Opinion: Why it’s time to get off the fence about net neutrality

Here’s a tale of two societies. The South Korean communications commission is planning to boost broadband speeds in that country tenfold by the end of 2012. That means Koreans will get one gigabit per second (Gbps) connections by next year, which is 200 times as fast as the 5Mbps ADSL connection which is common in the UK. Meanwhile, back in the middle ages (aka Whitehall next Wednesday), a ministerial summit on “net neutrality” convened by the culture secretary Ed Vaizey will hear how Britain’s internet service providers (ISPs) plan to throttle still further the measly internet access they provide to the citizens of the UK in order to boost their bottom lines and reduce competition.Now it has to be said that the principle of net neutrality is not exactly a staple of saloon-bar conversation, so most citizens will assume that next Wednesday’s discussions have nothing to do with them. In this, they are sadly mistaken – as they will discover if Ed Vaizey does indeed agree to let the ISPs violate or erode the principle. Their rude awakening will happen when, one future winter’s evening, internet users decide that they would like to catch up on an episode of QI on the BBC iPlayer and find that the download is so slow and erratic that it’s unwatchable. What will puzzle them even more is that videos from Sky not only come down in a whoosh, but play faultlessly in HD. And then, perhaps, the penny will drop. By which time, of course, it will be too late.

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