Which is worse: the fact that the UK government appears to favour replacing free access to the internet with a model that looks suspiciously like that of a cable TV network, or that whoever helped draft this measure cut-and-pasted text from Wikipedia in support of it?
The threat to internet access arose during discussion of the "Telecoms Package", which is a set of five European Directives regulating electronic communication networks currently under discussion. Decisions taken now are likely to set the business model for how the internet will operate in Europe for years to come.
One of the key groups campaigning for continued open access to the internet is French campaigning group La Quadrature du Net. According to La Quadrature, amendments (pdf) have been circulated recently by the British Government that would have the dual effect of introducing conditions of access to the internet – the subscription TV approach – and secondly, overriding the end-to-end principle of the internet.
Instead of users having virtually free access to the entire net, internet providers would be allowed to limit the number of websites that users can access, in exchange for a lower fee.
Are they crying wolf? Or do users really have something to fear from current manoeuvrings? Again, according to La Quadrature, the role of the national regulator would change from that of protecting users' fundamental rights to information, culture and public services, to endorsing the new business model.
The UK has put forward amended text for article 8(4)(g) of one of the key directives in the Telecoms Package - the Framework Directive. Previously, it set out the duties of national regulators as, inter alia, applying the principle that end-users should be able to access and distribute information or run applications and services of their choice.
However, if the amendment is accepted, the directive will instead state that “there should be transparency of conditions under which services are provided, including information on the conditions of access to and/or use of applications and services, and of any traffic management policies".
Writing for IPtegrity, internet analyst Monica Horten points out that this language is curiously reminiscent of the language already used in the Conditional Access Directive (Directive 98/84/EC) which concerns protection of copyright on satellite and cable television systems.
She further points out that the subscription television model is further alluded to in the ‘Rationale' for the amendments: "We are already familiar with this in the broadcasting world, where certain cable or satellite operators may enter into exclusive agreements with content providers (like Sky and Premier League football). Similar arrangements may also exist in the electronic communications world."
Whether this will be passed in Europe remains to be seen. One effect of such a law would be to put pressure on the business models of leading players on the internet, such as Google, by restricting site availability to only those subscribers paying for access to it.