Net Neutrality and the BBC
It is very easy to take the internet for granted. For many of us, it has become an integral part of our lives. It has transformed how we work, communicate, access media, and contribute to debate. It's only during those rare moments when some technical hitch means that you can't access the internet that you appreciate how great it is to be connected to all the content, services and applications that you want.
The companies which provide our broadband connections occasionally struggle to cope with the amount of traffic on the internet. And as traffic is only going to increase, it's critical that there is continued investment in next generation networks in order to cope with that growth and power a connected, creative economy.
Until that capacity is in place, the BBC recognises that traffic management may sometimes be necessary for technical reasons - for example to cope with legitimate network congestion. But this should be the exception. An emerging trend towards network operators discriminating in favour of certain traffic based on who provides it, as part of commercial arrangements, is a worrying development.
Why? For companies that can pay for prioritisation, their traffic will go in a special fast lane. But for those that don't pay? Or can't pay? By implication, their traffic will be de-prioritised and placed in the slow lane. Discriminating against traffic in this way would distort competition to the detriment of the public and the UK's creative economy.
The founding principle of the internet is that everyone - from individuals to global companies - has equal access. Since the beginning, the internet has been 'neutral', and everyone has been treated the same. But the emergence of fast and slow lanes allows broadband providers to effectively pick and choose what you see first and fastest.
There have already been a couple of incidents where access to BBC iPlayer was seriously restricted at certain times of the day. But this is broader than the BBC safeguarding online access to the public services we provide. Along with many other organisations, we recognise the benefits and endless possibilities that come from everyone being connected - sites like theyworkforyou, Mumsnet, and Audioboo have become highly valued democratic and social tools for so many people, while others like Facebook, youTube and Skype have become essential parts of our everyday lives - all having emerged as a result of the open internet. It's exactly these sorts of services that inspire people to go online in the first place, something which we try to help people with through BBC websites such as /connect and initiatives such as 'First Click' - our recently-launched media literacy campaign.
This innovative and dynamic ecosystem, that enables huge public value, could be put at risk if network operators are allowed to use traffic management to become gatekeepers to the internet.
Some say that traffic management is OK in a competitive broadband market - because people can switch broadband provider if they don't like the service they're receiving. In principle that could be right. But in reality, people don't tend to switch broadband provider because it's too complicated, expensive, confusing and often locked in to other services such as telephone and pay-TV. And even if switching were made easier, much more work is needed to deliver real transparency about the traffic management practices used by different broadband providers.
We've expressed this and other concerns to the industry regulator Ofcom and to the European Commission as part of their consultation on the issue. At this stage new legislation is not needed , since effective new EU rules have already been passed. But we do need the determination of regulators to now fully implement these rules, to prevent the emergence of practices which undermine the open internet which we so often take for granted.
Erik Huggers is Director, BBC Future Media & Technology