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Ofcom revises net neutrality guidance

Published: 26 October 2023
Last updated: 26 October 2023

Ofcom has today revised its guidance on how ‘net neutrality’ rules should apply in the UK.

Ofcom is responsible for monitoring and ensuring compliance with the net neutrality rules and providing guidance on how broadband and mobile providers should follow them. The rules themselves are set out in legislation, and any changes to the law would be a matter for Government and Parliament.

The principle of net neutrality is that internet users – not their broadband or mobile provider – have control over what they do online. Net neutrality has played a critical role in allowing people to access the content and services they want, and content and app owners to reach customers online.

Since the current rules were put in place in 2016, there have been significant developments in the online world – including a surge in demand for capacity, the emergence of several large content providers such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, and evolving technology including the rollout of 5G. So, Ofcom has carried out a review to ensure net neutrality continues to serve everyone’s interests.

We want to make sure that net neutrality continues to support innovation and investment, by content providers as well as broadband and mobile companies. Getting this balance right will improve consumers’ experiences online, including through innovative new services and increased choice.

Selina Chadha, Ofcom’s Director of Connectivity, said:

The net neutrality rules are designed to constrain the activities of broadband and mobile providers, however, they could also be restricting their ability to develop new services and manage their networks efficiently.

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 networks to their limits. We believe consumers will benefit from all providers across the internet innovating and delivering services that better meet their needs.

While net neutrality remains important to support consumer choice, we have provided more clarity in our guidance so that broadband and mobile providers can:

  • offer premium quality retail broadband or mobile packages; for example, that support gaming applications that need low latency (to send data and receive a response very quickly);
  • develop new ‘specialised services’, which could support applications like remote surgery and driverless cars;
  • use ‘traffic management’ measures to avoid congestion over their networks at peak times; and
  • offer ‘zero-rating’ packages in most circumstances – which means not charging users for accessing certain content or services, which could include online public health advice provided by the NHS.

We have also produced guidance to ensure broadband and mobile providers can protect their customers and deliver public benefits by prioritising and zero-rating access to emergency services, offering parental controls, and preventing access to scams and other harmful content.

We set out our views on the possibility of allowing broadband and mobile providers to charge content providers for carrying their traffic. We have not seen sufficient evidence that this is needed, although this would require a change to the rules and therefore be a matter for Government and Parliament.

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