Ed Vaizey threatens to abandon net neutrality

Internet service providers should be allowed to abandon net neutrality and prioritise access to certain content, culture minister Ed Vaizey said in a speech today.

The Tory minister revealed plans to scrap the current consensus on so-called 'net neutrality', saying that a lightly-regulated Internet was "good for business, good for the economy and good for people".

Net neutrality is the principle that all traffic on the Internet - web, email, streaming video, VoIP phone calls and others - is given the same priority, ensuring that all providers compete on a level playing field.

Abandoning net neutrality would effectively open the way for a 'two-tier' internet, in which ISPs could deliver the content from some web sites to users more quickly, with access to greater bandwidth - while others, given lower priority, could see their traffic suffer.

Ditching the principle could even lead to a situation in which web sites pay ISPs to ensure their content gets priority.

BBC technology chief Eric Hugger last month warned telecoms watchdog Ofcom against allowing ISPs to discriminate between different content providers. He said that such a move would stifle online innovation - including, for instance, the corporation's own iPlayer.

But according to a report on The Guardian web site, Ed Vaizey today told an audience in London that ISPs should be free to favour one content provider over another - as long as they tell their customers they're doing so.

"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," Vaizey explained at the telecoms conference, hosted by the Financial Times.

"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 users," Vaizey added.

Plans by Google and mobile operator Verizon to cook up a deal sidelining net neutrality in the US led to fierce condemnation when they were revealed back in July. The search giant later defended the deal, reaffirming its commitment to net neutrality for wired broadband.