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UK ISP and Mobile Networks Snub Net Neutrality Pledge

Soulskill posted about a year and a half ago | from the acting-in-somebody's-best-interests dept.

The Internet 51

nk497 writes "UK ISP Virgin Media and two of the largest mobile networks, Everything Everywhere and Vodafone, are among the high-profile absentees from a new voluntary code of conduct on net neutrality, set to be unveiled tomorrow. The code requires those who sign it to give users access to all legal content and not to discriminate against content providers on the basis of a commercial rivalry — but Virgin has refused to sign because it isn't tough enough. 'These principles remain open to misinterpretation and potential exploitation so, while we welcome efforts to reach a broad consensus to address potential future issues, we will be seeking greater certainty before we consider signing,' a company spokesman said."

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51 comments

It isn't tough enough because it isn't mandatory. (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40760591)

It's like asking people to voluntarily ban guns.

Re:It isn't tough enough because it isn't mandator (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40760891)

It's like asking people to voluntarily ban guns.

or niggers to be productive members of mainstream society.

Re:It isn't tough enough because it isn't mandator (3, Interesting)

djsmiley (752149) | about a year and a half ago | (#40761785)

Indeed, but the UK (to me in my short lifetime) seems to work like this: We offer them something voluntary to sign up to which basically gives them far more freedom if they all agree.

Failure for everyone to agree generally leads to something becoming an official guideline; and then a law eventually if they still don't get in line.

Re:It isn't tough enough because it isn't mandator (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40761851)

Yeah, but we don't have the same problem with lack of competition between ISP's in the UK that they have in the US, so it's less of an issue. If your ISP isn't neutral, and you want one that is, it's extremely easy to change ISP.

Af if someone does want service that's cheaper because it's been subsided by Google and Facebook to give preferential access to those sites, I don't really see why there should be a law against their being offered that service.

Re:It isn't tough enough because it isn't mandator (4, Interesting)

Dan Dankleton (1898312) | about a year and a half ago | (#40761911)

There are a whole bunch of problems with net biasedness (or whatever the opposite of net neutrality is):

1) It creates a barrier to entry for new websites. They don't need to just technically match the competition, they also need to pay the ISPs not to throttle them.

2) It's easy enough to say that changing ISP will work, but that's only the case if net biassedness doesn't become required for ISPs to survive as a business. It is possible that every ISP would end up having to strike deals with sites in order to be able to charge something in the same ballpark as the competition.

3) If (2) happens, then I could definitely foresee the problem for consumers where it is impossible to get a single ISP with acceptable connections to all the sites you'd want to visit. Imagine if one condition of the BBC's bias agreement was that you weren't allowed to have a similar agreement with Netflix; one condition of Sky's agreement was that you couldn't have a similar agreement with the BBC; one condition of Netflix's agreement was that you couldn't have a similar agreement with Lovefilm (which would mean Amazon)... can you see where this would end up? Customers being forced to sign up to several different ISPs in order to get good connections to all major sites.

Re:It isn't tough enough because it isn't mandator (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40761933)

Well if (2) happens or looks like it's threatening to happen, I might support some sort of compulsory regulation; but it hasn't and it isn't.

Re:It isn't tough enough because it isn't mandator (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40766111)

This is attempting to prevent something before it happens. This may sound like jousting at windmills, but if the problem is the logical outcome of the current system, then it is preventing a problem from occurring in the first place. It is far cheaper and easier to be prepared for problems before they occur than to continuously react to everything.

Re:It isn't tough enough because it isn't mandator (1)

JasterBobaMereel (1102861) | about a year and a half ago | (#40763131)

Note that Vigin is an ISP, Mobile Network, Cable TV provider, etc ...

and Everything Everywhere are what were Orange and T-Mobile run by Deutsche Telekom and France Télécom and are the main carriers of virgin Mobile traffic

This leaves O2 and Hutchison 3G as the only mobile carriers to sign up ...

Re:It isn't tough enough because it isn't mandator (4, Interesting)

Xest (935314) | about a year and a half ago | (#40762231)

It's not even a net neutrality pledge anyway. It's got far far too many get-out clauses that ISPs can use as an excuse to not enforce net neutrality on their network.

Still, at least some ISPs such as Virgin and Vodafone had the decency to admit outright that they wont sign the pledge because they wont even enforce a semblance of network neutrality. I'm not sure if that makes them better or worse than the ones who signed it pretending they care about net neutrality when they know full well they intend to use any of the many get-out clauses when it suits anyway.

Re:It isn't tough enough because it isn't mandator (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40762581)

Indeed.

You have to take their guns, make them brush their teeth and always think happy thoughts.

Thats the price of freedom.

The reason Virgin won't sign... (0)

Tastecicles (1153671) | about a year and a half ago | (#40760641)

...is because they have major interest in broadcasting as well. They have the monopoly on cable delivered television in the UK (satellite as well, since it is owned by Sky). It's like asking the Crown Prosecution Service to deliver a compelling case against a police officer for wrongful death [telegraph.co.uk].

It will never happen.

Re:The reason Virgin won't sign... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40760669)

...Listen. You can't just do whatever you please like corn on peas; that's quite simply bootyassious. You're certain to attract him if you keep pulling such foolish stunts.

Re:The reason Virgin won't sign... (4, Informative)

_Shad0w_ (127912) | about a year and a half ago | (#40760969)

Virgin Media isn't owned by Sky - Sky Broadcasting is one of their main competitors. Virgin Media was created through mergers of NTL, Telewest, and Virgin Mobile. The also co-owned UKTV, along with BBC Worldwide, but I think they sold their share in it last year.

Re:The reason Virgin won't sign... (-1, Troll)

Tastecicles (1153671) | about a year and a half ago | (#40761191)

BSkyB would disagree with you there [sky.com]. As would OfCom, the Competition Commission - Sky have owned Virgin Media since June 2010.

Re:The reason Virgin won't sign... (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40761483)

That's a division of Virgin Media relating to a few TV channels that they didn't jointly own with the BBC - they wanted out of that business so they sold them to Sky. Nothing to do with their cable network and nothing to do with owning the parent company.

There isn't a chance in hell that Sky would be allowed to own Virgin Media (or vice versa).

Re:The reason Virgin won't sign... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40762577)

There's *always* a chance that political sycophants will hand ownership of *anything* to News Corp.

How else the status quo?

Re:The reason Virgin won't sign... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40766533)

Sky once tried to only buy shares in ITV (the most significant broadcasting company after the BBC) and they were told to sell them soon afterward. That's despite the then government being the most friendly to News Corp in ages.

Don't forget that News Corp tried to buy the shares it didn't otherwise own in Sky last year; they had to pull their bid because they figured out that they wouldn't get it. In this case the government showed some slightly dubious tactics to smooth the sale over, but it didn't work. Now News Corp is as toxic as it gets.

If the UK somehow allowed it, the EU definitely wouldn't. You cannot possibly let the largest pay-tv company buy up its only real competitor.

Re:The reason Virgin won't sign... (1)

necro81 (917438) | about a year and a half ago | (#40762779)

In other words - the structure telecom market in the U.K. is about as f#$@ed up and convoluted as it is in the United States. Or, for that matter, the structure of the U.K. itself [youtube.com].

Re:The reason Virgin won't sign... (1)

JasterBobaMereel (1102861) | about a year and a half ago | (#40763209)

Now explain the USA, the 50 states, Washington DC, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and their voting, citizenship, taxation and representation....

For much the same reason, they are all old systems evolved over a long period and now have many exceptions ...

But the UK Telecom and ISP market is at least competitive, you have multiple carriers and ISP's in all areas, you can change carrier/ISP, and it is relatively easy

Re:The reason Virgin won't sign... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40761015)

I'm not so sure about Virgin being owned by sky, they sold some crap channels to sky a while back but i didn't think there was anything more to it than that.

Re:The reason Virgin won't sign... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40761779)

I doubt this has to do with their dual ISP/broadcaster status and more to do with the fact Virgin already throttle the crap out of their customers. Despite what the summary says they are not refusing to sign up because it is "not strict enough". They are refusing to sign up because they say the language is "too vague". Which when simply means the way it is written they believe they would find themselves in violation almost immediately.

Let them not sign up. When all the others ISP get to slap the "we aren't bastards" sticker all over their marketing Virgin won't and everyone will know them for what they are.

Re:The reason Virgin won't sign... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40762245)

Virgin already throttle the crap out of their customers

It's nowhere near as bad as the Internet wants to believe. If you're trying to leech a couple of hundred GB, or are running a seedbox 24/7, then yeah you can expect to get your bitch-ass throttled. On the other hand I can download an episode of Breaking Bad in under two minutes (I.e. maxing my 20Mb connection) and they don't even notice.

Re:The reason Virgin won't sign... (1)

hawkinspeter (831501) | about a year and a half ago | (#40762767)

They only throttle you if you exceed their "limits" during daytime/peak hours. I typically set Transmission to throttle itself during the relevant hours and then go full speed overnight.

Re:The reason Virgin won't sign... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40763067)

Exactly, and the limits are high enough that you really do need to be doing something unusual to exceed them in any sensible way, doubly so if you're exceeded the limit often enough to bitch about it continuously on the Internet as some people do.

Re:The reason Virgin won't sign... (1)

hawkinspeter (831501) | about a year and a half ago | (#40763789)

I did manage to get a letter from them once asking me to reduce bandwidth during the day. It was relatively polite and non-threatening, so I adjusted my bittorrent settings and have been fine ever since.

Whups (4, Insightful)

girlintraining (1395911) | about a year and a half ago | (#40760863)

The code requires those who sign it to give users access to all legal content...

Yes, because asking them to not block on the basis of ethics or morality would be too much. Fun fact: Everything is illegal somewhere. In Minnesota, driving a red car down Lake street is illegal. Elsewhere, wearing saggy pants is a crime. ISPs can't be expected to police for only "legal" content, because what's legal varies from city to city, state to state, country to country... and then there's interpretations of what's legal, and the fact that entire libraries -- libraries -- are filled with books listing only the laws. And that's just in this country. I suspect you could easily fill a small city's buildings with all the laws ever written. And let's not forget company policies, military, etc. The reason why we ask the police to enforce laws instead of countries is because (a) they're primarily tasked with doing what's in the public interest, and so they tend to focus on crimes that actually hurt people, and (b) the average person is poorly equipped to even know the law, much less the interpretation of the law that's politically popular right now.

Asking companies to monitor all personal communications for signs of illegal activity gives them de facto police powers, and worse, unlike the police, there's no legal recourse if their interpretation is wrong. Because if companies were liable for their enforcement actions, then they'd quickly be sued out of existance or bog down the judicial system with so many lawsuits as to do the same thing. That's why class action lawsuits were outlawed -- it wasn't because they weren't built on solid principles of justice, or that they were useful in maintaining harmony and all that... it was because it was the only real method of making a company pay a large enough penalty to change their behavior.

Companies shouldn't be looking at private communications -- period, end of discussion. That's the job of the police. And if it's inconvenient, well too fucking bad. The alternative is so toxic and dangerous to democracy that anyone who would suggest it should be put on some kind of internet 'no fly' list and barred from connecting to the network.

Re:Whups (4, Insightful)

Nursie (632944) | about a year and a half ago | (#40760933)

Yeah, wonderfully insightful I'm sure, but none of that is relevant here. They'renot being asked to police illegal content, they're being asked NOT to throttle back on legal content. Whether they look for or do anything with illegal content is up to them.

Also, it's worth noting that this is the UK we're talking about, which has a much more homogenous set of rules than the US, so your comment about things being differently legal in different places is also irrelevant.

Re:Whups (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40761435)

they're being asked NOT to throttle back on legal content.

No, you're wrong. From the article:
"Under the terms of the agreement, ISPs and mobile networks have agreed not to use the term "internet access" to describe any package where certain classes of content, applications or services are blocked. However, they are free to apply whatever restrictions they choose, provided they don't use the term.

The ISPs also retain the ability to choke certain types of traffic, such as P2P file-sharing services, to manage congestion on their networks.

Net neutrality doesn't mean they should have to give everybody full unfettered access to their network. It means that when you sell a service and call it "internet access" you do so without restricting access in an unfair manner. And the reason why a lot of ISP's don't like this idea isn't some nefarious plot, it's because it reduces their ability to offer custom-tailored packages for consumers. For example, a local ISP offers people a $10 a month 1.5 meg service, but the types of services and traffic are limited. Hotels would like to be able to give people access to the web, but not a full-blown internet connection.

Or in other words, it's largely a debate over semantics. Nobody can agree on what "net neutrality" even means, let alone what "internet access" means, so it's a little premature to be signing off on an agreement to comply with as-yet undefined terms.

Re:Whups (3, Informative)

Nursie (632944) | about a year and a half ago | (#40761491)

What is it you don't understand here?

The code says that they will not discriminate between types of legal traffic.

Nothing about the agreement requires them to monitor or block any traffic at all, sure it leaves them the option, but it doesn't require it. It requires that they don't block legit traffic.

Re:Whups (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40762825)

What is it you don't understand here?
The code says that they will not discriminate between types of legal traffic.

And as I already pointed out in boldface, it also says they certainly can do so, as long as it's attributed to managing network congestion.

Nothing about the agreement requires them to monitor or block any traffic at all

I never even said anything about monitoring, or mentioned anything about anybody requiring anything. Are you sure you're replying to the right post?

Re:Whups (4, Insightful)

Nursie (632944) | about a year and a half ago | (#40761517)

I don't usually reply to someone twice, but my mind is boggling at the stupidity here. I mean seriously, how the fuck do you not get the difference between signing up for a code that forbids screwing with legit traffic, and the fantasy that you and the OP seem to be living in where this code enforces monitoring of all data and blocking things at will?

Sure, this code does not guarantee real, full net neutrality, but neither does it remove it. It's a step in the right direction.

Re:Whups (0)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about a year and a half ago | (#40762077)

You seem unaware that the only way to "forbid screwing with legit traffic" requires that you determine whether any particular bit of traffic is "legit traffic" or not....

Which pretty much means monitoring all traffic...

Re:Whups (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40762277)

The cheaper option would be to screw with no traffic.

Re:Whups (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40762859)

Usually the illegal traffic is already known i.e. mandated by court order, so it doesn't really matter.

The ISP usually has means for dealing with illegal traffic such as returning NXDOMAIN for DNS entries, refusing to connect to IP addresses etc. that have been set out in statute such as the Digital Britain Act.

Re:Whups (3, Informative)

Nursie (632944) | about a year and a half ago | (#40762965)

"You seem unaware that the only way to "forbid screwing with legit traffic" requires that you determine whether any particular bit of traffic is "legit traffic" or not.... "

You could do nothing at all, which is fully in line with this agreement.

Re:Whups (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772281)

...and the fantasy that you and the OP seem to be living in where this code enforces monitoring of all data and blocking things at will?

They cannot do that without determining what is legal content and what is not. Whether it's a computer algorithm or a person that looks at private traffic doesn't really matter: It's still the digital equivalent of opening other people's mail. Net neutrality doesn't just protect individuals, it also protects ISPs: The safe harbor provisions of the DMCA go away for any ISP that signs up for this. The moment they censor, restrict, obstruct, slow, or interfere with network traffic preferentially, they become legally liable because they had (and have used) means to prevent said traffic from causing legal harm. I can't speak to what other country's laws are, but they are probably similar.

Giving ISPs the power to declare what is legal and what is not is highly dangerous -- if only because they can simply define their EULA to say something like, for example "... and the customer shall not use NetFlix," and then throttle any traffic from the site to a drip. Remember that the EULA is the law in an increasing number of countries. Either network neutrality is for all traffic, or it might as well be for none at all.

Re:Whups (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year and a half ago | (#40761227)

Companies shouldn't be looking at private communications -- period, end of discussion. That's the job of the police. And if it's inconvenient, well too fucking bad. The alternative is so toxic and dangerous to democracy that anyone who would suggest it should be put on some kind of internet 'no fly' list and barred from connecting to the network.

True... and only the police should be able to hunt and bring the offender in from of justice for the expression of such an opinion (not any companies, nor the public). In fact, Google should implement some filters to restrict searches about companies looking at private communications.

(grin)

Its sad (0)

Chrisq (894406) | about a year and a half ago | (#40761065)

it won't be long before we have to pay twice for services like youtube and netflix, not to mention Skype and SIP once for the connection and again for them to give reasonable speed (i.e. not to slow down) these services

Virgin had Phorm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40761689)

says it all really

Virgin dont have a network (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40761831)

Virgin are whats known as a VMNO (virtual mobile network operator),
this means they actually own nothing and just buy airtime in bulk from other "real" operators who actually do own cell hardware.
in the UK virgin mobile is usually T-Mobile rebranded, so whatever t-mobiles policy is on network neutrality is what Virgins is going to be.

if Branson is involved in a business it always means somebody else is actually doing the heavy lifting

Re:Virgin dont have a network (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40762029)

Not just Tmobile but Orange as well - i am on virgin mobile and my phone uses whichever service has best reception or T-mobile if equal.

We get free calls to virgin mobiles from the home phone along with anytime free calls of up to 1hr duration to all geographical based numbers, 30mb adsl and standard TV with catchup services through the set top box + the contract mobile (lowest contract option) all for I think £26 per month. we also have 2 other mobiles on virgin pay as you go and they can ring other virgin mobiles for free as long as they do 1 charged call/txt per month so my 12yo son can ring me on my mobile from his anytime he likes for free. The rest of the payg package is good as well at 8p/min and 8p per txt so a £10 top up got with his £10 phone will last him literally years

Re:Virgin dont have a network (1)

PeterKraus (1244558) | about a year and a half ago | (#40762133)

That's because T-Mobile UK and Orange UK are the same company (Everything Everywhere).

Re:Virgin dont have a network (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40762269)

If Virgin Media don't have a network, then who the hell's fiber is that coming in to my house?

Virgin Mobile are a separate entity.

Re:Virgin dont have a network (1)

Lincolnshire Poacher (1205798) | about a year and a half ago | (#40762719)

If Virgin Media don't have a network, then who the hell's fiber is that coming in to my house

It belongs to NTL Telecom Services Ltd.

"Virgin Media" is just a brand-name licensed from the Virgin Group to front the combined operation of NTL and Virgin Mobile Group.

Do a quick search for Media House Bartley Wood Business Park and be amazed at the variety of companies registered therein!

Re:Virgin dont have a network (1)

necro81 (917438) | about a year and a half ago | (#40762747)

In many places, the owner of the fibre (or coax, or twisted pair, whatever) isn't the same as the company that sells the service on it. Don't know if there are hard and fast rules about that in Britain. In the U.S., a lot varies by geography.

Re:Virgin dont have a network (1)

petermgreen (876956) | about a year and a half ago | (#40763105)

Basically there are two main ways for a home user to get internet in the UK*. DSL on their BT phone line** or cable modem on their virgin media cable. Most households in the UK can get the former, about half can get the latter.

With DSL down the phone line you have lots of options for internet service, you can buy internet service from BT, you can buy it from a provider who uses BT wholesale's network or in some areas you can buy it from a local loop unbundling provider who run their own DSL signals down the physical line. FTTC and FTTH complicate this a bit but the principle that BT have to offer the service to competitors still holds.

OTOH if you want internet service down your virgin media cable then AFAICT you have no choice but to buy it from virgin media.

* Some small areas are exceptions to this.
** This part of the operation is now run under the brand name openreach and run somewhat seperately from the rest of BT but it's still owned by BT group.

Virgin Media (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40762069)

Is this the same Virgin Media with a CEO who said back in 2008 that "This net neutrality is a load of bollocks and promised to put any website or service that won't pay Virgin a premium to reach its customers into the "Internet bus lane."

net 'neutrality' (1)

codman1 (904493) | about a year and a half ago | (#40762125)

hello, we all need to stop using the word 'neutrality' or versions of it, as ANY move to do ANYTHING that changes the flow of data on the internet stops the internet from been neutral. EG. ISP/GOV don't 'like' illegal/immoral content (mainly because they cannot charge for it or tax it) so they change how our 'free thinking ' minds wish to consume such things. they censor it - the net is no longer neutral EG. GOV don't like political views so they ban Blackberry Messenger/Social network for a period of time - no longer neutral Eg. GOV don't like your sexual orientation western world calls marriage under 16 wrong. Muslim counties gay marriage is wrong (I am not here to judge). In some countries its legal. Which country has the right to impose neutral internet access on the other country. EG. ISP provide streaming media service gives it services priority over bandwidth - no longer neutral. In the UK as i cannot comment on other countries, even getting 'Unlimited' internet is a nightmare. as 'Unlimited' now means 'Limited' by the whim of the ISP. we cannot get them to agree with the definition of 'Unlimited' so 'Net Neutrality' is a battle which will never be won, we as consumers will have to take it and like what ever the ISP's and GOV define it as. General speaking if tight rules and legislation is put in place you criminalise whole parts of the world, which should have the right to be/do/say what they like and live there lives how they see fit. How can 'say' the USofA say free speech is a right then remove the means to speak freely. ---yes we have free speech BUT i will cut out your tongue if you exercise that speech---

Which would you prefer (1)

necro81 (917438) | about a year and a half ago | (#40762727)

Virgin has refused to sign because it isn't tough enough. 'These principles remain open to misinterpretation and potential exploitation so, while we welcome efforts to reach a broad consensus to address potential future issues, we will be seeking greater certainty before we consider signing,'

Well, Virgin, which would you prefer: relatively lenient voluntary guidelines, whose spirit you would probably weasel out of anyway, or legislated regulation? Worried about misinterpretation and potential exploitation? Just wait until you have 1,000 fresh pages of bureaucratized rules to worry about, and a dozen very costly and lengthy court cases to determine what they all mean.

pound wise, pence foolish.

On the other hand, they can probably write the regulations themselves, and have overwhelming financial resources to influence the result of any court cases. Maybe they aren't so foolish after all.

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