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Government set to oppose any moves to water down net neutrality

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Netflix streaming video service is cheaper than renting a DVD. Photo: Reuters

Netflix streaming video service is cheaper than renting a DVD. Photo: Reuters

REUTERS

Alex White

Alex White

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Netflix streaming video service is cheaper than renting a DVD. Photo: Reuters

The Government is set to oppose European moves to water down 'net neutrality', one of the most contentious issues being debated in the technology industry.

The move means that telecoms operators such as Eircom, UPC and Vodafone would not be able to begin charging Irish companies extra for broadband users to access their sites.

Describing the matter as one that risks creating "internet fast tracks for those who can afford to pay", Minister for Communications Alex White told the Irish Independent that the Government is not in favour of giving private telecom firms the go-ahead to block websites such as Netflix and Google if they do not stump up a premium.

"I support open access," said Minister White. "Diluting that would be a concern."

The issue is to be discussed at a European Council of Ministers meeting on Thursday, after US President Barack Obama urged world legislators not to water down current rules protecting equal internet access for all content producers.

Net neutrality is a global internet standard that obliges telecom and broadband companies to treat website content equally, whether from startup firms or global multinationals.

However, telecoms companies are trying to change the system in favour of one that allows them to begin charging companies for faster access to their sites and their content.

The companies say that the proliferation of services such as Netflix is placing intolerable technical and financial strain on their networks.

They also accuse services such as Microsoft's Skype and Facebook's Whatsapp of getting a 'free ride' on their networks, while putting telecoms companies' own calling and texting services out of business

Opponents of net neutrality dilution include consumer groups and startup organisations, who say that such a system would create a two-tier internet where cash-rich multinationals would crush startups.

Recent figures show that Ireland's internet traffic has doubled in the last year, largely based on increased use of services such as the movie-streaming application Netflix and video application YouTube. Telecom industry statistics also show a huge fall in activities such as SMS texting, as ordinary users switch to free services such as Viber, Snapchat and Whatsapp.

While countries such as the Netherlands have legislated to protect net neutrality, most European states are waiting for a regulatory stance from EU institutions on the issue.

Last week, Italy proposed a watering down of net neutrality, allowing telecom companies to slow down services such as Netflix and Google to broadband users unless those companies pay extra charges.

Irish Independent