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Consumers, not regulators, hold power in net neutrality debate

Friday, January 23rd 2015 by Ellen Branagh

The debate on net neutrality will boil down to what the consumer wants, according to an analyst.

Net neutrality, where all internet data and traffic should be treated equally, is already a prominent issue in the United States and is now becoming more widely discussed in the UK.

On Monday the Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) announced that EE, Virgin Media and Vodafone became the latest signatories of a voluntary code of practice supporting the open internet.

The move meant that all major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) across both fixed and mobile networks have signed up to the Open Internet Code, which ensures full and open internet access, regardless of commercial issues.

The net neutrality debate has appeared to pit content providers against ISPs. Campaigners in favour of net neutrality say everyone should be treated equally, amid fears that introducing higher charges would price smaller companies and start-ups out of the market.

But those against it argue that businesses such as Netflix should contribute more to the cost of the network they use so heavily.

Glenn Hower, research analyst at Parks Associates said the issue would be influenced by regulators, but would ultimately be decided by consumers.

“It's really boiling down to everyone trying to protect their assets,” he told Cable.co.uk at International CES.

“The service providers, they want to feel that they're being treated fairly and that they're getting what they deserve out of their investment in the infrastructure.

“And of course the content providers feel that they're providing a valuable service and that their assets and their IP should be protected as well.”

There are many compelling arguments on both sides, he said.

“But it's going to come down to what the consumer wants ultimately, because without the consumer there is no market.

“You could say in a way that the consumers might start to shift towards the content providers.

“But at the same time as that markets start to develop and get more competitive, the consumer experience might start to shift towards the service providers to determine what differentiates the service.

“Ultimately it's going to depend on what direction the consumer wants to take in order to get the quality of experience that they want.”

Mr Hower’s comments come after Verizon chief product officer Chris Carey told Cable.co.uk that net neutrality doesn’t pose a problem for online content providers.

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