New guidelines set some important precedents for the ISP market.

Ofcom gets tough on net neutrality

British telecoms watchdog Ofcom has called on internet service providers to provide more information regarding traffic management the ISPs use to curb excessive demand.

The call was made with the warning that if ISPs did not provide such information voluntarily then the watchdog would consider enforcement action to compel the ISPs to get in line.

In a statement setting out the regulator’s stance on so-called ‘net neutrality’, Ofcom set out certain expectations such as the need to provide access to all internet services (no blocked services, ports etc) in order to market a service as ‘internet access’. Since marketing a non-internet service is likely to be marketing suicide, Ofcom’s expectations are effectively a strong stance against blocking anything, traffic shaping aside.

So far so reasonable. Ofcom went further to say that it was possible that ISPs could offer a restricted service, as indeed they do, so long as the providers went to lengths to provide the information to allow consumers to make informed decisions. This latter point is something ISPs are less keen on doing and looks like it might form the basis of a net push on transparency following the headline connection speeds issues Ofcom has grappled with in the past.

Ofcom also appeared to draw a line under the maximum level of traffic shaping possible by suggesting that there should always be sufficient bandwidth to provide decent internet access. If that doesn’t happen, Ofcom could look to imposing minimum quality of service standards on ISPs.

Of course it’s entirely open to speculation what Ofcom’s terms such as "insufficient network capacity" means. It was previously revealed that during peak hours most of the UK’s broadband speeds slowed by over a third. How much worse could this be before Ofcom deemed it ‘insufficient’?

The regulator also called out mobile operators for blocking access to services from rival ISPs. That would appear to fall foul of the watchdog’s idea of what an internet connection actually is.

It’s particularly gratifying to see that Ofcom views mobile broadband in the same terms and not some entirely different class of internet access which is generally how mobile operators have chosen to describe their services and why they should not be subject to net neutrality rules.

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