The UK government has controversially backed calls to allow the development of a ‘two-speed’ internet, despite critics warning this could potentially lead to providers limiting access to certain websites for commercial reasons.
In his speech on the future of the internet, culture minister Ed Vaizey said ministers would adopt a ‘light touch’ approach to regulation – an approach which critics warn could spell the end of so-called ‘net neutrality’ whereby internet users can access all websites on an equal basis.
ISPs have pushed to levy charges on sites generating large volumes of traffic, and this new development could allow them to ration access to or limit download speeds of sites which refuse to pay, while sites willing to pay the levy would be given ‘fast lane’ access.
Vaizey defended the move by stressing it is necessary to allow ISPs to innovate, adding: “A lightly regulated internet is good for business, good for the economy and good for people.”
Vaizey pointed out that unlike America where Barack Obama has committed to net neutrality, the UK provides a wide range of ISPs and the strong competition is “an essential safeguard of unfair discrimination”. He also added that Ofcom would be tasked with reviewing the situation to ensure providers do not abuse their powers.
Meanwhile the BBC is developing software to counter the possibility of internet discrimination and alert broadband users if their ISP is degrading the quality of the iPlayer.
BBC head of future media and technology Erik Huggers said the software will only be used if necessary to enable broadband users to see that their ISPs are “behaving appropriately.”