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Internet network neutrality in the spotlight in Beirut

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) will determine its position on network neutrality, one of the most controversial issues in the telecoms industry.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) will determine its position on network neutrality, one of the most controversial issues in the telecoms industry, in Beirut next month. The debate over network neutrality - whether the operators of telecoms networks should be allowed to set aside a special "fast lane" for traffic from preferred partners - made headlines last week when the American telecoms regulator announced an ambitious new agenda on the question.

"The whole issue of our position on network neutrality will be discussed in Beirut," said Hamadoun Toure, the secretary general of the ITU. "At the conclusion of that meeting, we will have an official position." The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has issued four "principles" to operators of fixed-line phone networks. The principles opposed the selective slowing or speeding up of different types of traffic. But in an announcement last week, the FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said these principles would be turned into rules, which would also be applied to mobile networks.

The rules will benefit internet businesses such as YouTube and Skype, which let consumers access services including live video and voice communications over the internet. Such services consume the majority of internet bandwidth and many network operators, particularly in the mobile industry, currently "throttle" the speed at which such content travels across their networks to ensure other services remain available.

Analysts say charging high-bandwidth content companies for the prioritised delivery of their traffic could become a major new revenue source for network operators. Google says allowing network operators to levy such charges would "would fundamentally alter the openness of the Internet". tgara@thenational.ae

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