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Network neutrality, the idea that an ISP can’t discriminate against the traffic traveling over its network, is an enshrined legal right in some areas and a hotly contested regulatory fight in others. But according to a post over at TechDirt it may become moot if the International Telecommunications Union succeeds in its plans to dictate terms that will affect how traffic flows on the Internet.
Earlier this month some of the proposed rules associated with the UN’s plans surfaced on a blog and since then other leaks have given us a sense of what’s on the negotiating table at the UN. The one seeking to gut network neutrality is submitted by ETNO — the European Telecommunications Network Operators Association. Now, this proposal may never make it to the final ITU version of the rules and the ITU itself may never get the authority it wants in terms of being able to dictate how packets travel on the Internet, but its worth understanding what regulators are considering in this fairly secret process.
Glyn Moody at TechDirt has read those documents and clips the relevant segments to argue that these proposals would effectively make network neutrality illegal. As he writes as TechDirt:
That may sound innocuous enough, but “supporting innovation to provide a value-added service” is a coded way of saying that the telcos should be allowed to abandon net neutrality, something confirmed in one of the accompanying proposals…
The key sentence in that proposal is “Nothing shall preclude commercial agreements with differentiated quality of service delivery to develop.”
Ironically, to see what allowing a value-added service can mean to an ISP (or consumers) one only has to look at Comcast’s decision to exempt its Xfinity traffic delivered via the Xbox from its broadband cap. Consumers, competitors and maybe even regulators can perceive those actions to be unfair. The U.S. version of network neutrality regulations allows Comcast to exempt that traffic because it doesn’t travel over the public Internet, and because the FCC didn’t want to deal with the concept of value-added services on an ISP’s network when it made its network neutrality regulations.
So if the ITU is entertaining similar proposals, then it’s time to open up the process more so the parties involved can learn from the actions of our own FCC or ISPs. Maybe then member countries will think twice about the types of rules they want to enshrine. Or maybe they’ll keep listening to the people who run the networks instead of the people who use them and depend on them for their businesses.