So communications minister Ed Vaizey has unilaterally ditched net neutrality, setting his face against his own internet adviser, Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, internet inventor Vint Cerf, and the prevailing sentiment in Brussels. Why?
Firstly, in the UK, net neutrality, namely the idea that on the net every bit is equal, and that everyone uses their best efforts to get them to their destination asap, is an honourable principle dishonoured in practice.
The internet service providers assocation ISPA freely admits that ISPs shape the traffic on their networks – to protect the quality of service to the average user, it says. So too do the mobile network operators, most of whose urban masts face increasing congestion. Vaizey said so.
Secondly, data volumes are growing. Vaizey quoted Cisco saying mobile data traffic will double every year through to 2014. That’s 3.6 exabytes of traffic a month – roughly equivalent to 175,000 years of DVD quality video.
One wonders if Cisco has figured in the traffic volumes from “the internet of things”, the sensor-based networks that will monitor energy usage, traffic flows, health conditions, equipment status, stock movements, COs emissions, soil hydration and who knows what else, all of which will add to traffic volumes after 2014. .
Thirdly, due to various reasons, the UK finds itself increasingly behind other countries in the auction of 4G mobile frequencies.That is going lead to further congestion of the airwaves until at least 2014, and the growing need to discriminate between bits on the network if essential messages are to get through in good time.
So let’s be generous. Vaizey’s statement that a two-tier internet would not be unacceptable, is a temporising measure, one that is required, force majeur, until the network operators can install more capacity.
The worry is that network operators will see this as a blessed opportunity to milk the scarity value of bandwidth. They would be less than human to resist the temptation to increase prices – a lot, if you want a decent service. One only has to look at the present 2G broadband service in rural areas to see the future of so-called next generation broadband in the UK if net neutrality is really ditched forever.
The only way to stop network users from being plucked like Christmas turkeys is to make the UK attractive to investors in new networks. Abandoning net neutrality sends the right pricing signal. Now Vaizey needs to make it easier for new network operators to get into the market. He has a golden opportunity on 2 December to say he will level the playing field as far as business rates go.
Yes, we know the results of Vtesse’s abortive court actions. Instead, ask the Valuation Office Agency why it overcharged non-BT fibre networks by so much between 2003 and 2010. The VOA said, “The revised 2005 list scale is 40% – 50% of
the original compiled 2005 list scale which had to be estimated due to a
lack of reliable rental evidence being available at the time the 2005
list was compiled. Really? Maybe they should have asked more people or got them to trust the VOA more. That sort of error make investors nervous because it shows a lack of clarity about the “mess” they are getting into.
Ofcom could also help by falling in with EU recommendations that incumbent telcos offer dark fibre as a product. In fact, BT could signal its good intentions by voluntarily adding dark fibre to Openreach’s price list.
But perhaps UK plc’s best hope is the nascent Public Service Network. We understand that built into its DNA, as it were, is the intention to allow it to carry non-public sector traffic. This could put fibre-based comms within spitting distance of almost every office and home in the country. And if a high speed local wireless local loop were added to the end of the fibre, every home could have genuine high speed broadband service, possibly in time to meet Vaizey’s 2015 deadline.
All it takes is courage, will and determination. In other words, JFDI.