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Ofcom UK Drops Net Neutrality Probe of Three UK and Vodafone

Thursday, August 2nd, 2018 (2:20 pm) - Score 7,467

The UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom, has today dropped their investigation into possible breaches of the EU’s Net Neutrality rules by Three UK and Vodafone. The move comes after both mobile network operators made key changes to related products and services.

The rules, which are applied via a self-regulatory approach in the UK under the 2016 Open Internet Code, have been designed to protect the open internet from abuse (here). Essentially this means that broadband ISPs and mobile operators cannot impose excessive restrictions against legal internet traffic, albeit with some caveats for general network management and security etc.

However earlier this year it became clear that Ofcom were taking a closer look at some of Three UK and Vodafone’s recent product changes or services (here). A particular focus was placed on Vodafone’s new “Passes” that offer “endless4G data usage for certain specific apps (here), albeit while also restricting the resolution of video traffic, and Three UK’s move to prohibit Tethering on some tariffs, while also slowing down certain roaming traffic.

Today the regulator has announced that they are closing both of their related investigations after receiving “written assurances” from the operators (here and here), which confirm that key changes have been made to placate Ofcom’s concerns about their conflict with Net Neutrality.

Ofcom’s Statement on Three UK

Ofcom has … secured written assurances from Three that it has made changes to its tethering and traffic management practices to address our concerns with its compliance with net neutrality and roaming rules.

Since we opened our investigation in March 2018, Three has confirmed that it has already:

* withdrawn restrictions which slowed down speeds of Peer-to-Peer and Virtual Private Network traffic for customers when roaming within the EU; and
* withdrawn restrictions on the use of handset SIMs in dongles and mifis.

Three has also confirmed that, from December 2018 (or earlier), it will:

* cease to restrict video quality to Standard Definition when its customers are roaming in the EU;
* remove any specific tethering or hotspot allowance for new or upgrading customers, to allow for unrestricted tethering (within the UK or EU);
* remove any requirements for customers to purchase a Data Passport to tether when roaming in the EU;
* allow customers on all Advanced Plans to tether without restriction; and
* allow customers on Essential Plans to tether on their current plan, or to migrate to the nearest equivalent Advanced Plan available at that time.

Based on the information gathered and the assurances received from Three, we are satisfied that there is no need for further action at this time and have decided to close the investigation.

Ofcom’s Statement on Vodafone Mobile

Ofcom has today closed its investigation into Vodafone’s compliance with net neutrality rules in respect of its Vodafone Passes products, having received written assurances from Vodafone that it has stopped restricting video quality to Standard Definition in these products.

Vodafone Passes are “zero-rated,” meaning that the data subscribers consume to access and use applications offered in the product packages is not counted toward their general data cap. However, there are certain functions within some applications included in the Passes (such as making voice calls from within a Passes messaging service) that are not zero-rated; data consumed to use those functions then counts towards the subscribers’ general data allowance

The transparency of these exceptions was another concern in the investigation. In order to address our concerns, Vodafone has also agreed that it will maintain at all times accurate information about these exceptions, and will send a text message with a link to this information to subscribers when they activate their Pass.

During the investigation, we also identified concerns with potential restrictions on tethering (for example, using a smartphone to connect a computer or tablet to the internet) for the products under consideration, but Vodafone has clarified that it does not impose restrictions and is clarifying that in its messaging to consumers.

The outcome will make it difficult for similar situations to occur again in the future, although Three UK has reserved the right to re-introduce traffic management measures in the future. Vodafone also said the same for video optimisation.

Equally Ofcom has warned that if such features are re-introduced again in the future then they would expect them to be assessed against the regulations and will open another probe should it prove necessary.

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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.
Leave a Comment
12 Responses
  1. Saul says:

    I wonder if this means that Three’s unlimited 4G SIM will be taken off the market?

    1. Mike says:

      This worries me a lot, the above basically means the One Plan is now reinstated.

      The question is whether Three can tolerate this until 5G gets deployed sufficiently or whether they will scrap it altogether.

      If they do then I will likely be going to EE, if I am going to have limited usage then I want good speeds.

  2. Jim Weir says:

    Vodafone have changed their passes T&C already – it previously stated:

    “13. You can tether another mobile device or tablet to your phone, tablet or MiFi device, and enjoy the endless data from the apps included in your passes. Tethering to other devices such as your video game console, TV, or through a smart device such as Chromecast, Roku, or Fire TV Stick, is not included in your passes. ”

    This is now changed to:

    “13. You can tether another device to your phone, tablet or Mobile Wi-Fi device and enjoy the endless data from the apps included in your Passes. We don’t do anything to block, slow or otherwise restrict tethering on our network. However, certain devices (including video game consoles, smart TVs, or smart devices like Chromecast, Roku, or Fire TV Stick) may not be compatible with Vodafone Passes. Tethering to these devices may result in your Pass not working, or your monthly data being used instead.”

    Not exactly crystal clear…

  3. Anon says:

    So, 3’s Feel at Home (in Europe at least) internet speed will actually be useable.

    1. Kyle says:

      I didn’t read anything to suggest that they’d permit 4G, whilst roaming. They have only said that they won’t treat the traffic any differently. It seems that we’re stuck on 3G.

    2. Mike says:

      They may just increase the overall speed cap to keep the usage roughly the same.

    3. Anon says:

      Didn’t expect 4G roaming (although that would be nice) but do hope 3G Feel at Home speeds in Europe will approach that of a local’s 3G speed on the partner’s network in the same location. I’ve never seen more than ISDN-like speeds [H+, strong signal] in Alicante, Malaga, Cyprus..

  4. steve says:

    Poor effort, they should be banning “passes”, they in themselves go against net neutrality.

  5. Spurple says:

    No punishment. How interesting.

  6. un4h731x0rp3r0m says:

    Good decision by Ofcom as i mentioned before, this investigation was nothing more than a waste of time.

  7. burnduck says:

    What about EE which restricts EU roaming to 2Mbps?

    1. Sheza says:

      That wasn’t true a year ago – I got 14 down, 18 up in the middle of a lake in Sweden.Are you saying it’s changed?

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