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Ofcom Report to EU Finds “no major” Abuse of Net Neutrality by UK ISPs

Friday, June 23rd, 2017 (12:02 pm) - Score 1,664
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The UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom, has published its first annual report to the European Commission on their monitoring of the EU’s new rules for protecting Net Neutrality (open internet access). The report finds that “there are no major concerns regarding the openness of the internet in the UK.”

Last year the EU introduced new regulation to protect the open internet from abuse (here), which essentially means that broadband ISPs and Mobile Network Operators cannot impose excessive restrictions against Internet traffic (e.g. no serious blocking or slowing of access to legal websites or Internet services). However there are some exceptions to this, such as for general Traffic Management and security reasons etc.

The rules are applied via a self-regulatory approach in the United Kingdom, which is governed by the Broadband Stakeholder Group and their 2016 Open Internet Code. This code commits signatory ISPs to neutrality and transparency in traffic management on their networks (details).

Ofcom’s first report is fairly short and that’s because the regulator only found a few contentious packages or offers from Mobile operators, which might have fallen outside of the rules, although these were too brief or small to have any real impact. For example, in November 2016 an unnamed Mobile operator launched a 4G product including zero-rated use of certain messaging services but the offer was limited and the operator itself was tiny.

However, Ofcom did identify “some areas where internet providers should improve their compliance with the Regulation,” not least in terms of the rule that says “end-users have the right to use terminal equipment of their choice.” By terminal equipment they mean devices like broadband routers etc.

Ofcom’s Statement on End-User Terminal Equipment

Article 3 (1) establishes the rights of end users to access the internet using the “terminal equipment of their choice”. During the first year of operation of the Regulation we identified a practice of concern through our own engagement with ISPs and independent monitoring.

We have opened an initial enquiry into the matter. The purpose of an enquiry is to determine whether there is a case to answer, and if there is, whether it would be consistent with Ofcom’s administrative priorities to carry out a formal investigation. If we decide to investigate, we will, in accordance with our normal process, publish the details on our website.

We did wonder whether this one might crop up. Ofcom doesn’t name the ISP, although as an example we know of several providers that make it difficult for their broadband subscribers to use a third-party router (e.g. Sky Broadband), such as by withholding the customer’s password. Such limitations can often be circumvented (Google and Wireshark are your friends) but it’s still an annoyance.

At this stage Ofcom isn’t giving too much away about the who, what, when or where of their initial enquiry but we’ll keep an eye on it and report back if anything interesting happens.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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4 Responses
  1. Avatar Pedant

    The unnamed mobile provider would be Virgin Mobile, which now zero-rates Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp messages and pictures (but not calls, video or voice recordings). I’m unsure how they can determine what’s a call and what’s a message but that’s probably deep packet inspection together with having a WhatsApp/Facebook Messenger proxy on the network.

  2. Avatar numpty-dumpty

    Isn’t BT zero-rating their BT Sports traffic on their network a similar breach of Network Neutrality rules? Or is it exempt if they don’t prioritise the traffic over other services?

  3. Avatar Web Dude

    i wonder a little about YouView and those ISPs which offer the service but perhaps block the use of a YouView box not supplied by that same ISP…

    That it is effectively blocked surely doesn’t meet with “just being a carrier of data” (I don’t have a YouView box and haven’t actually tried any of the services, but was considering purchase and wondered how or if I would be affected, so I checked).

    It means I may choose a completely different ISP now (because just like a Sky box, if your subscription ceases, the ISP-provided box stops letting you record or view items on the hard drive – at least for the ISP I asked).

  4. Avatar Mark

    EE have recently started zero rating Apple’s music service, but no other service – anti-competitive and a violation of the principle of net neutrality, I don’t know whether anything can be done about this.

    (They’ve been desperately spamming apple music for free for a while, but exempting data seems to be new.)

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