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The end of the net as we know it

Posted on 21 Jan 2011 at 13:34

ISPs are threatening to cripple websites that don't pay them first. Barry Collins fears a disastrous end to net neutrality

You flip open your laptop, click on the BBC iPlayer bookmark and press Play on the latest episode of QI. But instead of that tedious, plinky-plonky theme tune droning out of your laptop’s speakers, you’re left staring at the whirring, circular icon as the video buffers and buffers and buffers...

That’s odd. Not only have you got a new 40Mbits/sec fibre broadband connection, but you were watching a Full HD video on Sky Player just moments ago. There’s nothing wrong with your connection; it must be iPlayer. So you head to Twitter to find out if anyone else is having problems streaming Stephen Fry et al. The message that appears on your screen leaves you looking more startled than Bill Bailey. “This service isn’t supported on your broadband service. Click here to visit our social-networking partner, Facebook.”

Net neutrality? We don’t have it today

The free, unrestricted internet as we know it is under threat. Britain’s leading ISPs are attempting to construct a two-tier internet, where websites and services that are willing to pay are thrust into the “fast lane”, while those that don’t are left fighting for scraps of bandwidth or even blocked outright. They’re not so much ripping up the cherished notion of net neutrality as pouring petrol over the pieces and lighting the match. The only question is: can they get away with it?

No such thing as net neutrality

It’s worth pointing out that the concept of net neutrality – ISPs treating different types of internet traffic or content equally – is already a busted flush. “Net neutrality? We don’t have it today,” argues Andrew Heaney, executive director of strategy and regulation at TalkTalk, Britain’s second biggest ISP.

“We have an unbelievably good, differentiated network at all levels, with huge levels of widespread discrimination of traffic types. [Some consumers] buy high speed, some buy low speed; some buy a lot of capacity, some buy less; some buy unshaped traffic, some buy shaped.
“So the suggestion that – ‘oh dear, it is terrible, we might move to a two-tiered internet in the future'... well, let’s get real, we have a very multifaceted and multitiered internet today,” Heaney said.

Indeed, the major ISPs claim it would be “unthinkable” to return to an internet where every packet of data was given equal weight. “Yes, the internet of 30 years ago was one in which all data, all the bits and the packets were treated in the same way as they passed through the network,” said Simon Milner, BT’s director of group industry policy. “That was an internet that wasn’t about the internet that we have today: it wasn’t about speech, it wasn’t about video, and it certainly wasn’t about television.

“Twenty years ago, the computer scientists realised that applications would grab as much bandwidth as they needed, and therefore some tools were needed to make this network work more effectively, and that’s why traffic management techniques and guaranteed quality of service were developed in the 1990s, and then deep-packet inspection came along roughly ten years ago,” he added. “These techniques and equipment are essential for the development of the internet we see today.”

It’s interesting to note that some smaller (and, yes, more expensive) ISPs such as Zen Internet don’t employ any traffic shaping across their network, and Zen has won the PC Pro Best Broadband ISP award for the past seven years.

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User comments

I am still readin this article..

So not sure if this is mentions further, but surely the Competition commission (CC) would not allow such uncompetitive actions to be taken... the thing is that different speeds of connection that we can get is based on choice, the net neutrality is not choice if you decide to block some.. that is not choice... in my opinion CC would never allow this, and if the ISP think they will get away with this, i personally will rise against them if they decide to do the two tier internet... they will be sued by many many people, and those ISP will suffer a lot of losses.. if somehow this will not work all ISP's that do the two tier internet will then be forced out of business, since a new ISP that will refuse to do the two tier internet will get more business.. as well as this if many ISP's will start having the same two tier lists, the CC will look into the legal matters of collusion among the ISP's and "list" fixing...

By mobilegnet on 21 Jan 2011


The Ofcom has no problem with this, ofcom is there to protect customers and protect choice... if ISP want to discriminate, that is not choice, thats not consumer protection.. The EU seems to have a good idea... i would be willing to bet that if (or when) this two tier thing comes, those ISP will be brought down by consumers and ofcom since there will be so many complaints... on the topic of illegal websites, surely if they exist they would have already been taken down.. and as a consumer, i should have the freedom to go to any website... P2P is in my opinion mostly gone now in the developed world, its now to the Newsgroups, but to fight these guys is impossible!!!

By mobilegnet on 21 Jan 2011


Perhaps time for the content providers to fight back and block access from ISPs who introduce restrictions on their content. Make what they have done public and let the people vote with their MAC codes

By everton2004 on 21 Jan 2011

What about the smaller sites

if the main reason for introducing the two-tier internet is the increase in bandwidth-hogging video streaming then I would be very uncomfortable with a situation where smaller, non-video sites have to pay to get into the fast lane.
If this happened then it would be clear that the ISPs are just using it as a huge money spinner. What company would risk leaving it's site in the slow lane?
Surely, smaller sites with no or little video content should be exempt from this differentiation and put in the fast lane by default?

By ChilliBoom on 22 Jan 2011

This isn’t journalistic scaremongering

The entire article is journalistic scaremongering and outright misrepresentation of a whole lot of things.

The constant comparisons to what the mobile community does vs what the landline community does is the most obscene bit of misrepresentation that there is.

Considering that I have almost double the bandwidth coming into my home off of a single leg of our cable than I have going to my largest and busiest cell site should make it fairly obvious to any thinking person that comparisons between the two are useless.

For wireless networks traffic management is a matter of life or death for the company. To try to compare them to wired networks shows either a complete ignorance of the subject or is the product of a deliberate misrepresentation meant to fearmonger the readers.

You know what. I'm sorry you can't tether all 5 computers in your house to your iPhone while simultaneously watching HD netflix on 3 Roku players and have your kids run a bot army on World of Warcraft on your "unlimited" $70 cell phone plan so you can ditch your ISP. It's just not going to happen. Not anytime soon. The bandwidth at the cell, not to mention the over the air bandwidth simply doesn't exist.

So yes. Your wireless company IS going to limit your usage and tell you what you can and can't do. They are going to throttle your streams and downgrade your video as a matter of self preservation.
Contrary to what you may think, the pittance you pay ever month does not entitle you to personal and singular use of all the facilities of the 4 closest cell sites.

As your mother should have taught you long ago. You have to share.

By blakwing on 23 Jan 2011

Neutrality is the wrong focus

Very simply the idea of charging for the transport of bits is a failed idea. for understanding why we don't want providers and for more on the problem with focusing on "neutrality"

By BobFrankston on 23 Jan 2011

T-Mobile (UK) block SIP Voip. They say they want more money if you want to use it but I get more data than I ever use. They want to have headline grabbing data allowances but you are then not allowed to use the data you pay for the way you want it. I say this. If I pay for data I expect to use it an ANY way I wish.
I notice that the Politicians don't ask the consumer what they want - they just sell us out. No democracy !
I can't express how very strongly I am against this move by the ISPs. They will use their power to fleece customers. I use voip from home. If my ISP ever hinders that in any way I will move to another ISP. What's more, any future contract I sign will have my own conditions appended.

By technoboi on 23 Jan 2011

advertising standards?

If an "internet" account can't access all the sites on the "world wide web" - then clearly there has been some false advertising going on.

If some "ISP"s want to boost their profits by getting paid twice to move the same data (once by their customer, and again by the originating site) - then they can do so ... but they should have to disclose which sites are blocked (and not in the fine print of some click through agreement that they are allowed to change at any time with no notice to the consumer), and they should not be allowed to use the word "internet" when advertising their service.

By ttttllll on 24 Jan 2011

The end of Talk Talk?

Its funny to read Andrew Heaney's comments that Talk Talk thinks its a good idea to create a two tier service and even thinking about blocking iplayer - the guy's not in the real world. Content is everything and if the BBC came out in reverse stating the BBC didn't support TT I have feeling Andrew Heaney's phone would melt with volume of calls from customers cancelling their broadband contracts.

Be careful what you wish for Mr Heaney as AOL tried "focused content" and it went bye, bye and Virgin Media lost Sky channels for a few months in a dispute over price along with many of its customers who only used cable to access Sky.

By milohaze on 27 Jan 2011

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