The network neutrality issue has taken an interesting new turn in the United Kingdom, where a number of the leading Internet service providers have agreed to a voluntary code of practice with interesting implications.

The code generally requires them to ensure that they are offering “full and open internet access” to their customers. You might translate that as “unrestricted best effort access,” without quality of service optimization mechanisms.

But the code is nuanced. ISPs are allowed to offer “products” that may restrict “full Internet access”, but they have committed not to use the term ‘internet access’ to “describe or mark such products and ensure that any restrictions are effectively communicated to consumers”.

In other words, it appears a carve out for managed services has been created, an important distinction for ISPs that might want to create real-time-service tiers of service, or offer quality of service features for customers, in addition to offering best effort Internet access.

BT, BSkyB, O2 and TalkTalk are among 10 ISPs to commit to the Open Internet Code of Practice. The code of conduct was not embraced by Virgin Media, Vodafone and Everything Everywhere.

In addition, the code allows for ttraffic management to deal with congestion. But traffic management cannot be used “in a manner that targets and degrades the content or application(s) of specific providers” and ensure that a ‘best efforts’ internet access is a “viable choice” to consumers even where other “managed services” are available.

The ISPs signed up to the code have also agreed to operate “clear and transparent traffic management policies”. The code seems to open up an approach that allows creation of managed services, featuring quality of service, alongside traditional best effort Internet.

That’s an important development for ISPs elsewhere, possibly including the United States, who have argued that managed services ought to be within the purview of a service provider.

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