Sarah Ludford MEP writes… on roaming charges and net neutrality

Smartphone bar.Liberal Democrats have long championed ease of communication and information exchange, and been alert to threats to online freedoms. Both at Westminster and in the European Parliament, we have fought aspects of measures to combat child sexual exploitation or copyright infringement which could infringe on internet access rights.

At our recent party conference in York we adopted a call for a Digital Bill of Rights, noting that ‘the internet has the power to liberate, to educate, to bring people closer together, and to boost our economy’. The threat in our sights then was government surveillance.

But MEPs, in adopting yesterday our position on the most ambitious reform of the EU telecoms market for a quarter of a century to create a truly pan-European digital market, have also turned the spotlight on threats from market dominance.

The element in the reform package that has hit the headlines is the move to end all roaming surcharges in 2015 so that customers pay the same price for calls, texts, emails and data when travelling across Europe as at home. This is a Liberal Democrat/ALDE group win, the culmination of years of campaigning driven by my colleague Fiona Hall MEP on the Industry Committee and backed by the European Commissioner for telecoms, Dutch Liberal Neelie Kroes.

But I also want to highlight another vitally important reform for which the ALDE group achieved backing from MEPs, something geeks are aware of but deserves wider currency. This is that for the first time ‘net neutrality’ would be enshrined in EU law, both to safeguard fair internet access for all and to ensure that new business start-ups – like in Tech City in east London in my constituency – can create jobs through competing to offer innovative services.

The idea is to stop big businesses with deep wallets making exclusive deals with internet service providers (ISPs) to promote their content through preferential faster and higher quality delivery, perhaps through ‘throttling’ or even blocking rivals to crowd out their competition and affecting the internet service experienced by everyone else.

A few weeks ago the Parliament looked likely to split into Right and Left on this issue. But ALDE MEPs Jens Rohde and Marietje Schaake drafted a compromise capable of getting majority support. Their wording insisted that all internet traffic be treated equally without discrimination, restriction or interference but allowed for ‘specialised services’ such as video on demand as long as there is sufficient network capacity to ensure ordinary users are not squeezed out, giving an incentive to invest in expanded broadband capacity.

So thanks to the initiative of the ALDE Group there will be ‘rules of the road’ which guarantee an open and fair internet instead of one dominated and carved up by the biggest players in the fast lane pushing other users into the slow lane. Liberals have made the difference, again.

* Sarah Ludford is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords and was MEP for London from 1999-2014.

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31 Comments

  • Alex Macfie 4th Apr '14 - 9:56am

    Worth noting that Tory MEPs voted against net neutrality. So did most Labour MEPs, who in doing so were rebelling against their party group.
    This should be in our campaign literature.

  • so that customers pay the same price for calls, texts, emails and data when travelling across Europe as at home. This is a Liberal Democrat/ALDE group win

    You call making companies stop using high roaming charges to cross-subsidise their competitive cheaper domestic tariffs, thus raising prices for everybody across the board in order to benefit a few who travel a lot around Europe, a ‘win’?

    How out of touch do you have to be to claim that?

  • Praise be! At least Europe isn’t as blinkered as Farron/Huppert/Conference and understands that big business is a far bigger player in surveillance than governments could ever hope to be.

    As for net neutrality, all data isn’t equal by its nature and a differentiated, tiered network helps create a more competitive space, bringing down connection prices. The situation described in the article would be easily solved by the customer choosing a different provider. However, in a net neutral world such market differentiation would be eliminated, meaning the consumer no longer has choice. What that will mean is if your neighbours are downloading a lot of porn on Bittorrent, you may not be able to stream Eastenders on the iPlayer, because at the moment the network is discriminating, prioritising and allocating bandwidth based on the data profile. I think you’ve just signed up for slower internet as a whole, but especially for people that don’t pirate a lot of material. I also agree with Tim – it’s a fantastic reason why network providers should charge us all more money for services we don’t use and for other peoples usage!

  • Alex Macfie 4th Apr '14 - 2:56pm

    Joe is right on both the above. Domestic calls are so cheap because the marginal cost of the service is so low and the market is so competitive.
    Net neutrality means ISPs compete on price and quality of service. Another point is that it does not preclude purely technical traffic management, done so that the network runs smoothly.

  • Tim, you suggest mobile companies make a loss on their domestic business

    No.

    Joe is right on both the above. Domestic calls are so cheap because the marginal cost of the service is so low and the market is so competitive.

    You’ve just pointed out why Joe is wrong.

    The marginal cost of each telephone call is low.

    The major costs of running a mobile network are the fixed costs.

    That’s why cross-subsidies work: you can lower the margin on domestic calls to almost zero provided you can make up the fixed costs by higher margins elsewhere. Mostly, these days, through data contract charges, but also through high margins on roaming.

    The fixed costs of maintaining the network don’t magically reduce if you reduce margins on roaming charges, so you have to make up the shortfall by increasing margins elsewhere, which will probably be domestic calls.

  • Joe,

    Sure, so get another provider. You’re talking about a problem that I suspect neither you nor I are immediately suffering from, but your remedy seems to be something that’ll effect us both. Currently you can choose to have a provider that prioritises one service over another, why legislate to take away such choice, surely that’s illiberal? At the moment you’ve got legislation for transparency on these issues (providers have to tell you about any traffic management they do), now you seemingly want to tell them how to run their network.

    There’s nothing stopping providers offering a dumb/neutral network now, it’s just not been seen as a viable product. Net neutrality deliberately removes tiered service from the marketplace, therefore restricting competition and market differentiation. If the service providers really don’t discriminate regarding what data gets to you, who will? At the moment those providers take it upon themselves to try to stop widespread network attacks, once you’ve legislated to stop them from doing that who will take their place?

    Obviously some of this hinges on the nature of “net neutrality” being proposed. I’ve yet to see many of these arguments develop to the level where there’s detailed discussion on which of the main positions that typifies the term the proponents are advocating. As such, I take the advocates as holding the default “no discrimination” position – maybe you hold a different view? I’d point to Berners-Lees position as one I find much more palatable, nuanced and closer to my own.

    The default position removes choice from the market, empowers companies that drain money from the economy (pirates, Google, porn site, etc) whilst disempowering the network providers that are facilitating the discussion we’re having. I think the result for consumers will be higher internet bills and lower QoS, because not all data is, nor should be, equal. At the moment, if my iPlayer didn’t work I’d switch providers, in a net neutral world they’ll all be the same (albeit seemingly with different usage caps). If my current provider gets overloaded with BitTorrent traffic, it can state that traffic can have unlimited usage in hours where the network is used less, but throttled at peak times, therefore incentivising users to download then. Removing that ability from network operators will drive costs up, because the network will need to be over-provisioned for peak usage. I find the ecological aspect of that pretty frightening, not to mention the fact that you and I would be paying for a problem that we’re not experiencing. The difference that Sarah is making is merely a push to create more infrastructure to allow for peak usage, it’s like saying we should build enough roads so that everyone can be on them at all times and get to wherever they’re going unimpeded, regardless of any other factors!

    “…in terms of the capacity needed to satisfy legacy and future network applications in the Internet, our results show that CoS in IP backbones requires an order of magnitude less than the classless (i.e., over-provisioning) approach.”
    Quantifying Overprovisioning vs. Class-of-Service: Informing the Net Neutrality Debate
    Yuksel, Ramakrishnan, Kalyanaraman, Houle, Sadhvani 2010

    Nobody has explained to me yet why we need an order of magnitude more capacity to solve a problem we don’t have, maybe I’m missing something. Doesn’t seem very fair to me, but I’m interested to hear your views.

  • @Alex

    “Net Neutrality” is a buzzphrase for a bunch of positions on the regulation and usage of data networks, From what I can gather you’re of the “limited discrimination” variety, a position I see more favourably – that isn’t how the term is defined though, that’s a position you’ve adopted. Most net neutrality advocates would see you as a bit of a sell out, because your position is pretty close to how things are now – what exactly would you see change, and why?

  • @Tim – There is no evidence that mobile operators engage in such cross-subsidisation. Given the relatively small number of customers they’d have roaming at any given time the amount of money they’d have available for such cross-subsidisation would – on a per non-roaming customer basis – be minuscule.

    The logic of your position would appear to be we should be assigned a home region here in the UK by mobile operators and then should be hit by international style charges should we roam outside that region WITHIN THE UK. That way those who roam would be cross-subsidising those who remain in a fixed area. That would undermine much of the benefit of having a mobile though, wouldn’t it?

  • The logic of your position would appear to be we should be assigned a home region here in the UK by mobile operators and then should be hit by international style charges should we roam outside that region WITHIN THE UK. That way those who roam would be cross-subsidising those who remain in a fixed area.

    No, because nearly everybody in the UK travels around a bit within the UK. So everybody would be being hit by those charges all the time.

    However, quite a lot of people in the UK only visit Europe once, maybe twice a year (certainly I don’t go more often than that) and often when they do it’s for a holiday so they don’t want to be in constant contact with back home so are quite happy to not use their telephones much for those couple of weeks, when they’re up an Alp ski-ing or going ’round the galleries of Florence or whatever.

    This abolition of roaming charges by EU officials and MEPs really only helps those who travel around Europe a lot in any given year, while they’re on business, people like… hang on… like MEPs and EU officials…

    Gasp!

  • Alex Macfie 5th Apr '14 - 12:39am

    Tim: Do you have any actual evidence that mobile operators cross-subsidise the cost of infrastructure through exorbitant roaming charges as you suggest? Because I don’t see any, and as a business model it does not seem very sustainable. You make the practice sound almost altruistic, but surely if they wanted to ramp up call charges to pay for fixed costs, they would want to do so on the domestic calls and texts, since there is a much higher volume of such traffic than of roaming traffic. However, they cannot do that, because the market is too competitive. And the sheer volume of calls made from one’s home country means that they don’t need to: even in the current highly competitive market, they still make a sufficient profit to pay for their investment. Mobile calling from abroad is about the one place where the old national telco cartels still exist, where it is difficult to get out of paying excessive charges that telcos levy simply because they can get away with it. This legislation simply forces the telcos to compete for calling from abroad on the same level playing field as they do for domestic calls.
    As for the idea that this is about the vested interests of Eurocrats… pu-LEASE!!! Many people outside the Eurocrat circle need to use their phones abroad on business, such as ordinary businesspeople. Excessive international charges are an impediment to the EU single market.

  • Alex Macfie 5th Apr '14 - 2:27am

    ChrisB: What matters is not just competition among ISPs for custom from end-users, but competition in the wider marketplace. If all or most ISPs have special deals with certain large companies for priority service, then that means that most end-users are on connections that prioritise traffic from some or others of these companies. For instance, if most ISPs have deals with Netflix or some other large video-on-demand provider, then it is hard for new/small video-on-demand providers to enter the market because they cannot afford to pay all ISPs for the priority access that the big plaers can pay for. So even if we accept your argument that net discrimination enhances competition among ISPs (which I do not), it has a detrimental effect of competition among web-provided services generally.

  • You make the practice sound almost altruistic

    It’s not altruistic, quite the reverse; it’s entirely selfish. It’s all about offering the lowest possible domestic headline rates in order to poach customers form their rivals, and doing so by hiding the higher charges in circumstances that most people don’t encounter or encounter rarely.

    The side-effect of this cut-throat price competition is that most customers who do the most common things are better off, while those who do less common things, like travel abroad a lot on business, get stung.

    But it’s not altruism, dear me no.

    Many people outside the Eurocrat circle need to use their phones abroad on business, such as ordinary businesspeople

    I’m still willing to bet that there are far fewer of those than there are people who only go to Europe once or twice a year on holiday. Why should the kind of businesspeople who travel to Europe a lot benefit at the expense of the majority who maybe never go to Europe, or who go once or twice a year on holiday?

  • Does Tim – and others who agree with him here – seriously expect that this reform will lead to higher charges within UK?

    In a market of cut throat competition?

    Really?

  • Hey Alex,

    >If all or most ISPs have special deals with certain large companies
    >for priority service, then that means that most end-users are on
    >connections that prioritise traffic from some or others of these companies

    Absolutely, and you want to remove my freedom to choose such a service, whereas I’m quite happy for you to have non-discriminatory ISP’s. I enjoy Netflix and I’m glad my ISP has chosen to prioritise that service because I never get any QoS issues. What do I get out of you banning that prioritisation, apart from a poor service that I have to pay more for? Your answer seems to be competition, but there’s nothing stopping me from starting an alternative video service, atm it’s Bittorrent, Netflix and Youtube that’s the most heavily shaped data. If my video service became large enough that providers started to discriminate against it (it becomes statistically significant network traffic), it means I’m using significant resource, I must be approaching peak market. So, your concern is for the ultra-rich entrepreneurs of tech-startups? I’m sure they welcome your empathy, but does this effect you or anyone you’ve ever met? I’ve never heard of anyone in the position you’re imagining, and a cursory glance at the modern video streaming market will put pay to these thoughts – if it were true we’d have at least some evidence of it? Maybe there is a black swan out there somewhere, but you’ve yet to mention it.

    It’s strange to find a liberal that thinks the best way to deal with a problem is to start banning things! If my imaginary tech-startup has become a problem regarding network utilisation, you don’t seem to think that I should be stopped/asked to pay more/spoken to/queried? Instead, the model you describe anyone can use any resource and expect the collective end-customer to pick up the tab! Over-provisioned networks are for people that don’t care about resources and don’t care about price.

    You seem to think it appropriate that the traffic from the worlds biggest sites as regards network usage should be treated completely the same as all other traffic. The over-provisioning that you’re requiring of the network will cost much more and give us much less, if you’re willing to fight for that level of environmental degradation then that’s fine, but don’t try to call it liberalism! You are talking about a market where the content producer can force both the provider and consumer to pay for the infrastructure to deliver their content, regardless of what it is – ridiculous, illiberal and shamefully wasteful. I strongly suggest you read “Quantifying Overprovisioning” before moving forward in this debate, as there aren’t many studies that can help us understand the ramifications of what you’re saying. Look at the numbers, and consider what that might mean in terms of infrastructure, and who will be paying for it.

    >even if we accept your argument that net discrimination enhances competition among ISPs (which I do not)

    If you don’t think differentiation enhances competition then it’d be hard to persuade you of any market behaviours.

    >it has a detrimental effect of competition among web-provided services generally.

    Who, where, when? Your whole argument hinges on this black swan, you had better get her out. We’re going to spend billions on a problem we don’t have, restrict our civil liberties and use an “order of magnitude” more resource please tell me you know of one person that this has effected in some tangible way?

  • Hey Denis,

    Of course it will – https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CD8QFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.researchgate.net%2Fpublication%2F221092918_Quantifying_Overprovisioning_vs._Class-of-Service_Informing_the_Net_Neutrality_Debate%2Ffile%2F79e4150d0c92ed47ca.pdf&ei=4ek_U7LEEIem4gTX1YCICw&usg=AFQjCNFuHU0iqmp0YbQA8KxqtI6GLLAlPg&sig2=zKwm9_Q-v5d5OITet5hECA&bvm=bv.64125504,d.bGE

    How can you open up enough bandwidth to allow for net neutrality’s over-provisioning without lots more infrastructure? It’s impossible, as proved above, someone will be paying for this – the electricity and network is far from free, and we’re regulating that much more of it is required than we really need.

    It’s a disgrace.

  • Alex Macfie 5th Apr '14 - 2:12pm

    I think Denis was referring to the roaming charges rather than net neutrality. As I wrote in a comment on another article on this topic, we’ve been here before. The same post-hoc justification was given for high international call charges over fixed lines in the days when the fixed-line telecoms market was largely dominated by national monopolies . However, competition led to steep reductions in prices for both domestic AND international calls. Mobile roaming charges are fixed by agreement among telcos: it is a classic cartel. That is why they are so high. In a properly competitive market the telcos would not be able to get away with this. This reform will not change anything for domestic mobile users because the low cost of their calls is the result of cut-throat competition. Forcing telcos to also compete on calls from abroad will not change this situation, any more than opening up international telecommunications markets did for fixed lines.

  • Does Tim – and others who agree with him here – seriously expect that this reform will lead to higher charges within UK? In a market of cut throat competition?

    Yes,precisely because of the cut-throat competition. It’s because of the cut-throat competition that domestic charges are now at as low a margin as they can possibly be without losing money. Thus it’s obvious that if income from some other source is reduced, then either domestic charges must rise, or the company must start to lose money. The company can’t afford to lose money, so domestic prices will rise.

    They’ll do their best to hide it, of course: the headline figures will stay low and perhaps it will be, say, just a reduction in the number of minutes before a higher charge band is entered, or it’ll be an increase in the charge for breaching a mobile data limit (or a reduction in the amount of data that can be downloaded before the limit is breached).

    But it’s simple maths that if your income is X from sources A, B and C, and your income from source C is reduced, then in order for your income to not drop, you have to increase your income from sources A and B.

    And competition won’t stop this happening because every company will be in the same boat. Every company has been overcharging for roaming calls in order to cut their domestic margins, o=in order to out-compete their rivals. It’s the equivalent of a new tax which affects all companies in a sector: as long as it affects them all, they can all just pass it on to the consumer and continue to compete as before, because what matters for competition is relative price differences, not absolute prices. If company A charges 5p and company B charges 4.5p, then this new regulation causes them both to lose the roaming revenue stream and have to add 1p onto their charges, the new situation will simply be that company A charges 6p and company B charges 5.5p.

    If company A could afford to absorb the loss of income from overpriced roaming calls and keep their prices at 5p while company B’s go up to 5.5p then of course they would and would gain the competitive advantage; but that would require them to have some slack in their margins, and we know they cannot have such slack because if they did then they would already have used it to cut their prices to 4.5p, the better to compete with company B. And company B can’t have any such slack because if they did they would have used it to cut their prices to 4p and really get one over on company A. Therefore we know that there cannot exist any slack in the system, so any reduction of income from one area must be passed on to consumers by all companies in the sector, roughly equally, making domestic consumers the losers.

    Thanks, MEPs! Thanks, Lib Dems! Thanks on behalf of all those who stay at home and will lose out for the benefit of those who flit like gadflies about Europe!

    Thanks!

  • Alex Macfie 5th Apr '14 - 3:09pm

    Tim: You are completely wrong about why telcos overcharge for roaming calls. The roaming charges are fixed by what is essentially a cartel. If the roaming market were properly competitive, then the telcos would *not be able* to overcharge for roaming calls, because those who frequently use their phones abroad would shop around for the best deal and roaming charges would fall. This cross-subsidy that supposedly happens would not be an option if the roaming market were open. But the reality is that it does not. Low domestic call charges reflect cut-throat competition. High roaming charges reflect lack of competition. Simples!

  • But the reality is that it does not. Low domestic call charges reflect cut-throat competition. High roaming charges reflect lack of competition

    Let’s try to make it simple for you, by plucking some figures out of the air.

    Say running a mobile network costs £4 billion a year.

    Say you make £3.2 billion a year from domestic call charges and £1 billion per year from roaming charges.

    That covers your costs plus £200,000 profit.

    Now say the changes mean you can only make £500,000 a year from roaming charges.

    Can you not see that you must therefore raise your domestic call prices so that you can make at least £300,000 more a year from them?

    Otherwise your company will go bust.

    ‘Competition’ has nothing to do with it. It’s the simple maths of income versus expenditure. The expenditure for running a mobile network is mostly fixed, so if income in one area drops, you have to raise income in another area or go bust.

    ‘Competition’ doesn’t free you from that rather fundamental law of business: if total expenditure exceeds total income, you go bust.

    Now do you understand?

    You seem to think that by saying the magic word ‘competition’ you can make the costs of running a mobile network drop so that companies can survive on less total income. But you can’t.

  • David Evans 5th Apr '14 - 5:46pm

    Sorry Tim. Economics is just a bit more complex than that.

  • Economics is just a bit more complex than that

    Perhaps you could explain, then, how a company with mostly fixed costs and tiny margins can survive a fall in one income stream other than by either increasing market share or increasing prices somewhere else?

    You can get as complex as you want but money in still has to be greater than money out or you have a problem (if not now, then when the law catches up to you and finds out you’re Enron).

  • Alex Macfie 6th Apr '14 - 2:08pm

    Tim: The market will not remain static as you seem to assume: the reduction in mobile roaming charges will change the way people use their phones abroad. And competition will encourage companies to create further efficiencies and seek out new markets. Besides which, allowing companies to fleece one group of customers to benefit another is not desirable in a properly functioning market. The idea that such practices should be encouraged sounds rather corporatist to me.

  • Alex Macfie 6th Apr '14 - 2:42pm

    ChrisB:

    “So, your concern is for the ultra-rich entrepreneurs of tech-startups? “

    No, tech entrepreneurs are not rich (not to start with, anyway, and not at all unless they are successful). But no, my concern is for the functioning of the free market, in which incumbent business players cannot ‘bribe’ ISPs to block or throttle rival players, in particular newcomers who cannot affiord to pay off every ISP. You have a very narrow focus on consumer “choice” for ISPs that provide service from particular companies, as if the Internet were some sort of cable TV service. [This is a very common mistake among opponents of net neutrality, as they tend to think of the Internet as primarily a one-way content delivery system, when it is actually a two-way communications medium.] But if everyone makes the choice you seem to think they should be able to make, then the accessibility of the Internet in practice for small firms will be compromised.
    And although deals of this type are not currently common in Europe, they certainly do happen in the US, and without a law to prevent it they would come over this side of the pond. And another thing that is happening currently in Europe is mobile (especially) ISPs blocking services such as Skype, which they see as competing with their voice calling service.
    And yes, liberals do think it’s appropriate to ban behaviour by companies that interferes with a well-functioning free market. That is what competition law is all about!

  • Alex Macfie 6th Apr '14 - 2:52pm

    “If my imaginary tech-startup has become a problem regarding network utilisation, you don’t seem to think that I should be stopped/asked to pay more/spoken to/queried?”

    Network utilisation, and payment for this, is a matter between the customer and its ISP. A business that needs more bandwidth can pay its own ISP for this, and the ISP will make provisions. Net neutrality rules do not preclude this; indeed they are nothing to do with it. What the new EU law prevents (as it should) is ISPs sniffing traffic from *elsewhere* and putting it in a fast or slow lane depending on where it originally came from.

  • the reduction in mobile roaming charges will change the way people use their phones abroad

    True, but the change is unlikely to be revenue-neutral, is it?

    allowing companies to fleece one group of customers to benefit another is not desirable in a properly functioning market

    Depends on whether you’re one of the customers being fleeced, or one of the customers benefiting, doesn’t it? Me, I’m perfectly happy for the kind of jet-setters who swan around Europe all the time to be relieved of a bit more of their cash for the benefit of those of us at home.

  • Alex Macfie 7th Apr '14 - 9:04am

    Tim: The change would likely be revenue-positive (due to people using their phones abroad more). And I’m not talking about whether it’s desirable for a particular group of customers, but for the market as a whole, in which we should not accept special pleading from any vested interests. But people who cross borders are not all jet-setters, and for my explanation of that I refer you to my answer in the other thread.

  • @Alex Macfie “the reduction in mobile roaming charges will change the way people use their phones abroad.” & “The change would likely be revenue-positive”

    Maybe, I suspect it is too early to draw any conclusions about the overall effect on individual operator’s revenues, particularly there seems to be a lack of clarity over what is a “roaming surcharge”.

    What is clear the price an end user ends up paying will still be dependent upon: the specific’s of their service contract, the relationship between their home operator and the operator of the network they are roaming on. A potential side effect is that phones will be pan-EU network locked – so whilst today you are free to use any network in any country, after this change your phone could be locked to networks within a particular consortium of operators.

  • Re: Net neutrality
    The full text of the amended proposal can be found here http://www.marietjeschaake.eu/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/ALDE-AMDS-plenary-on-Single-market-for-electronic-communications.pdf

    “The idea is to stop big businesses with deep wallets making exclusive deals with internet service providers (ISPs) to promote their content through preferential faster and higher quality delivery”

    Whilst this should prevent ISP’s deliberately downgrading s ervices, don’t expect to receive the same quality of service from say NetFlix if you go direct rather than purchase access to service as part of your ISP’s media package. As the ISP will have installed a dedicate infrastructure for these services.

  • Re: Net neutrality

    Just had a thought, this may create a problem for Sky as they block certain types of secure communications used by remote workers on the basis that their network is for consumers…

  • >Tech entrepreneurs are not rich (not to start with, anyway, and not at all unless they are successful).

    Tech entrepreneurs generally do just fine, thanks! Net Neutrality will become tax on normal people (that we seemingly have no way of quantifying yet), and a gift to tech entrepreneurs (as long as they’re only using the network and not trying to build it).

    >my concern is for the functioning of the free market, in which incumbent
    >business players cannot ‘bribe’ ISPs to block or throttle rival players

    The free market will also do just fine if you don’t regulate the differentiation out of it! I’m happy for you to be on a non-discriminatory network, but you want to ban a product I buy and like – why? I want my ISP to prioritise my traffic, why shouldn’t it be able to manage Bittorrent traffic differently to iPlayer traffic? This is liberals removing freedoms from consumers in case another Netflix gets to be half the size of the internet and needs to strike a deal, but they’re apparently not rich. It’s the logic of Bush/Blair – you’re legislating for the known unknowns.

    >You have a very narrow focus on consumer “choice” for ISPs that provide
    >service from particular companies, as if the Internet were some sort of cable TV service.

    Not at all, you have a very narrow focus on removing market choice. You’ve failed to provide evidence for the problem you say you’re addressing, even admitting that nobody here is suffering from it. You tell us about poor tech startups being discriminated out of business, but who are they and why do we all have to pay for them? You honestly think Americans are sat at home waiting to watch things online but can’t? They don’t wait, they complain and shift providers, that’s the American way! It’s better than a mandate for an over-provisioned network, which is literally what’s been achieved here.

    >This is a very common mistake among opponents of net neutrality, as they tend to think of the
    >Internet as primarily a one-way content delivery system, when it is actually a two-way communications medium.

    This is a very common mistake among Lib Dems, as they tend to think that condescension whilst displaying an embarrassing lack of comprehension is an effective argumentative tool, when it is actually going to cost them the next 5 years of governance. Best Clegg impression I’ve read for a while, nice work!

    Are you arguing for end to end neutrality with upstream/downstream equality (you can send as much as you receive)? If so – most users consume a lot more data than they transmit, its been this way since the early nineties. If this isn’t what you were getting at, please explain, but you’ll find the average data profile of western internet users contains far more video usage than anything else and the network is optimised accordingly :
    http://allthingsd.com/20131111/netflix-youtube-half-your-broadband-diet/

    >liberals do think it’s appropriate to ban behaviour by companies that interferes with a well-functioning free market.

    Who are these companies? What are their behaviours? Who is being affected? You are chasing shadows and mandating billions of un-needed infrastructure growth, seemingly for a QoS issue nobody has experienced, and never will (the infrastructure was set to quadruple worldwide over the next 2 years anyway!).

    >Network utilisation, and payment for this, is a matter between the customer and its ISP.

    Exactly! It’s the customer that will pay for an over-provisioned and a non-discriminating network. A dream come true for business: charge people more for something they don’t need, for seemingly no reason. If Cisco are being honest then we’ll all be paying more for our internet, probably just prior to the general election. Maybe those companies are bluffing, but you’re clearly happy to take unquantified gambles.

    >What the new EU law prevents (as it should) is ISPs sniffing traffic from *elsewhere*
    >and putting it in a fast or slow lane depending on where it originally came from.

    No, it doesn’t, it merely makes you expand lanes if there’s any interaction between the fast lane and the slow lane!

    Banning things is not the answer and Net Neutrality is a buzzphrase used by people that think they’re maximising internet freedoms, whilst gifting it to businesses that pay no tax, at the expense of tax paying businesses and consumers. Your justification seems to be the precautionary principle – let’s legislate for a problem we don’t have, in case we do have it in the future, regardless of cost to consumer or the planet (even though we know nothing about the cost!). When backbone providers up prices everything online goes up. That’s exactly the sort of company you’re targeting, the people that provide the tangible part of the internet. The legislation makes them bare the costs of freeloaders, who can use as much bandwidth as they like because it’s not their problem and everyone has an equal right to this limitless, free resource. It’s a delusion that someone will pay for.

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