Ofcom probing Three, Vodafone net neutrality

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UK comms regulator Ofcom has initiated an investigation into ISP traffic management practices, including those relating to mobile roaming, and other ISP practices covered by the EU Open Internet Access Regulation 2015.

Following an assessment of evidence, Ofcom has decided to open investigations into mobile operators Hutchison 3G UK Limited (Three) and Vodafone Limited (Vodafone) to assess their compliance with the regulation.

The investigations will examine the following:

Three’s practices of:

  • Restricting tethering – the practice of using one device to connect another one to the Internet – on certain plans offered by Three;
  • Imposing restrictions on the devices in which a SIM can be used – e.g., where a SIM purchased for a mobile phone cannot be used in a tablet; and
  • Traffic management practices such as ‘throttling’ or intentionally slowing down particular categories of traffic (e.g., video traffic, Peer-to-Peer and Virtual Private Network traffic), including where traffic management is applied when customers are roaming.

In relation to Vodafone:

  • Traffic management practices relating to ‘Vodafone Passes’ – e.g., throttling particular categories of traffic – including where traffic management is applied when customers are roaming; and
  • The transparency of exceptions to zero rating within the ‘Vodafone Passes’ products, which mean that certain functions within certain zero-rated applications will use customers’ general data allowance and not be zero-rated.

Ofcom is continuing to review the information gathered from other fixed and mobile Internet service providers under this programme. It expects to publish a further update on both investigations and any other relevant work under this programme in June 2018.

Under EU regulations, which came into effect on April 30th 2016, broadband providers must treat all Internet traffic on their networks equally, and must not give preferential treatment to any particular sites or services.

Providers may, however, use certain reasonable measures to manage their Internet traffic, to ensure their networks run efficiently. But they must be clear and transparent about their traffic management policy and practices. These traffic management measures must be based on technical quality of services reasons, and cannot be used for longer than necessary.

The EU Open Internet Access Regulation 2015 requires Ofcom to monitor and ensure UK providers comply with these rules. Ofcom is opening the programme in fulfilment of that obligation.

Should it identify specific issues, it may initiate separate investigations of named providers and take enforcement action against them if appropriate.

 


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