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Ofcom considers watered down net neutrality rules

UK comms watchdog Ofcom is worried that net neutrality rules are hampering innovation.

Late last week it launched a consultation seeking feedback on proposals to relax some of the regulations, giving operators more freedom to launch new types of retail offerings. These could go beyond speed-based pricing to include latency-based pricing, giving customers the option to sign up for services that can support real-time online activities like gaming and virtual reality (VR).

Ofcom also wants to ensure that net neutrality rules don’t impede service providers from launching specialised network services – based on technologies like slicing and multi-access edge computing (MEC) – that can support innovative new applications like driverless vehicles.

The regulator would also like to offer more clarity on when CSPs are permitted to use traffic management techniques – like throttling, presumably – to balance the load on their networks and maintain decent quality of service for the majority of customers.

Perhaps most significantly for every small, independent app developer, Ofcom also wants to make it clear that zero-rating offers will be permitted under most circumstances. On the one hand it means network operators could offer unmetered access to providers of essential information, like the NHS, government and emergency services and so-on. But on the other hand, network operators could have a hand in picking winners and losers when it comes to certain apps and services.

Finally, Ofcom would like feedback on whether telcos should be allowed to charge the big content companies like Netflix, Disney, YouTube and Amazon to carry – or even prioritise – their traffic. It’s a particularly hot topic in the EU at the moment, but as far as Ofcom is concerned, it hasn’t seen sufficient evidence that such a charging regime is needed, and besides, it’s a matter for legislators.

“The net neutrality rules constrain the activities of broadband providers, and could be restricting their ability to develop new services and manage their networks,” said Selina Chadha, director of connectivity at Ofcom, in a statement last Friday.

“We want to make sure they can also innovate, alongside those developing new content and services, and protect their networks when traffic levels might push them to their limits. We believe consumers will benefit from this,” she said.

However, Chadha’s belief that consumers will benefit appears to be at odds with the findings of a survey on net neutrality. Carried out by consultancy Oxygen on behalf of Ofcom ahead of the consultation’s launch, it found that a majority of respondents “favoured the status quo – a fast, unrestricted broadband service to their door” that gives them the power to access whatever services they want.

Furthermore, respondents were concerned that “if ISPs were to be permitted to traffic manage on a regular and commercial basis or sell services prioritising attractive content like video streaming, respondents felt this risked ISPs being dominated by commercial pressures. They felt this would not operate in the interests of consumers, particularly less affluent ones. Respondents were also concerned that allowing permanent traffic management would not encourage ISPs to invest in infrastructure.”

The consultation runs until 13 January 2023. Ofcom plans to publish its revised net neutrality guidance by next autumn.

 

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One comment

  1. Avatar Andy Tiller 24/10/2022 @ 2:32 pm

    “But on the other hand, network operators could have a hand in picking winners and losers when it comes to certain apps and services”. This is exactly what business partnerships are about – companies working together to create mutual competitive advantage. Should net neutrality mean removing the operators’ ability to be a partner to OTT players? If so, why not remove app stores’ ability to promote apps which pay for a high profile listing?

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