Reaction to the interim Digital Britain report: No Net neutrality for you!

The interim Digital Britain report, released yesterday, advocates universal broadband access by 2012, but takes a first step towards regulation of the Internet

Dust has settled on the government's Interim Digital Britain report issued yesterday, which commits to broadband for all by 2012. Reactions vary from 'underwhelmed' to 'disappointed'. Speaking to Crave, Dan Scarfe, CEO of Dot Net Solutions, welcomes universal broadband access: "Everyone should be entitled to the same rich experience when interacting with companies or governments." Apart from the 2012 commitment, the report is vague on other issues and seriously drops the ball on Net neutrality in the UK.

"The digital divide has to end," Scarfe told us. "When we build applications and services for companies we continually have to think about differing experiences for users based on the speed of their connection. We have to purposely deteriorate experiences for some." Obviously that's no way to encourage innovation, so we're keen to see the basic level of Web access raised to a decent standard.

When asked who should pay, Scarfe stated that "consumers may have to pick up a proportion of the bill. If a consumer chooses to live in a remote environment they have to accept the cost of some services may be higher. It's not fair on other consumers to pick up the tab for them."

He also advocates a tough stance from the government, which "should force providers to install equipment and justify any additional costs they pass on to consumers on little-used links. [ISPs] simply refusing should no longer be tolerated." This shouldn't be coupled with a universal pricing commitment, however: "If the government does decide to force providers to offer broadband at the same price regardless of where a user is it will invariably push up prices for other people. This should not be allowed to happen."

Reactions to other elements of the report are mixed. On the subject of copyright infringement, the BPI's Geoff Taylor and music industry body UK Music's Feargal Sharkey, quoted in the Guardian, happily acknowledge that suing consumers is "not the best way forward". Taylor argues that requiring ISPs to collect data on alleged copyright infringers is only a first step, and that the final Digital Britain report, due in June, should force ISPs to impose stiffer penalties on infringers.

The creation of a rights agency, paid for by ISPs -- that is, paid for by us -- represents the first step in governmental regulation of the Internet. There's little detail in the report, but it's still a potentially alarming development, and may even be unworkable. Internet 101, folks: it's global. Regional restrictions are at best daft and at worst dangerous.

The whole concept of Net neutrality -- Web access with no restrictions from government, providers et al -- got short shrift in the report, which explicitly states that it sees no need to prevent traffic management. That's throttling to you and me, and while the ISPs see traffic management as a tool to combat illegal file sharing, it does leave us in a situation where high-volume services such as the BBC's iPlayer may have to implement a tiered payment system in order to provide higher-quality content. That could mean you pay your licence fee, then you pay your ISP to use iPlayer , then you pay again to get high-definition content, for example. Which would make you a sad panda.

We await the final report eagerly, and we'll keep you posted on reactions and what it all means to you. In the meantime, let us know your thoughts on universal broadband and government regulation of your Internet.

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About the author

Rich Trenholm is a senior editor at CNET where he covers everything from phones to bionic implants. Based in London since 2007, he has travelled the world seeking out the latest and best consumer technology for your enjoyment.

 

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