Communications minister Ed Vaizey on Wednesday aligned himself against two key figures in internet history, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, and Vint Cerf, by giving the tacit go-ahead for the development of a "two-tier" internet.
Vaizey said the government had to continue to encourage the market to innovate and experiment with different business models and ways of providing consumers with what they want.
"This could include the evolution of a two-sided market where consumers and content providers could choose to pay for differing levels of quality of service," he told a communications conference in London.
Vaizey's comments appeared to reject the principle of net neutrality, the doctrine that holds that all bits on the net are equal, and that all involved in their transmission use their "best efforts" to get them to their destination as fast as possible.
Giving the keynote address at Nokia World in September, Berners-Lee, the UK government's internet consultant, said if the world abandoned net neutrality, "we would lose the Web as it is, and with it, the innovation that has brought us to this point. That's very important".
Giving evidence to the 2006 US Senate committee on commerce, science, and transportation hearing on network neutrality, Cerf said, "Allowing broadband carriers to control what people see and do online would fundamentally undermine the principles that have made the internet such a success."
An ISPA spokesman welcomed Vaizey's comments that a lightly regulated, market-based approach should be taken towards internet traffic management. He calls on government to adopt a similar light touch regulatory approach to other internet policy issues. (ISPs are being asked to meet a quarter of the costs of anti-piracy actions by rightsholders.)
He said, "ISPs use traffic management techniques so that they are able to effectively and efficiently run and manage their networks for the benefits of all users. This enables ISPs to prioritise time-sensitive applications, such as VoIP and online gaming, at peak times."
Commenting on Vaizey's speech, Open Rights Group spokesman Jim Killock said, "Money and commercial interest can easily over-ride public interest if we do not assert it. In this case, unlike the USA, there is a degree of collusion going on which may lead our governments down a dangerous path.
"It seems that regulators like Ofcom and ministers of our governments do not see the future of the internet as being best served through (open) competition, but wish to encourage 'walled gardens' of ISP-provided services."
Ofcom accused of lobbying against net neutrality at EU summit
Monica Horten, who runs the iptegrity blog that monitors online legislation in Brussels said "Lobbyists from the UK regulator Ofcom have been active in the European Parliament, (lobbying) against net neutrality."
According to Horten, Alex Blowers, Ofcom's representative at the EU's net neutrality summit last week, said discrimination (of traffic) was neither good nor bad, and that consumers should use "their sovereign power" to exercise choice.
Horten said he claimed, "The scale of harm (to consumers as a result of permitting traffic discrimination) is negligible in our own jurisdiction" (ie the UK).
Computer Weekly is awaiting comment from Ofcom