is a vaguely comparable situation in supermarkets, where margins are razor thin and sales rely on cycling as much goods through the shelf-space as possible. Supermarkets basically sell prime shelf space to manufacturers to help boost their sales. Of course, as a consumer you still pay for each item individually. That's not the case for ISPs, where you typically pay a lump sum and even if you don't what you pay the ISP is not tied to your choice of website visit.

This, then, is a bit of a problem. The least ofcom could do is ensure that changing plans or even ISPs is as easy as walking over to the next supermarket over. Or at least as close as changing ISPs is ever going to get. Because ofcom are there to ensure "enough" freedom of choice remains for "the consumer". Still and all, they have a bit of time left to come up with something sensible to ensure that.

Perhaps they'll manage to side-step the hysteria between now and then. Perhaps not. We'll see. But the problem remains that the effects of prioritising on some content provider's behalf can be insidious even if the customer is "made aware" this happens.

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Anonymous Coward

ICMP

"Some ISPs already offer "low ping" _to their customers_ for an extra couple of quid each month, for those for whom that is important"

What's the advantage of prioritizing ICMP traffic?

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Anonymous Coward

Pedant much

You know he meant low latency but did not know much other than it gives a lower ping.

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Anonymous Coward

Oh, _I_ do. But I wasn't thinking of the technicalities.

That's where the quotes come in. It's the term the primary audience of that service uses, and seeing how at least some of them also shell out for specialist network cards for prices reminiscent of what audiophools will plunk down for "special" ethernet cabling, I didn't see much reason to muck up the issue with mere technical correctness.

If you want to talk technicalities, then try this on for size: The pro-and-con net-neutrality debaters usually forget or are not even aware that the problem underlying the kerfuffle triggered by way of some American ISPs doing some extremely ill-advised things to their customers' traffic _and lying about it_, that of the technical expression of "fairness", is fundamentally broken. Indeed it's so broken that certain peer-to-peer software manages to abuse the loopholes to the point of up to severely inconveniencing others. I think that fairness problem needs addressing worse than these games with new ways to charge various parties for something or other. That's what Briscoe is on about in his _Flow Rate Fairness: Dismantling a Religion_.

It's probably worth another plug: http://bobbriscoe.net/projects/2020comms/refb/fair_ccr.pdf

Disclaimer: No relation whatsoever, I just find his argument convincing.

So I wouldn't be surprised if ofcom is holding off the boat hoping for technical reason to emerge before they feel forced to step in and hand down some edict or other. Doesn't show much sign of that happening soonish, though.

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Anonymous Coward

title

I don't think anyone should be allowed to buy priority on the network. Make people pay for their bandwidth, sure, but don't give the wealthy an opportunity to make their services appear faster and more reliable than the competition.

It would be like selling couriers a licence to break the speed limit (If you ignore the safety implications). What's to stop everyone buying one? Only one thing... money. In fact, the system depends on the poor not being able to afford one otherwise the rich would have no one to take advantage of.

You might as well set up a scheme where people are allowed to piss through your letterbox if you have less money than them. It's cruel and mean spirited.

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Stop

not really

It's more like putting bigger engines in the more expensive cars. Mr Rich Richly can overtake Ms Moderate because he has more horsepower and a higher top speed. In the grand scheme of things, only petrol-heads worry about this difference, by and large. I strongly suspect that the same will apply to ISPs: mine currently sells a 'traffic shaped' product where some packets are more equal than others, and a 'full speed' product where all get the same priority. You pay your money and take your choice.

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(untitled)

"It would be like selling couriers a licence to break the speed limit (If you ignore the safety implications)."

Er, since speed limits are motivated purely by safety considerations, a better analogy might be "like allowing couriers to use vans if they were rich enough to buy them, rather than walking like the poor people do". The fact is, in nearly every other walk of life it is possible to buy a premium service if you can make enough cash to pay for it.

Perhaps it would help your sense of fairness if we repackaged it as "being able to send low-priority traffic at a special reduced rate". There! How could anyone object to the idea of rewarding people who make sacrifices?

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Anonymous Coward

Speed Limits?

Erm, except that breaking the speed limit endangers others - how exactly does this do that? If you don't want to give your business to an ISP that does this you're free to join another - or even set up your own.

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Unhappy

Jesus

Like the Internet in the UK isn't bad enough, now ISPs are going to auction their available bandwidth and use the additional profits to further pad their exec's pockets while still avoiding improving their networks.

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Dirty Tory Scum

Well that's one way to kill innovation in the UK.

Can't have any new competition for their big business mates can we.

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Bronze badge

Competition

In theory this should improve competition, but in practice what it produces is the lowest common denominator. All ISPs will end up offering exactly the same service the only difference being the price so consumers won't have any choice over what service they get, they'll just get to choose between identikit ISPs.

Remember the law regarding tied houses? The government decided to restrict the tied houses a brewery could have to improved competition. Sounded great in theory, but what happened was that the pubs that the breweries were sold off by the breweries were bought up by big companies who treated their tennant landlords in exactly the same way as the breweries had done before them in most cases charging the landlord even more rent because they weren't making as much out of the booze as the breweries had been. That was another Tory special. It looked like a great deal for the consumer if you didn't dig below the surface, but the devil was in the detail.

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@AC

>>"It just means each time the network has got busier, the restrictions have got worse, but profits have gone up- more users, forced to share the same services, due to tincrease throttling."

If the issue is capacity on a contended network, and an uncontended network is not a practical economic option, charging people for how much they use it seems to make sense.

>>"Net neutrality is the only system that's worked in practice, we haven't had it in the UK for a number of years and it's made things worse- when I first had ADSL I could download as much as I wanted on my 512kbps line, now I'm on 2mbps I can't even download a fraction of what I could then for the same price. How has allowing ISPs to throttle and cap helped improve things this last 5 years exactly? I could run a 24/7 webserver from my home just fine back then, I can't now, because I'll reach my bandwidth cap in no time."

What does having a bandwidth cap have to do with net neutrality?

You (or at least most people) could have a higher cap if it was paid for, though for many people, it would be cheaper to have the hosting done other than at the end of an ADSL line.

I'd have thought that allowing ISPs to throttle and cap does tend to improve the experience of people who aren't heavy net users, all other things being equal - one person finding it slower to pull down a movie here or an album there could be balanced out by various other people getting better performance than they might otherwise get.

Maybe better connectivity could improve the experience for everyone, but that has to be paid for, and how many people want to pay more for better connectivity.

Most light users probably don't, and even many heavy users would rather not pay for the network needed to support them doing what they want to do.

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Anonymous Coward

Hmmm

I'd argue the opposite - consumer broadband is shoddy because people don't pay enough for it. ISPs aren't making big profits, most struggle to break even. The only money is in pron and content provision. If people are willing to pay more for a better connection that will make the industry more investable and things will start to improve.

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This post has been deleted by a moderator

Vic
Silver badge

Hosting custom servers

> they built their servers to a bespoke spec and you're not going

> to find a hosting provider easily that'll accomodate that kind of custom build.

Yes you will.

What you're unlikely to find is a hosting provider[1] that will host non-racked servers *cheaply*.

Vic.

[1] I know of one, and I don't tell anyone else about it, because they'll run out of space in the cold room eventually...

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@AC

>>"BT just upgraded their backbone, there is no reason whatsoever the UK cannot have uncontended access with the relatively low speed of our connections here- the technology is available. The two barriers to this are a) BT's profiteering off it's monopoly, and b) ISPs having created this myth that there is a major bandwidth shortage, no way to solve it other than destroying the customer experience. There is no fundamental reason the UK has to have this severe bandwidth shortage."

So BT have paid for a backbone upgrade that they don't intend to use?

In any case, surely in any sanely designed network, there's likely to be contention, it's just that given enough capacity the contention might not get in the way of most people's usage, as long as not too many people are taking the piss.

If I (or almost anyone else) had a 100mbps connection, I wouldn't be likely to be using the full capacity all the time, or anything near that.

Given that, it wouldn't make any sense if the rural exchange I connect to actually had sufficient connection to the wider world to allow me and all my neighbours to all use our connection flat out all the time - it would just be a waste of money (that I'd have to pay for).

As for other countries, some may well have a cheaper/faster deal, but we're nowhere near the most expensive country for net access.

Even if you have somewhere where people can be on 100mbps connections, that's not necessarily uncontended - it could be that most users aren't actually doing much more than the average user here is, and the few people really using their connections are being subsidised by the rest (as they are elsewhere).

>>"Try connecting to a service like say Giganews using their SSL tunnel on many UK ISPs, ... they're capping bandwidth baed entirely on the provider. This is very much a breach of net neutrality."

And are they doing that because they hate Giganews, or because they reckon that slowing down a few people pulling down lots of large files improves service for other people and/or allows more sufficiently-happy customers to be serviced?

Who actually *cares* that it's 'a breach of net neutrality', apart from a few people doing a lot of downloading?

>>"Indeed but we're already paying enough, when we pay more than others, and are getting far less for it, the problem can only be a combination of higher profits and greater inefficiency from the likes of BT and ISPs - this is not our problem, but we're being forced to shoulder it. Not enforcing net neutrality just encourages this and allows them to get away with it."

But if 'they" are overcharging us now, when they're not neutral, do you think that forcing neutrality would actually improve services for the average customer, or lower prices?

Do you think that it'd make BT/ISPs decide to drop their profits?

Or maybe they'd just get rid of unprofitable customers, rather than trying to moderate their usage.

Would the all-you-can-eat restaurant lower their prices, or provide more food for everyone if they were required not to serve some food slower to some heavy eaters.

Or would they just tell the heavy eaters to eat elsewhere, if they reckoned that they cost more than they paid?

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Wow, the Brit government is doing something right that we can't get done

properly here in the States with respect to free enterprise. Somebody better send some firewood to Hell, I suspect they are having some problems down there.

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Anonymous Coward

Sort of

"As long as providers are open about their policies, he said, the competitive market means consumers can take their business elsewhere."

That's sort of true, but if a customer is with an ISP that piggybacks onto another ISPs infrastructure how do they know what traffic shaping is going on? Lets say your ISP provides your service via BT Central. You are not a BT customer but your traffic is going through BT's network before it hits your ISP. Your ISP has no control or even knowledge over what, if any, traffic shaping goes on between their BT Central link and your router. If your ISP don't know how can they inform you. If your ISP can't tell you how can you make an informed choice?

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@AC

>>"That's sort of true, but if a customer is with an ISP that piggybacks onto another ISPs infrastructure how do they know what traffic shaping is going on?"

Though it may be an off-the-wall idea, I guess they could ask, if they think enough of their customers actually care about the answer.

If they don't ask, or don't get told, or don't tell you, you can either decide not to care, or to make some assumptions about what's going on, or maybe to try and find out by some technical means.

If you can't find any technical way of working out if your service *is* being interfered with, is it likely to be being *meaningfully* interfered with?

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I wonder what would happen to...

...TOR?

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