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Ofcom open debate on net neutrality to stakeholders
Thursday 24 June 2010 13:03:38 by John Hunt

Net-neutrality hasn't reared its head much on this side of the Atlantic but has been hotly debated in the US. Its principles lie in users of the Internet having equal access to content on the Internet where they have bought an equivalent access product to other users. Content should not be blocked or limited in favour of one set of users whether for a commercial advantage or other reasons. Ofcom have today published a discussion paper on net neutrality to debate what plans should be set in place for the UK, particularly with regard to traffic management which is being regularly deployed by broadband providers.

The main concerns surrounding net-neutrality are that a broadband access provider could gain an advantage over rivals by favouring its own content as opposed to that of its rivals. An example of this could be that Sky would prioritise traffic to its own recently announced movie-on-demand service in favour of that of rival Virgin Media. By using traffic shaping such that Virgin's movies-on-demand service was unusable, or only delivered poor quality video to Sky broadband users, Sky could gain a competitive advantage by customers access its content instead. A similar issue exists where mobile phone networks block access to voice over IP (VoIP) services from mobile phones so users can't save money by using VoIP instead of the networks voice call service. Concerns also exist that content providers could have to pay network operators to receive a premium service or to even allow network users to access their content at all.

Ofcom intend to examine how it could deal with issues such as these under its current and future regulatory powers and what action should (if any) be taken to stop them. The debate also looks at the transparency of traffic shaping to ensure that consumers are informed what the effects of shaping will be on their service so they have the option to choose the best product or provider to give them the level of access they require.

"New EU rules give regulators a clear responsibility to address the emerging issues around traffic management. The question is how Ofcom uses these and existing powers to further the interests of consumers, while supporting vibrant, innovative content production and network deployment.

The internet is playing an increasingly central role in the lives of citizens, consumers and industry. It provides access to an ever growing range of content, applications and services that we have come to both expect and depend on. How this access is controlled by ISPs affects us all and is of wide reaching significance.

At the heart of this discussion is how to ensure that traffic management practices are transparent and how to ensure that traffic management is not used for anti-competitive discrimination.

Ed Richard, (Chief Executive) Ofcom

The consultation is open until the 9th of September and Ofcom will be conducting roundtables with industry and consumer groups over the summer to gain feedback. The full document and details on how to respond can be found here.

Comments

Posted by Dixinormous over 6 years ago
Thorny subject.

Operators should be allowed to discriminate based on protocol, or be forced to be transparent about any limits on their services so that they cannot advertise unlimited services that have clear limits.

What is unacceptable however is restriction of specific content providers for commercial gain. If an operator does that they should immediately lose any common carrier protections.
Posted by herdwick over 6 years ago
If you got (say) free broadband with commercial content access limited to the provider, as opposed to broadband for a tenner a month with open access, would that not be a fair choice ?
Posted by CARPETBURN over 6 years ago
quote"Ofcom will be conducting roundtables with industry and consumer groups over the summer to gain feedback."

Translation... Holding talks to pretend they listen.
Posted by Dixinormous over 6 years ago
Perfectly fair - so long as the customer knows what they are signing up for and goes into the deal eyes wide open which is key.
Posted by timmay over 6 years ago
Although I would like to argue that there should be no traffic management it is clear that some management will be required eventually (even on LLU). There needs to be a way to insure that time critical applications are not affected by non-time critical P2P or downloading.
Posted by timmay over 6 years ago
There is however a big difference between traffic management and excessive protocol specific rate limiting/capping like that is already done by Plus.net for example.
Posted by jelv over 6 years ago
So you'd suggest that Plusnet should be forced to increase it's prices?
Posted by shaunhw over 6 years ago
No, BT should be forced to decrease theirs. It's clear that if LLU providers such as Sky/Be/O2 etc can supply so much more bandwidth to their users, so can BT via their (IMHO) overpriced "centrals", except they currently won't.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 6 years ago
quote Dixinormous "Perfectly fair - so long as the customer knows what they are signing up for and goes into the deal eyes wide open which is key."

The only issue is many ISPs are not honest about EXACT traffic or protocols they throttle, no matter how many questions you ask or how much small print you read. I cant agree with timmay though PlusNet are one of the more honest about what traffic is shaped or throttled.... If only all ISPs went into the detail they do on their site, then id agree with you Dixinormous.
Posted by seb (Favicon staff member) over 6 years ago
@Dixinormous - what protocol? Can they block SIP but allow Skype? :)
Posted by MarkHampshire over 6 years ago
Isn't part of the reason for this debate, the "unlimited broadband" advertising - since ISPs cannot actually deliver that, traffic shaping comes into play? Further, changing shaping and throttling should be a change to contract since those are material aspects. Answer: deal with unl' first - ban that advertising, then require the throttling/shaping to be part of the contract so any change enables the consumer to terminate.
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