Berners-Lee calls for Net neutrality

A distinction must be preserved between the market for access and the market for content, says the Web pioneer.

Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the Web, has called for clear separation between Internet access and Internet content.

Speaking at the World Wide Web conference in Edinburgh on Tuesday morning, Berners-Lee gave his views on the growing battle over Net neutrality.

"It's better and more efficient for us all if we have a separate market where we get our connectivity, and a separate market where we get our content. Information is what I use to make all my decisions. Not just what to buy, but how to vote," Berners-Lee told journalists.

"There is an effort by some companies in the U.S. to change this. There's an attempt to get to a situation where if I want to watch a TV station across the Internet, that TV station must have paid to transmit to me."

Net neutrality is the concept that all Internet content should be treated equally by broadband providers without any kind of discrimination. It has become a hot political topic this year, especially in the U.S., amid fears that telephone companies may start blocking some Web sites or charge users extra to access them.

Companies such as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have been lobbying U.S. politicians to introduce laws that would make Net neutrality mandatory. These moves have been opposed by broadband providers and some hardware manufacturers.

Berners-Lee characterized the issue as a U.S.-only problem at present. "In Europe, Net neutrality is the rule," he said.

Although Berners-Lee offered his support for Net neutrality, he does not support a completely unregulated telecoms and Internet market.

"The fact is that the openness of the Internet, which is such a wonderful thing, does depend on a certain amount of regulation. We've had in Britain the fact that if you put a stamp on a letter it gets there," Berners-Lee said.

The World Wide Web conference will run until Thursday. It was opened by Scotland First Minister Jack McConnell, who hailed the great progress made in the 15 years since Berners-Lee created the Web's underlying protocols.

"The Web has brought so many possibilities that it's hard to believe it's such a short time since Sir Tim and those pioneers created it," said McConnell.

Jonathan Bennett of Builder UK reported from London.

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