Regulator launches public consultation into ISP traffic management practices

Ofcom to review UK net traffic ‘shaping’

The UK media watchdog Ofcom has released a discussion paper on internet traffic management practises employed by service providers.

Traffic management, or ‘shaping’ as it’s often known, is a tool employed by internet service providers to deal with surges in traffic during peak times, or to prioritise certain types of traffic to avoid degradation for the majority of their customers.

However such practices have become increasingly controversial with one high profile example coming from the BBC’s complaint last year that BT had limited peak streaming bandwidth for users of its lowest priced plan to the BBC iView service.

The way paved for Ofcom intervention following the introduction of new EU rules which Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards says provides a mandate to explore the ramifications of Internet traffic management.

"The internet is playing an increasingly central role in the lives of citizens, consumers and industry. It provides access to an ever growing range of content, applications and services that we have come to both expect and depend on," said Richards.

"How this access is controlled by ISPs affects us all and is of wide-reaching significance. At the heart of this discussion is how to ensure that traffic management practices are transparent and how to ensure that traffic management is not used for anti-competitive discrimination."

One of the core issues to be discussed in the consultation is the concept of "net neutrality", an idea where all data should have equal priority on the Internet backbones regardless of affiliations and type of traffic. A concept which often goes head to head with the commercial interests of network-owning media companies who have good reason to ensure a high priority of traffic for users streaming their own services, whether it’s media or communication traffic.

The consultation will accept views on traffic management up to the 9th of September this year but there will also be a series of consultation events with industry and consumer groups over the same period.

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