Ofcom proposes new net neutrality guidance
Ofcom has today proposed to revise its guidance on how the ‘net neutrality’ rules should apply in the UK. This follows the announcement of our new programme of work to ensure that digital communications markets are working well for people and businesses 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 this review to ensure net neutrality continues to serve everyone’s interests.
We want to make sure that net neutrality continues to support innovation, investment and growth, 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 constrain the activities of broadband providers, and could be restricting their ability to develop new services and manage their networks. 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.”
While net neutrality remains important to support consumer choice, we propose more clarity in our guidance so that broadband and mobile providers can:
- offer premium quality retail broadband or mobile packages; for example, ones with low latency (to send data and receive a response very quickly);
- develop new ‘specialised services’, which could include supporting applications like virtual reality and driverless cars;
- use ‘traffic management’ measures to avoid congestion over their networks at peak times; and
- offer ‘zero-rating’ packages in many circumstances – which means not charging users for accessing certain services, for example online public health advice provided by the NHS.
We also propose guidance on broadband providers prioritising and zero-rating access to emergency services, offering parental controls, and managing internet traffic on aeroplanes and trains.
We set out our views on the possibility of allowing broadband providers to charge content providers for carrying traffic. We have not yet seen sufficient evidence that this is needed, although this would be a matter for Government and Parliament.
We invite responses by 13 January 2023 and, subject to feedback, expect to publish our decision and revised guidance in autumn 2023.