Ofcom consults on new net neutrality guidance

October 20, 2022

Ofcom is consulting on updated guidance on how rules about net neutrality should apply in the UK. It is responsible for monitoring and ensuring compliance with the net neutrality rules and providing guidance on how broadband and mobile providers should follow them. It reiterates that the rules themselves are set out in legislation, and any changes to the law would be a matter for the UK government and parliament.

The principle of net neutrality is that internet users, rather than their broadband or mobile provider, have control over what they do online. Ofcom says that net neutrality has played a critical role in allowing people to access content and services they want, and content and app owners to reach customers online.

Since the current rules were introduced in 2016, there have been significant developments in the online world – including a surge in demand for capacity, the emergency of several large content providers such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, and evolving technology including the rollout of 5G. Therefore, Ofcom has carried out a review.

It wishes to ensure that net neutrality support innovation, investment and growth, by content providers as well as broadband and mobile companies. It says that getting this balance right will improve consumers’ experiences online, including through innovative new services and increased choice.

While net neutrality remains important to support consumer choice, Ofcom proposes more clarity in its 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.

It also proposes guidance on broadband providers prioritising and zero-rating access to emergency services, offering parental controls, and managing internet traffic on aeroplanes and trains.

In addition, it has also set out its views about allowing broadband providers to charge content providers for carrying traffic. It does not think that there is sufficient evidence that this is needed, although this would be a matter for the UK government and parliament.

The consultation ends on 13 January 2023. Subject to feedback, Ofcom expects to publish its decision and revised guidance in Autumn 2023.