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Ofcom Probe EE and Sky Mobile for Possible Breaches of Net Neutrality

Wednesday, July 10th, 2019 (11:26 am) - Score 11,546

Ofcom UK has today said that they’re currently probing two zero rated services from EE (‘Music and Video Passes’) and Sky Mobile (‘Sky Watch’) over possible breaches of the EU’s rules for protecting Net Neutrality (i.e. there must be no serious blocking or slowing of access to legal websites or internet services).

The EU regulation was designed to protect the open internet from abuse (here), which essentially means that broadband ISPs and Mobile operators cannot impose excessive restrictions against internet traffic. Naturally there are some exceptions to this, such as for general Traffic Management and security reasons etc.

In the United Kingdom these rules are applied via a self-regulatory approach (i.e. it may be better to think of them as guidelines), 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).

The Open Internet Code’s 3 Principles:

* Users should be able to access all legal content.

* There should be no discrimination against content providers on the basis of commercial rivalry.

* Traffic management policies should be clear and transparent.

On top of that Ofcom produces an annual report to the European Commission on their monitoring of the rules, which last year nudged Vodafone, O2 and Three UK to make a number of changes to their services.

Meanwhile this year’s report finds that the rules are still “working well.” As a result they’ve already closed their enforcement programme and are advising providers to follow a new framework to help them “self-assess proactively” (here).

However, we note that the regulator has left the door open on two issues at EE and Sky (Sky Broadband / Mobile), which they’re currently still investigating.

EE Music and Video Passes

EE customers can purchase a monthly “Video Pass” add-on for £8.99 per month. During the month data for the following apps are zero-rated: Netflix, Amazon Prime Vide, BT Sport, MTV Play and TV Player. EE also offers a monthly “Music Pass” add-on for £7.99 per month. During the month data for the following apps are zero-rated: Apple Music, Deezer and Tidal.

EE discussed both its Music and Video Passes with Ofcom before launching. EE explained that both Passes are open platforms and they are working on recruiting new content or application providers for these. Ofcom remains in discussion with EE and we are currently in the process of concluding our initial review.

Sky Watch

Sky Mobile customers who have a Sky TV package can watch Sky TV and use Sky apps without this counting toward their general data allowance. Apps that don’t require a subscription, such as Sky News, are zero-rated for all Sky Mobile customers.

Ofcom is currently reviewing the details of Sky’s offer. Similarly, Sky appears to be zero-rating its own content, which has the potential to affect end-user choice. This will be explored in detail as part of Ofcom’s initial review.

Ofcom has examined similar services before and the regulator has tended not to take action, while in other cases they’ve encouraged operators to make a few changes. As such nobody should be expecting any big punishments from the above and at worst EE and / or Sky may merely need to tweak how they do things.

Much will depend upon the size and scope of these services and whether or not they could materially affect consumer choice, which seems unlikely. A similar zero rated offer on BT Sport TV content from EE was also checked during the period but was waved through after it was found to not be “materially affecting consumer choice.”

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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.
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12 Responses
  1. t0m5k1 says:

    If only it was possible to have DPI removed from all enterprise firewalls, switches and routers it would then make it a hell of a lot harder for providers to create “fast lanes” over their connectivity for these services.

    1. HedKrash says:

      @t0m5ki – this isn’t about fast lanes. There is no discrimination of traffic at the network level, certainly in Sky Watch, the discrimination is in the cost of viewing content. Watch, and probably the EE offerings, is around the cost per MB. For Watch, if you are a Sky customer and you have some normal data allowance left, all the content covered by the Watch offer will not effect your remaining general internet allowance. So, buy 1GB of general data, but consume 200GB of Sky Sports, Movies etc. However, there is NO prioritisation of Sky data over any other data being consumed.

    2. t0m5k1 says:


      DPI = Deep Packet Inspection

      I’m not sure what in my comment made you think I was taking about prioritization.

      DPI is used on enterprise level hardware to scan packets of data so then you can do further rule based action with them. I provide support for many vendors and enterprise level organisations that I cannot mention.

      What these ISPs are doing is a form of bandwidth management that means if you access these “application” over their network it will not count towards your usage thereby breaching net neutrality.

      To do this they will use DPI + other rules to get what they want. Also DPI will allow them to decrypt SSL.

  2. Dan says:

    By this logic isn’t Voxi also in direct violation of this? And also 3’s Go Binge

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      Go Binge was looked at last year and Three did have to make some other changes. Voxi I’m not sure about but they’re a much smaller MVNO player.

    2. Dave says:

      Not really Mark, it’s just a trading style of Vodafone.

    3. PR says:

      Voxi has procedures to allow content providers to be added to the list of apps included within their passes hence meet the Net Neutrality criteria.

  3. J S says:

    This is first time I’ve EVER come down on Sky’s side on any issue however, this investigation is a joke. Sky incentivise Sky mobile to TV customers by giving voice and SMS for free. Without the free calls and texts, there are better deals out there from other providers so it stands to reason the vast majority of subscribers are already TV customers. I fail to see how free TV is real a cause for concern and genuine threat to neutrality. It’s a useful customer benefit! On top of that, it’s also a small virtual network running over O2. Free data is often offset by appalling network coverage. What needs to be investigated is the fact that Sky still block short SMS numbers preventing subscribers from their legal right to opt out of marketing messages, charity donations etc.

  4. Gary says:

    Ho hum here we go, And I got shot down in flames and called out of date only recently, also accused of being anti Net neutrality in relation to Network providers and my comments on impact of the likes of Netflix the Stadia streaming.

    Consumers seem to think they should be able to keep on sucking on the data pipes for an ever decreasing monthly payment and that their CP / ISP should just keep investing and upgrading to provide bandwidth for other companies to make profit off.

    Even told that ‘fair use policies’ were a thing of the past, yet they’re still there.

    1. Adam says:

      My opinion still stands

    2. AlanP says:

      I do not recall anyone named Gary being shot down in flames over this. The most recent discussion seems to be here.
      Id also suggest you read the second to last paragraph of the news item. To see how Ofcom typically deal with whines like this (IE basically do nothing, because they typically see nothing seriously wrong either).

  5. Andy says:

    Since EE actively block SIP over their mobile network, are they in breach of these rules for doing this?

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