Ofcom updates guidance on net neutrality

November 1, 2023

Ofcom has updated its guidance on net neutrality. It says that net neutrality supports the “open internet”, ensuring that users of the internet (both consumers and those making and distributing content) are in control of what they see and do online – not the broadband or mobile providers (i.e. internet service providers). The net neutrality rules make sure that the traffic carried across broadband and mobile networks is treated equally, and particular content or services are not prioritised or slowed down in a way that favours some over others. Ofcom says that it wants to ensure that net neutrality continues to support innovation, investment and growth, by both content providers and ISPs.

The current net neutrality rules are set out in legislation. Any changes to the rules in future would be a matter for the UK government and Parliament. Ofcom is responsible for monitoring and ensuring compliance with the rules and providing guidance on how ISPs should follow them.

In 2021 it started a review of net neutrality. Its review has found that, in general, it has worked well and supported consumer choice as well as enabling content providers to deliver their content and services to consumers. However, there are specific areas where it has updated its guidance to provide more clarity to enable ISPs to innovate and manage their networks more efficiently, to improve consumer outcome.

ISPs can offer premium quality retail offers. Allowing ISPs to provide premium quality retail packages means they can better meet some consumer’s needs. For example, people who use high quality virtual reality applications may want to buy a premium quality service, while users who mainly stream and browse the internet can buy a cheaper package. Ofcom’s updated guidance clarifies that ISPs can offer premium packages, for example offering low latency, as long as they are sufficiently clear to customers about what they can expect from the services they buy.

  • ISPs can develop new “specialised services”. New 5G and full fibre networks offer the opportunity for ISPs to innovate and develop their services. Ofcom’s updated guidance clarifies when they can provide ‘specialised services’ to deliver specific content and applications that need to be optimised, which might include real time communications, virtual reality and driverless vehicles.
  • ISPs can use traffic management measures to manage their networks. Traffic management can be used by ISPs on their networks, so that a good quality of service is maintained for consumers. The updated guidance clarifies when and how ISPs can use traffic management, including the different approaches they can take and how they can distinguish between different categories of traffic based on their technical requirements.
  • Most zero-rated offers will be allowed – zero-rating is where the data used by certain websites or apps is not counted towards a customer’s overall data allowance. Ofcom has clarified that it will generally allow these offers, while setting out the limited circumstances where it might have concerns.