Ofcom demands ISPs open up on traffic management

24 Nov 2011
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Regulator backs net neutrality, saying it's not "internet access" if lawful content is blocked

Ofcom has warned ISPs to better explain their traffic management to customers - or it will force them to.

Most ISPs use traffic management of some sort to manage congestion or improve specific services. Virgin Media, BT and Talk Talk all slow down P2P downloads during peak hours, for example.

However, Ofcom is worried traffic management can also be used to "target competing services, in a manner which is not visible to consumers" - such as to block a rival TV service.

ISPs should not use the term 'internet access' to refer to a service that blocks lawfully available internet services

To prevent this, the regulator is calling for ISPs to be more clear about traffic management to customers. "If improvements are not made, Ofcom may use its powers to introduce a minimum level of consumer information under the revised European framework," the regulator said.

That intervention could take the form of Ofcom "imposing a minimum quality of service on all communications," the regulator said in a report, stressing it didn't think that was necessary yet.

While it admitted some mobile operators already blocked rival services, it said there was enough "genuine competition and rivalry" between firms so as not to be anti-competitive - but said it could still have a "stifling effect on innovation".

Traffic management

Ofcom said ISPs were already providing some information about how they manage traffic, notably via a table called a Key Facts Indicator launched in June that lists traffic management data for each.

Find out more

Top ISPs' traffic management Key Facts Indicator tables:

BT

Virgin Media

TalkTalk

Sky

However, Ofcom said "this information is likely to be of most use to technically savvy consumers, and a challenge still remains around how to communicate it to consumers as a whole".

The regulator said ISPs should tell customers at the point of signing up for services what average speed should expect to receive, what traffic management is used, and which specific services or applications are blocked.

"Terms used by ISPs to describe their services should also be clear," Ofcom said. "In particular, a consumer paying for 'internet access' should expect this to include the full range of services available over the open internet. ISPs should not use the term 'internet access' to refer to a service that blocks lawfully available internet services."

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