I recently made a somewhat flippant post regarding a new code of practice on net neutrality that many ISPs have signed up to.
It is clearly intended to ensure that there is fair access to all content providers via all access providers. It is to try and avoid two (or more) tier Internet services with access providers offering premium access to selected content providers, for example. The concept is good - having an open and fair access infrastructure is good for everyone and fostering development of such service and UK industry and so on.
My take on this was somewhat tangental. Basically, I assert that it means that access providers have to provide the newer version of Internet Protocol (IPv6). Clearly this was not the intent of the code of practice, as it is, by and large, technology neutral in its wording (for good reason).
However, the various people having a go at my post have made me consider it even more.
The way things work is that content (or services) are normally provided on specific IP addresses using specific low level and high level protocols. Then, the access provider, providers end users with connectivity. That connectivity allows all of the protocols in use on the Internet at large and allows access to all of the addresses on the Internet. That way the end user can access all available content. Yes, there are caveats for blocking illegal content, and so on.
The problem is that IPv6 is not yet widely deployed by consumer ISPs, and in particular not by the signatories of the code of practice as a general service to their customers.
Now, this is making a two tier internet access! To get access to the "whole Internet" you have to go to an ISP that provides IPv6 as well as IPv4, else you are not getting the whole Internet. That is likely to be more expensive. There are technical workarounds, like creating tunnels, but that could be said for any restrictions on access. If an ISP did not allow access to a particular premium content provider, then one could go via proxies or tunnel to other points on the internet to access it. If such technical workarounds are considered valid the we don't really need the code of practice for net neutrality, do we? We can expect all end users to be geeks that can hack their way around restrictions.
Now, this is a technical issue in some ways, but even that is not really a good argument. People are saying it is costly and time consuming to change to support IPv6. All true, and if IPv6 had not been around over 15 years it would be a valid argument. Even if ISPs had only started seriously considering IPv6 when it was first realised how soon IPv4 would be exhausted then they would have usable services by now, or at least have been ready turn on IPv6 when IPv4 did run out. The large ISPs have least excuse as they have the buying power to have made IPv6 support a mandatory part of the CPE they specified long ago.
But back to the original point. ISPs have lots of technical reasons to restrict services. If an ISP restricted traffic to only certain high level protocols (e.g. HTTP) and ports and low level protocols, then they would clearly be said not to be providing access to all content and services on the Internet, as their restrictions would stop many working. It used to be common for ISPs to operate web proxies, so one could see how an ISP might ague that such restrictions are just a technical issue too.
To me, it is hard to see that failing to allow access to IPv6 is not just the same. After all, an ISP that only offered IPv6 would not be expected to claim they provide access the the whole Internet as there are sites that choose to only be accessible via IPv4. It is therefore exactly the same argument for an ISP that only offers IPv4 as there are sites that can only be accessed via IPv6.
Basically, signing this code of practice when they do not offer IPv6 was quite simply dishonest. In my opinion. Sorry guys - I know a lot of you, and work with you, but really? Don't say you will allow access to the Internet and then not provide it.
The good news is that, having signed this agreement, everyone can now put quite legitimate pressure on these ISPs to do what they agreed to do. Good luck with that, and please don't try to wind them up just for the hell of it, no matter how much fun that is, it is not really very fair :-)
Update: I am pondering setting up a brand that is offering only IPv6 connectivity. I really expect almost nobody to buy it as not very useful. But I will then have that brand sign the CoP I think.
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