Yesterdays release of a new voluntary Open Internet Code of Practice (OICP), which is designed to tackle Net Neutrality concerns by requiring members to ensure the provision of full and open internet access, has today received a starkly mixed response from the UK’s fixed line broadband ISPs.
The new code (full summary) includes a series of commitments that are designed to stop ISPs from blocking any legal internet services or from targeting and degrading the “content or applications of specific providers“. At the same time it also calls for providers to deliver greater transparency of any service restrictions or Traffic Management policies.
So far the code has been signed by BT, TalkTalk, Sky Broadband, O2 (BE Broadband, Tesco Mobile, GiffGaff), KC, PlusNet and Three UK. Unfortunately Everything Everywhere (T-Mobile and Orange UK), Virgin Media and Vodafone all chose to abstain. Naturally ISPreview.co.uk wanted to better understand what ISPs thought about the code and set about canvassing opinion from across the industry.
An O2 Spokesperson said:
“We support the protection of users rights and choice when it comes to internet access. We believe that consumers should be able to access legal internet content of their choice and be provided with transparent information on the services they are purchasing. We have fully contributed to the Broadband Stakeholders Group Code of Practice and are one of the signatories.”
A TalkTalk Spokesperson said:
“TalkTalk is pleased to sign up to the open Internet code. We don’t block traffic today or target and degrade particular service providers and are very happy to commit to continuing that approach alongside our ability to introduce innovative and higher quality services that our customers might want in the future. We do however think it is disappointing that some other providers felt they were not able to sign up to these commitments and we hope that they will be honest with their customers about what services they can and can’t get.”
A Virgin Media Spokesperson disagreed:
“We have no intention of discriminating or treating data differently on the basis of who owns or publishes it but we are not signing up to the Code as it stands. We had tried to encourage something that would be clearer for industry and give consumers improved transparency. However, these principles remain open to misinterpretation and potential exploitation so, while we welcome efforts to reach a broad consensus to address potential future issues, we will be seeking greater certainty before we consider signing.”
An Everything Everywhere Spokesperson added:
“Today’s publication of the 4G auction rules is a crucial step towards bringing the benefits of faster mobile speeds and better connectivity to Britain, as well as stimulating £5.5bn investment into the UK economy.
While there are still some elements of today’s proposal which we don’t think are in the interests of competition or consumers, we are pleased that Ofcom is moving in the right direction and we recognise that we need to get this process moving now before the UK falls further behind the rest of the world.
However the auction is only one step towards bringing 4G to Britain. Everything Everywhere is committed to bringing 4G to the UK this year, and the next milestone will be the regulator’s response to our request to roll out 4G over our existing 1800MHz spectrum without further delay.”
A Sky Spokesperson added:
“We support the principle that consumers should be able to access any legal website free from concerns over blocking or discrimination. We also support all steps to ensure that consumers are fully informed about the broadband services available to them and that those ISPs who employ traffic management policies are open and transparent about them.”
“The significance of this list is in who is not on it, particularly the mobile operators. You can work out who they are yourselves. Some of them are already known to block the use of Over The Top VoIP services (eg Timico’s own VoIP, Skype et al) on their mobile networks which of course goes against the principles of the CoP being announced today.
Whatever their reasons for not signing these mobile networks will have to change their positioning as 4G gets rolled out. The bandwidth requirement for VoIP services will be relatively small compared with that required for general use on 4G networks so the “lack of capacity” argument should not work.
4G is a fairly major inflection point for mobile networks. I don’t have any forecasts but during the life of the 4G (LTE) technology we should see the mobile business model transition from being minutes driven to data driven.”
“This has one very interesting implication. These top companies cannot sell an “internet access” package that does not have IPv6. If they do, then they are barring access to any IPv6 only services. There only has to be one IPv6 only service in existence for this to be the case.
So, what can I say? If you are with any of these ISPs, and if they claim to sell you “internet access”, and if you cannot get to www.loopsofzen.co.uk then ask them why. If they eventually work out that it is an IPv6 only web site, ask why they are barring your access, and if that means they are in breach of this new code of practice by doing so. Remember, you can always take them to ADR over this as well.
Trying to define net neutrality is hard. For example, we offer email services and so do competitors. However, as our email servers are on our network, access to them is going to be better for our services than competitors. Is that against net neutrality?”
A PlusNet spokesperson said:
“We are supportive of the voluntary code. We actively champion traffic management to improve customers broadband experience and welcome any moves which make the understanding of it clearer to the general public.”
Elsewhere Vodafone is understood to have said that “under the code we would have been unable to use the phrase ‘internet access’ to describe many of the services enjoyed by customers” and a BT Retail spokesman rather perplexingly told ISPreview.co.uk that, “as a signatory to the Code of Practice we don’t wish to make a further comment“. None of the other ISPs seemed to have BT’s problem.
In any case consumers should stand to benefit from the new code and indeed many already do since the basic principals were introduced as part of a pilot scheme last year, although the effectiveness of this must surely be tempered against the absence of so many big operators; especially in the mobile sphere. It should be said that the likes of Virgin Media etc. have not totally ruled out joining the code, although clearly they want more favourable language first.
In fairness, outside of the UK mobile broadband market, there is significantly less evidence of related market abuse in the fixed line broadband sector. So far this remains a much bigger issue for the mobile market, where tight data restrictions and confusing policies often still seem to be worryingly common.
Added a comment from PlusNet.