UK tech heavyweights send Ed Vaizey open letter on open internet

Tech heavyweights and supporters of the British open internet have signed a joint letter addressed to Ed Vaizey, MP, following his u-turn on net neutrality. Rather than slice up policy for big business to decide, he has pledged that the UK will preserve and support access to the open internet.

The letter calls on the Minister for Culture to put in place five key rules to safeguard the government’s commitment to open internet. These are:

1. The Internet should remain open so that everyone is able to send and receive the content, use the services and run the applications of their choice, on the device of their choice, within the law.

2. Traffic management should be kept to a minimum, and deployed for purely technical, security or legal reasons. There should be no discrimination in the treatment of Internet traffic, based on device, or the origin and/or destination of the content, service or application.

3. Meaningful information about any traffic management practices must be made available to all stakeholders, end users and businesses who rely on broadband infrastructure to reach their customers.

4. Future investment in network capacity and underlying infrastructure must take place in a way that is consistent with the end-to-end principle and where new models of Internet access do not compromise openness.

5. For competitive markets to function effectively, the regulatory framework must be fit for purpose and able to respond to abuses by network providers.

The letter is signed by Coadec, Ariadne Capital, Consumer Focus, eBay, Eden Ventures, Imrg, the National Union of Journalists, the Open Rights Group, Oxford University, Reevoo, Skype, TechHub, Truphone, The Filter, we7, Which? and Yahoo Europe.

It calls on the UK government to pen in more details to ensure no further u-turns. With big business seeking to press monopolies, naming no names, TechEye believes Vaizey and Co. should take heed. As has been underlined by MPs themselves, Britain’s online economy is worth a staggering £100 billion. Keen to encourage growth, MPs along with UK Trade and Investment have put plans in place for the East London Tech City, a proposed creative and economic centre for digital evolution and technology in the United Kingdom.

But with the Tech City receiving investment and advisory from reknowned alleged monopolisers such as Intel and Google, as well as alleged tax evasion telco Vodafone, how far can we trust any commitments? The question remains, are contract winners to the UK government – Vodafone and Virgin both maintain contracts in the public sector – favoured behind closed doors? And can we trust what our politicians say? The British culture of political mistrust exists for a reason. The fact is, it’s fair to say most trust the official line as far as they can throw Eric Pickles. 

That’s why the letter calls for further detail: the UK government must protect open internet through “judicious implementation of the new EU legislation for electronic communications.” It also advises Ofcom, the regulatory body, to “closely monitor the market and demonstrate that effective and timely enforcement processes are in place to respond to complaints about unfair discrimination from any affected stakeholder”.

The Coalition must keep a close eye on Britain’s ISPs, which are advised to develop “meaningful self-regulation to ensure fair principals on traffic management”. Ofcom’s upcoming switch review should deliver “real benefits to broaadband subscribers in terms of their ability to change providers, and drive meaningful choice between broadband packages.”

And lastly, arguably most importantly, the open letter looks toward healthy competitiveness. It says the government must: “Conduct a wide-ranging policy debate about this crucial subject for the future competitiveness of the UK’s economy and well-being of UK society, and adopting a joined-up approach in policy making, by assessing long-term implications of traffic management practices and the maintenance of an open Internet for the economy, for consumers and citizen’s interests, including freedom of expression, access to public services and digital inclusion.”

The letter is also adressed to the permanently surprised Secretary of State for Culture Jeremy Hunt and Dr Vince Cable MP, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. 

In November, Ed Vaizey openly backed a “two speed” internet which would  allow ISPs to experiment with traffic management, effectively spitting in the face of net neutrality.  

Since, it appears, he has come to his senses.

But even with pressure from this open letter and others, it remains to be seen if we’ll keep our open internet – and if businesses with the most dosh are favoured through the backdoor rather than the front of No. 10.