Peter Gabriel joins BBC in backing net neutrality

Peter Gabriel has joined the chorus of protest against UK Government plans to abandon net neutrality, outlined by minister Ed Vaizey on Wednesday.

Ditching net neutrality - the principle that all traffic carried over the internet is given equal priority - could see smaller providers left behind as they are outbid by bigger competitors in a 'two-tier' web.

Rock star and former Genesis front man Gabriel, who has backed a number of successful internet companies, said the plan could threaten British businesses - and, if taken up elsewhere in the world, may even undermine democracy.

National broadcaster the BBC has already come out against the proposals, and opposition Labout MP - until recently, an influential political blogger - has urged an emergency debate in parliament on the issue.

"I feel very strongly about it," Gabriel said in a report in The Guardian newspaper. "It's vital to a free and open democracy: [net neutrality] serves everybody."

Gabriel is behind streaming music portal We7.com, which earlier this year became the first streaming music service to cover its costs. He has also invested in a number of internet startups including On Demand Distribution (OD2).and online recommendation engine provider The Filter, which sells its technology to major clients including the BBC, Nokia, NBC, Sony Music and online video sharing site Daily Motion.

David Maher Roberts, chief executive of The Filter, said the move could undermine users' freedom to access information.

"From our point of view net neutrality makes things accessible," he said. "That plays into the ubiquity of content, and that makes everything more relevant to me. If users only have access to what their ISP allows through, that's not good from a business perspective. You've got to allow startups to deliver next-generation tools."

Gabriel fears the abandonment of net neutrality could present a bigger danger still, allowing companies and governments to deliberately stifle the free flow of information.

"The pace of technological change means there's a battle for the internet," said Gabriel. "It used to be a free and open zone. Now there are governments around the world, especially in China, spending money trying to control this beast."

Speaking at the same Financial Times technology conference at which Vaizey unveiled his plans, BBC technology chief Erik "Tree" Huggers expressed his opposition to the proposals, threatening that the corporation would introduce a 'traffic light' system to warn users if their ISP was throttling their connection to services such as the BBC's iPlayer.

Opposition Labour MP Tom Watson last night called for an emergency debate on the issue in the House of Commons