Virgin and mobile networks snub net neutrality pledge

24 Jul 2012
Ethernet cable

PC Pro exclusive: Leading players refuse to sign deal that guarantees consumers access to all legal content

Virgin Media, Everything Everywhere and Vodafone are among the high-profile absentees from a new voluntary code of conduct on net neutrality, due to be unveiled tomorrow.

The voluntary code lays down a set of principles in support of the open internet, including pledges to give users access to all legal content and a promise not to discriminate against content providers on the basis of a commercial rivalry. The code was drafted after discussions between Communications Minister Ed Vaizey and ISPs.

These principles remain open to misinterpretation and potential exploitation

Signatories on an early draft of the agreement seen by PC Pro include BT, BSkyB, O2, TalkTalk and Three. However, there are high profile omissions, including Virgin Media, Vodafone and the two Everything Everywhere networks, T-Mobile and Orange.

A spokesman for Virgin Media told PC Pro that, after weeks of negotiation, the company had refused to sign because the agreement wasn't tough enough. "We have no intention of discriminating or treating data differently on the basis of who owns or publishes it but we are not signing up to the Code as it stands," Virgin Media said in a statement.

"We had tried to encourage something that would be clearer for industry and give consumers improved transparency. However, these principles remain open to misinterpretation and potential exploitation so, while we welcome efforts to reach a broad consensus to address potential future issues, we will be seeking greater certainty before we consider signing."

Everything Everywhere said it was "too early to know how a code of this type will affect customers' internet experience, but it is something that we will continually review".

"That said, we support the principle of the open internet and believe transparency is the way to achieve this, which is why last year we signed up to the BSG’s code of practice on traffic management in order to make our policies clear to customers."

Vodafone said it refused to sign because "the language chosen by the signatories is impractical and does not reflect the services enjoyed by millions of mobile phone users every day."

"We have a range of internet access plans and provide customers with full details of the products and services that can be accessed with each plan. These plans offer internet access to smartphone and dongle users, but under the code we would have been unable to use the phrase ‘internet access’ to describe many of the services enjoyed by customers," a spokesman for the network added.

Not "internet access"

Under the terms of the agreement, ISPs and mobile networks have agreed not to use the term "internet access" to describe any package where certain classes of content, applications or services are blocked. However, they are free to apply whatever restrictions they choose, provided they don't use the term.

The ISPs also retain the ability to choke certain types of traffic, such as P2P file-sharing services, to manage congestion on their networks.

They also agree to make any traffic management transparent to their customers.

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