Everything Everywhere, Virgin Media, and Vodafone have refused to sign an open Internet code of conduct created to ensure “full and open” Internet access, while ten other Internet service providers, including BT, O2, and TalkTalk, have endorsed the document.
The agreement, designed as a set of guidelines requiring ISPs to deliver Internet access with openness and transparency, was compiled at the government’s behest by the Broadband Stakeholders Group (BSG), an advisory body focussing on broadband in the UK. It’s built on last year’s Traffic Management Transparency Code.
The Open Internet Code of Practice engenders signatories to commit to not restricting content without valid grounds, and calls for ISPs to commit to offering “full and open” Internet access, behaving with greater transparency, and promising not to “target and degrade” certain providers’ content.
Net neutrality activists have been raising concerns for years about the possibility of a scenario under which ISPs could begin stratifying Internet access, charging higher rates for full Internet access or giving their own content priority while throttling others’ content.
But the three ISPs boycotting the code say they are opposed to the language used in the document. Vodafone described the guidelines as “impractical,” while Virgin Media said they were too vague.
"We are not against the principles behind the code – having signed up to last year's Transparency Code – but are concerned that the language would have resulted in us having to give a very confusing message to customers – that their phones do not offer ‘internet access' when they do offer access to the internet,” a Vodafone spokesperson told Computing.
Along the same lines, Everything Everywhere insists it is not opposed to the “principle” of transparency and open Internet, but objects to the framework of this particular agreement.
"As the market and content delivery models are still evolving, [the Orange and T-Mobile partnership believes] it is too early to know how a code of this type will affect customers' internet experience." And, likely, its own bottom line.
But the new code is important to guaranteeing the public is protected when it comes to net neutrality, some have said.
“The [I]nternet has been built on openness and low barriers to entry, and this agreement will ensure that continues. By committing to transparency, these ISPs are empowering their customers to make informed decisions about the services they want,” said Culture, Communication, and Creative Industries Minister Ed Vaizey.
“With this code ISPs are making practical, tangible commitments to the open [I]nternet,” said BSG chief executive Pamela Learmonth.
“At the same time the code will also support an environment where new business models for Internet-based services to the benefit of consumer choice can be developed,” she continued.
In addition to the open code of conduct, the BSG is also creating a new mechanism through which content providers will be able to raise concerns about ISP discrimination.