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Net neutrality – Government minister ‘misinterpreted’

To some people network neutrality may seem an esoteric subject, but it’s absolutely vital for the way modern information technology functions.

Last Wednesday, Government minister Ed Vaizey told the FT World Telecoms Conference that ISPs could soon be allowed to drop net neutrality and prioritise content providers prepared to pay to ensure a better quality of service. He said that having a lightly regulated internet was “good for business, good for the economy and good for people”.

This produced a storm of protest from anyone with an inkling as to what net neutrality meant, including Bristol Wireless, who tweeted:

UK Minister Ed Vaizey backs ‘two-speed’ internet Rich is speechless.

(Rich did actually come out with the words: “I’m speechless”. Ed.)

On the same day, Tom Watson MP drafted an Early Day Motion (EDM 1036), whose full text we reproduce below.


Watson, Tom

That this House expresses its concern at the recent comments made by the Minister for Communications and Creative Industries that internet service providers should be allowed to abandon the principle of internet neutrality and prioritise users’ access to certain content providers; notes that Open Internet has delivered competition, innovation and unlimited access to new services; further notes that Open Internet has played a pivotal role in enhancing democratic participation and freedom of expression; believes that abandoning the principle of internet neutrality will stifle online innovation and lead to websites paying internet service providers to ensure their content gets priority; does not believe that mere transparency is likely to lead to protection of customers and citizens from harm, especially as ISPs seeks to lock their customers into long-term bundled service agreements with telephones, televisions, mobile telephones and internet; and calls on the Government to act against internet service providers who may seek to restrict customers’ internet access for market advantage through minimum service guarantees.

It now transpires that in the meantime, Vaizey has been in contact with the venerable Sir Tim Berners-Lee, a staunch advocate of net neutrality. Indeed he has now told the Guardian:

“I say ‘don’t block input’ [to the internet]. It’s my first principle. I say the same as Berners-Lee.”

Vaizey is now saying his earlier remarks have been ‘misinterpreted’. More unkind commentators may have another interpretation – one involving the word U-turn.