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Ofcom proposes new net neutrality guidance

October 21, 2022

By Colin Mann

UK comms regulator Ofcom is proposing to revise its guidance on how the ‘net neutrality’ rules should apply in the UK. This follows the announcement of its new programme of work to ensure that digital communications markets are working well for people and businesses in the UK.

Ofcom is responsible for monitoring and ensuring compliance with the net neutrality rules and providing guidance on how broadband and mobile providers should follow them. The rules themselves are set out in legislation, and any changes to the law would be a matter for Government and Parliament.

The principle of net neutrality is that Internet users – not their broadband or mobile provider – have control over what they do online. According to Ofcom, net neutrality has played a critical role in allowing people to access the content and services they want, and content and app owners to reach customers online.

Since the current rules were put in place in 2016, there have been significant developments in the online world – including a surge in demand for capacity, the emergence of several large content providers such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, and evolving technology including the rollout of 5G. Accordingly, Ofcom has carried out this review to ensure net neutrality continues to serve everyone’s interests.

Ofcom wants to make sure that net neutrality continues to support innovation, investment and growth, by content providers as well as broadband and mobile companies. Getting this balance right will improve consumers’ experiences online, including through innovative new services and increased choice.

While net neutrality remains important to support consumer choice, Ofcom proposes more clarity in its guidance so that broadband and mobile providers can:

  • offer premium quality retail broadband or mobile packages; for example, ones with low latency (to send data and receive a response very quickly);
  • develop new ‘specialised services’, which could include supporting applications like virtual reality and driverless cars;
  • use ‘traffic management’ measures to avoid congestion over their networks at peak times; and
  • offer ‘zero-rating’ packages in many circumstances – which means not charging users for accessing certain services, for example online public health advice provided by the NHS.

Ofcom also proposes guidance on broadband providers prioritising and zero-rating access to emergency services, offering parental controls, and managing Internet traffic on aeroplanes and trains.

Ofcom has set out its views on the possibility of allowing broadband providers to charge content providers for carrying traffic. “We have not yet seen sufficient evidence that this is needed, although this would be a matter for Government and Parliament,” it concludes.

Ofcom invites responses by January 13th, 2023, and, subject to feedback, expects to publish its decision and revised guidance in autumn 2023.

A TalkTalk spokesperson said: “We welcome that Ofcom is updating its guidance to reflect evolving technology and consumer demands. Firstly, the new rules can and must support network efficiency. Secondly, content providers should in some cases support network capacity growth whilst also ensuring consumers continue to have unrestricted access to the content. We look forward to seeing rules that better reflect today’s needs.”


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