eBay, Yahoo tell Vaizey to back net neutrality

Internet giants eBay and Yahoo joined Skype and others in calling on UK communications minister Ed Vaizey to make a clear commitment to protect net neutrality.

In an open letter, the coalition of Internet companies, venture capitalists and campaign groups demanded UK Government's continued backing for the idea that all Internet traffic should be treated equally.

The group wants the Government to adopt legislation based on five key principles, including openness, the requirement that data traffic management should only be used for technical, security or legal reasons, and the creation of a strong regulatory framework.

The letter, which was also sent to culture secretary Jeremy Hunt and business secretary Vince Cable, states:

"The internet should remain open so that everyone is able to send and receive the content, use the services and run the application of their choice, on the device of their choice, within the law.

"End-users' choice of which applications, content, and services to view, use or run is already restricted in the UK today, especially when accessing the Internet on mobile. The government's commitment to the open Internet must be reflected in action on the ground to remove any such arbitrary restrictions to the open Internet."

Among the 19 signatories to the letter are eBay, Skype, Yahoo Europe, music site we7 (co-owned by Peter Gabriel, who last month spoke out on the threat to net neutrality), as well as the Open Rights Group, the National Union of Journalists, consumer group Which?, Oxford University, free speech campaigners Article 19, and the Coalition for a Digital Economy (Coadec).

One notable name absent from the list was that of the BBC - not, corporation sources have said, because it disagrees with the call, but because it couldn't clear the letter through its regulatory procedures quickly enough for the other parties involved. BBC technology chief Erik Huggers has repeatedly spoken out in favour of net neutrality.

Vaizey last month provoked accusations that the Government would usher in a "two-tier Internet", after suggesting in a speech that ISPs should be free to favour one content provider over another - as long as they tell their customers they are doing so.

A lightly-regulated Internet was, Vaizey said, "good for business, good for the economy and good for people".

Vaizey later appeared to backtrack on the comments, claiming that he had been "misunderstood".