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UK Begins Review of Voluntary ISP Code to Protect Open Internet

Thursday, August 20th, 2015 (9:59 am) - Score 712

The Broadband Stakeholders Group, a think-tank for government policy, has announced that its Voluntary Code of Practice for protecting the Open Internet (Net Neutrality) is to be reviewed as part of Europe’s wider efforts to protect consumers from unnecessary ISP blocking of Internet content and or traffic.

The Open Internet Code of Practice was setup a few years ago to ensure “the provision of full and open internet access” and to prevent ISPs from using Traffic Management practices to “degrade the services of a competitor“, although it took until early 2015 for all of the major mobile and fixed line broadband providers to sign-up (here).

Ofcom (telecoms regulator) has described the commitment of related providers to the Code as an “effective self-regulatory model“, which fulfilled a “key part of Government policy on Net Neutrality“.

The 3 Core Open Internet Code Commitments

1. Ensure that full and open internet access products, with no blocked services, will be the norm within their portfolio of products.

2. Provide greater transparency in instances where certain classes of legal content, applications and/or services are unavailable on a product. These products will not be marketed as “internet access” and signatories will be obliged to ensure that any restrictions are clearly communicated to consumers.

3. Not [to] target and degrade the content or applications of specific providers.

But despite those efforts some consumers feel as if the code didn’t go far enough and its voluntary nature also means that a number of Internet providers, particularly many new and smaller players, have chosen not to sign-up. As such we continue to see some providers that impose Traffic Management measures and without fully explaining to customers what they are (e.g. SSE).

Since then of course the European Union has moved, albeit very slowly, to construct new regulation that enshrines some aspects of the voluntary code into law (here) and this forms part of the wider effort to build a Single Telecoms Market. The move will also require some adjustment of the UK’s Open Internet Code, which could for example make it a mandatory requirement and or tweak the wording of its core commitments.

Matthew Evans, CEO of the BSG, said:

The UK’s self-regulatory approach has meant that consumers have benefited from increased transparency, service providers have been given regulatory certainty and content providers have been protected from discriminating practices. It is right that we review the Codes’ compliance under the new EU Regulation and make sure that they are fit for the future.”

Ed Vaizey, Minister for the Digital Economy, said:

I welcome this decision by industry and the Broadband Stakeholder Group to review the Open Internet and transparency codes of practice. Both codes have been essential in making sure we have an open Internet for consumers in the UK. The Government encouraged the industry to develop a self-regulatory solution and so I am delighted with their success.”

The review is to be undertaken by WIK and will be conducted in conjunction with the Open Internet Forum, which brings together content providers and network operators to discuss issues relating to the Open Internet. Meanwhile Europe’s related policy is expected to be formally signed off in the autumn, which doesn’t give WIK much time.

Current Code Signatories:
BE [Closed, now part of Sky]
BT
Sky Broadband
EE
giffgaff
KCOM (KC)
O2
Plusnet
TalkTalk
Tesco Mobile
Three UK
Vodafone
Virgin Media

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