Ed Vaizey's remarks on the possibility of a two (or more) tiered Internet in the future has certainly stirred things up. The remarks quickly became a trending topic on Twitter as punters digested what it could mean for them.

First of all, this is hardly a surprise. The government is itching for any opportunity to have a dig at the BBC, so this is was a prime opportunity for tackling the bandwidth-heavy BBC output. There's also the fact that mobile operators are clearly struggling to support mobile data -and as Vaizey said in his speech, this is set to rise inexorably over the next few years and with O2 already struggling with network overload, it's clear that the system is not set up to cope with the existing traffic.

Someone will have to pay for the infrastructure to support this - at the moment it's - ultimately - consumers but Vaizey's remark has paved the way for content providers to pay for access.There's a paradox here:  a situation created by the growing demand for iPhones and iPads will not see any contribution from the progenitor of said devices, indeed, will have paid heftily for the privilege of selling the devices.

At least the suggestion to do away with equal access to all content providers will level the playing field to a certain extent. The Conservatives backed the Digital Economy Act, which helped content providers maintain income, and which annoyed the ISPs, so tweaking with net neutrality can be seen as a quid pro quo.

But there are some concerns too. It's an immediate inhibitor on start-ups that they may find themselves having to pay to be carried. Bandwidth-heavy providers - such as gaming companies - might find themselves particularly badly hit.

There's another aspect too. Vaizey suggests that that competitive element of the UK infrastructure will ensure that no one ISP can dominate, as it does in some areas of the US. But that's not necessarily the case - as I've blogged before, where I live, I rely on cable as I live too far from the exchange for BT to offer ADSL services - there will be parts of the country not covered by cable - although at least there will be some competing ADSL services there.

The simple fact is, however, that if the UK is to expand the broadband infrastructure - particularly mobile -  someone has to pay for it - and the government is clearly not going to help, although there is one way it could. I, for one, certainly feel the frustration when trying to access mobile data and finding either no service or a very poor one. The UK infrastructure can't cope with the demands on it now - let alone any projected growth in data traffic.

A former chancellor, Norman Lamont, courted unpopularity in 1991 by taxing company mobile phones for the first time - seemingly in an attempt to enjoy quieter surroundings while eating in restaurants. This money went into the general pot and wasn't ringfenced for infrastructure but a small levy on smartphones and tablets, and ringfenced as such, could help fund infrastructure changes.

The Conservative government is not going to go that way - it pretty quickly did away with the small levy on fixed line phones that the previous Labour government proposed to help expand broadband to outlying areas. It's therefore unlikely that it would propose any sort of levy to help expand the mobile infrastructure.

The consumers are being squeezed on all sides and it's unlikely they'll be prepared to face huge hikes so, that just leaves content providers.

It's a delicate balancing act though. The Open Rights Group has warned of a "walled gardens" of ISP-supplied services, the sort of online activity that pertained 15 or 16 years ago when the likes of AOL and Compuserve were seen as the way for consumers to get on to the Internet. A move back to those days would be seen as a retrograde step but it's hard to see how the government can prevent it - certainly without introducing layers of regulation that would be anathema to this regime.

We want it all: decent mobile access, fast and universal broadband at fair prices and an open and unrestricted Internet - there comes a time when we realise we can't have it all and something's going to give, not without someone paying for it. I'm not wholly convinced that Vaizey is on the right tracks but I can see why he wants to explore more options. I hope that it's an approach that's carefully monitored and if the market doesn't work as it should, the experiment should not be continued for reasons of dogma.



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