Commentary: BT and its Orwellian Aims to Mind Control the UK (Not)
The controversy over British Telecom's new pricing scheme goes to show that the "Net Neutrality" debate might be the most ridiculous thing since the "Millennium Bug"
Indeed if it decided to only allow you access to a small handful of websites and provide a limited email service then that was fine too. Everyone thought AOL's walled garden was daft. Even they agreed in the end. But once again, no one complained about the egalitarian issues there. It would be like complaining about what someone does in his own house. If you are a guest in my house I expect a certain standard of behaviour, and no one would refute that. If I am a guest on a network, I expect the network owner to decide what the acceptable user policy is too.
So the fact is that given no two networks are the same there is and never has been a "neutral network." "Net Neutrality" is, technically at least, a fantasy.
And yet what do we see in the press this week? BT getting slated by its critics for creating a "two-tier" internet. The only way you could look at BT as being just two tiers is if you look at "BTs Network" and "Not BTs Network." Every network is another tier. Every network has different characteristics. That is why there is so much competition in the ISP market, and equally so much innovation too.
The notion that BT has broken "Net Neutrality rules" is completely stupid: THERE ARE NO NET NEUTRAILITY RULES. Certainly nothing at all can be construed to be Net Neutrality regulation in the UK. And the only "global" rule set is that of ISOC presented above. And ISOC is a voluntary, opt-in organisation, not a regulatory body.
The only thing that is akin to a "Net Neutrality law" is the "law of the (network service) jungle:" Offer a poor service and your customers will leave.
Indeed this is exactly the opposite of what BT are doing: They have listened to their customers, and in order to justify continued investment to improve services within their network-to meet their customers demands-they have committed a huge amount of finance and time to building a CDN within their own network. This is a new network in its own right, one that anyone can buy service from and benefit from.
I looked through this week's critical articles about BT and found a common thread: they all mentioned that "critics' say this is the first step to the end of net neutrality." However none said who the critics were...
I decided to talk to BT about it, and reached out to both the Content Connect team (who we engaged with at last year's Content Delivery Summit) and also to the Policy team, who I have worked alongside on various occasions in a previous role.
Simon Milner, BT's Director of Group Industry Policy, has been in the hot seat this last week.
I asked him who the aforementioned "critics" were-assuming there was a range of them.
There was just one critic who kicked this all off this week. Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group. It turns out that this is all actually a response to the new UK Conservative Democrat government's Ed Vaizey announcing continued support for ISP and network "self-regulation." This announcement was made to encourage free competitive growth in the UK telco sector, since many ISPs have been concerned that there was likely to be increasing government regulation of Internet Service Provision after the Digital Economy Act (DEA) slipped through parliament and was made law in the final days of the Labour government last spring. The DEA begins to introduce government regulation of ISPs for the first time and principally looked at P2P services, putting lawmakers in a position where they could force ISPs to disconnect subscribers for the first time (copyright being cited).
While the DEA is still hotly contested and several ISPs and telcos are calling for it to be reviewed, there is absolutely no regulation in it concerning Net Neutrality. There is not even a commons debate underway on the subject. It has, however, made ISPs uneasy: a shift to government ISP regulation and away from industry "self-regulation"' was not welcomed.
Ed Vaizey wanted to assure the ISP community that he was backing them to continue their traditional self-regulation. If this included service differentiation, and that was what an ISP wanted to do, then that was entirely their own decision: The market itself would decide what was successful.
The interesting thing is, judging by this page, the Open Rights Group (who notably campaign relentlessly for rights of the individual in what they portray as an increasingly policed society) really wants the government to take a firmer hand of network providers and to force them to operate in accordance to the government's regulation.
Now isn't that odd? The very organisation that claims that BT is leading the way to the Orwellian nightmare that BT will begin to select what media is available to UK consumers on the internet based on its own political agenda, wants to instead give the government this control. Sounds very confused to me. I certainly won't be signing their petition.
Now I hasten to add that I have many contacts in numerous CDNs around the world and I hear all the time about telco delivery networks (which I'll call TDNs) who, particularly in Europe. deprioritize third-party CDN services, examine the traffic, and approach the publishers directly to try to effectively blackmail them into paying for their service in order to reach their ISP customers.
For the CDNs, this is the true playing field of the Net Neutrality issue. But despite this appearing to be "unfair" to the CDNs, the publishers do not want to do thousands of regional deals. Where they are streaming locally in one area its fine to use a telco delivery network-indeed its arguably much better. Yet the whole advantage of the global CDNs is that they do all the regional deals for you. Telcos making a global CDN's services perform badly actually only make their own ISP service look bad in the consumers eyes, and when those consumers see their friend's ISP performing well, they will soon switch. That is the free market and that has for a long time regulated this sector perfectly well. It's also why you don't hear CDNs complaining about TDNs: its a free market. The TDNs and the CDNs make their own differentiators.
I asked BT's Milner what he thought about this.
He acknowledged that if BT wanted to deprioritize third-party traffic in some bid to commercially charge each publisher to connect directly to them in order to reach their end users, that of course they could do that at the flick of a switch. But just because they could do this doesn't mean they would want to. After all it, would only lead to a huge loss of customer revenue for them both from their relationships with the CDNs and from their subscribers who would churn away to other ISPs offering a wider range of well delivered content.
He did point out, however, that if BT did decide to enhance or degrade service,s he believed it would be in both the consumer and wholesale customer's interests if they were transparent about this. This is very much the angle that the various telcos are taking. Transparency helps everyone understand what's on offer and helps everyone make informed choices: BT are advocates of transparency, and Milner hinted that perhaps this is where the debate should be led.
Personally, I am completely behind the CDNs and the TDNs here. The networks never were neutral. The openness that is at the heart of the Internet's egalitarian construction has grown by volition and not from regulation or from pressure groups demanding it. This volition, or right to opt-in or not, is the most important element.
It's a delight to be invited to a party and enjoy what you are offered. To demand more and cry discrimination if it is not offered is in itself both rude and an offense.