The pandemic has accelerated changes which make a review of the net neutrality framework timely.
Ofcom has issued a call for evidence on net neutrality.
As a reminder to SCL readers, “net neutrality”, sometimes referred to as the ‘open internet’, is the principle of ensuring that users of the internet can control what they see and do online, rather than their internet service provider.
Ofcom has begun a review of how the UK’s net neutrality framework is functioning. This document is a call for evidence and sets out the context, purpose and scope of the review, and the initial evidence Ofcom would welcome from stakeholders. It does not include any policy proposals.
Ofcom is responsible for monitoring and ensuring compliance with the net neutrality rules and can issue guidance on complying with the existing rules. The review is intended to inform its work in these areas. It points out that any changes to the rules would be a matter for the UK government and ultimately Parliament.
In 2016, rules aimed at protecting the principle of the ‘open internet’ came into force (Regulation (EU) 2015/2120 and its UK equivalent). The Regulation was designed to protect internet users’ right to be free to access and distribute information and content, run applications and services of their choice, and use the terminal equipment of their choice.
Ofcom states that since 2016, there have been significant changes in the wider environment. There are new, innovative and evolving technologies emerging in residential and business contexts (such as, for example, internet of things devices). These are underpinned by catalysts such as the emergence of 5G technology, and the accelerated move to the cloud.
There are also increasing capacity demands from people and businesses. The internet is essential for keeping people connected so they can work and study from home or on the go, access public and medical services, stay in touch with friends and family, shop online and be entertained. It also increasingly provides the infrastructure that supports both public and private sector enterprises in how they operate, and interact with their staff, customers and other organisations. The Covid-19 pandemic has in many ways accentuated and accelerated these trends.
Fixed and mobile networks, ISPs, and content and application providers are responding to these changes and to the demands of people and businesses by offering new and innovative services. Content and application providers are investing in bringing new content and functionality into homes and workplaces, whilst network operators are making investments to ensure they can provide the underlying infrastructure to support digital services both now and in the future.
Ofcom says that given this dynamic context, it wants to take a broad look at how the net neutrality framework is functioning. It will consider how the net neutrality framework can best serve citizen and consumer interests and promote access and choice, while allowing businesses to innovate and invest in support of a vibrant and dynamic digital sector.
Through the call for evidence Ofcom wants to engage with industry and other interested parties, and in particular hear about the functioning of the regulatory framework, relevant developments in technology and demand, and any issues and challenges that will support its understanding of the effect of the framework in practice. It also needs to take account of, and coordinate with, other ongoing Ofcom work in areas such as mobile strategy, the future of the internet, digital markets, online harms, migration to voice over IP and the future of public service media.
The call for evidence ends on 2 November 2021. Ofcom intends to publish the initial findings of its review in the spring of 2022.