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Digital law: Is there a need for new net neutrality laws in the UK?

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19 of the UK's top digital firms have sent a demand via open letter to the government, urging digital laws be changed to encourage 'net neutrality'.

It's a move towards ensuring the internet is an open marketplace for firms to develop products and services without being held back by discriminatory business practices. Companies such as eBay, Skype and Yahoo - three of the firms behind the letter - want to ensure a level playing field focused on growing the digital economy.

The principle of net neutrality is defined on Wired.co.uk, another company behind the campaign, as:

[I]f a given user pays for a certain level of internet access, and another user pays for the same level of access, then the two users should be able to connect to each other at the subscribed level of access. Advocates of enforced net neutrality warn that if net neutrality is abandoned, ISPs will create 'fast lanes' for web traffic, where content from paying providers is passed along at a priority over those who won't pay, forcing every content company to pay up to make sure they're not penalised, creating the equivalent of an online protection racket.

Other organisations such as the Open Rights Group believe that removing net neutrality will reduce innovation and decrease citizens' abilities to exercise their freedom of speech.

The complaint was send to culture minister, Ed Vaizey. The MP is on record backing ISP's plans to create a two-tiered internet structure.

The letter criticises current restrictions on user's choice of which applications, content and services they are allowed to view, use or run.

The letter reads: "End-users' choice of which applications, content, and services to view, use or run is already restricted in the UK today, especially when accessing the internet on mobile. The government's commitment to the open internet must be reflected in action on the ground to remove any such arbitrary restrictions to the open internet. We also recommend the government's policies on the open internet and traffic management take account of citizens' access to public services online in the future."

It also urges UK communications watchdog Ofcom to have closer involvement with the regulation of broadband and phone network companies.

The debate about net neutrality first attracted significant attention in a Westminster debate in 2007. The phenomenon was deemed by many key industry voices at the time as a non-issue.

More than three years after the Westminster event, it appears the previously deemed phantom menace has begun to emerge as a real threat to democracy on the web.

The growth of mobile providers, contractual prohibitions preventing user freedom and over-charging for internet services are just some of the areas where there is increasing pressure for the UK digital law to be reviewed.

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