Thursday, November 24, 2011

[UK]: Self Regulation doesn't Satisfy Ofcom; Publishes Minimum Disclosure Level

The UK regulator, Ofcom, made its first move towards Net Neutrality, just few days after the FCC rules became effective in the US, and it is mainly (or only?) about transparency, which is also the FCC's first rule (here).
Ofcom also defines "two broad forms of internet traffic management - Best-efforts and Managed Services" - a very different approach compared to the FCC's "no unreasonable discrimination" rule.
Ofcom said today that it "set out the steps it expects Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to take to ensure customers are aware how internet traffic is being managed on their networks". UK biggest ISPs have been "transparent" to a certain degree already. Half a year ago "Seven of the country's biggest fixed line broadband ISPs and mobile operators, including BT , Sky Broadband , TalkTalk , Virgin Media , O2 , Three (3) and Vodafone UK published a new Voluntary Code of Practice for broadband Traffic Management transparency" (here).

However, it seems that it was not enough for Ofcom: ".. Although ISPs already provide some consumer information on their use of traffic management, Ofcom believes it currently does not go far enough and needs to be made clearer and easier to understand" (see also " UK Regulator Sets Goals and Recommends Using "Typical Speeds Range" in Broadband Advertising" - here).

To increase transparency, "Ofcom has set out a basic level of information which ISPs should provide to their customers at the point of sale including:
  • Average speed information that indicates the level of service consumers can expect to receive;
  • Information about the impact of any traffic management that is used on specific types of services, such as reduced download speeds during peak times for peer-to-peer software; and
  • Information on any specific services that are blocked, resulting in consumers being unable to run the services and applications of their choice"
For the other aspects of Net Neutrality, Ofcom distinguishes between
  • 'Best-efforts' internet access, under which network operators attempt to convey all traffic on more or less equal terms. This results in an 'open internet' with no specific services being hindered or blocked, although some may need to be managed during times of congestion.
  • Managed Services, under which network operators prioritise certain traffic according to the value they ascribe to it. An example may be the prioritisation of a high quality IPTV service over other traffic. This amounts to a form of discrimination, but one that is normally efficiency enhancing.  
"Our approach to traffic management recognises the benefits associated with both types of service, and seeks for them to co-exist. Our overall aim is to ensure that consumers and citizens continue to benefit from both innovation in services and investment in networks"

See "Improving traffic management transparency" - here ; full statement "Ofcom’s approach to net neutrality" - here.

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