Why the UK shouldn’t go Dutch on net neutrality

By Derek du Preez
04 Jul 2011 View Comments
Derek Du Preez is a reporter on Computing

The Netherlands is on the verge of becoming the first EU member state to pass legislation that will ensure net neutrality. From everyone I have spoken to on the matter, it seems clear that the Senate will rubber stamp an earlier vote by the Dutch parliament to approve the regulation.

These moves follow numerous negative stories in the Dutch media focusing on the country’s incumbent telco provider’s use of deep packet inspection techniques to prioritise certain applications. These stories fuelled an already vociferous campaign by political figures and lobbyists to enshrine the concept of net neutrality in Dutch law. Nevertheless, this is still a very brave move.

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When, as seems highly likely, the regulation gets approval from the Senate, it will no doubt spur supporters of net neutrality in this country to demand that the UK follow suit. However, I believe we should bide our time. There is no rush.

It was only in May that the European Commission passed down a directive to member states that prohibits ISPs from discriminating against different types of traffic and compels them to be transparent in the way they manage traffic on their networks. While falling short of a complete endorsement of net neutrality, the directive does at least force ISPs to disclose any restrictions placed on access to services or applications.

Following the Netherlands in regulating on the issue would be a premature act. We need to see how the EC’s new telecoms rules operate in practice, and whether the industry and ISPs are willing to play their part.

You cannot compare the UK industry to the situation in the Netherlands. Ofcom has not yet had to punish any incidents of bad traffic management on the part of the ISPs and, as a result, there hasn’t been any kind of high-profile media or political campaign to drive net neutrality legislation through parliament.

However, the main reason that the UK should sit tight and not use the heavy hand of the law just yet, is that we don’t know how this is going to play out. We are currently stuck with old legislation in the UK that isn’t suited to an internet age, and I fear that if we regulate too soon, in 10 years’ time we will be facing a similar situation.

It is too soon to tell what is going to be required of the ISPs in the future, and we don’t know what the likes of Google are going to be demanding in years to come. As the internet evolves, and as we get a better understanding of how these industry players need to work together, maybe then we should look to regulation.

Just because one EU member state has decided to embrace net neutrality does not mean we should also jump on the bandwagon and follow suit.

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