ISPs reveal traffic management policies

The UK’s major ISPs are to reveal how and why they slow down user connections to maintain their network performance in order to “help customers understand why they need to vary connection speeds.” The ISPs hope the move will help stave off regulation enforcing net neutrality.

The code of practice has been drawn up by the Broadband Stakeholder Group, which represents most of the UK’s largest ISPs including BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin. Under the code users will be able to view a breakdown of how and when their connection is restricted.

“There is a core of consumers who understand this stuff quite well, but it’s not something that most people are aware of at this stage,” said Anthony Walker, chief executive of the Broadband Stakeholder Group. He said that most companies already make information about their traffic management policies available, but the new guidelines meant that they would all use the same simple format – allowing customers to compare ISPs. Members will have to give details about how much they reduce speeds, how long the reduction lasts and whether certain services are blocked, slowed down or prioritised.

The Code of Practice does include provision for ISPs to explore managed services, but it denies this amounts to a declaration of intent.

Proponents of net neutrality accept that while bandwidth remains limited some ‘shaping’ will be necessary but believe there is a need for regulation to stop ISPs charging for exemption to traffic management and creating ‘a two tier system’. Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group, said that transparency on its own was not enough: “We need meaningful guarantees that ISPs will not act to restrict competition.”

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