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Ofcom demands ISPs open up on traffic management

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By Nicole Kobie

Posted on 24 Nov 2011 at 10:13

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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User comments

Traffic Management != Blocked

Both Ofcom and the writer of this article seem to be erroneously conflating 'blocked' with 'managed'.

It's perfectly reasonable that ISP's should stop certain types of user from hogging the bandwidth at busy times.

Of course, it's also perfectly reasonable to expect them to be open and honest about this.

By qpw3141 on 24 Nov 2011

Link?

Your link to Virgin Media in the "Find Out More" is for their national ADSL service, not the cable network.

http://shop.virginmedia.com/help/traffic-managemen
t.html

By chapelgarth on 24 Nov 2011

@chapelgarth

Unfortunately Virgins website is wrong and is out of date I have just found out. It states traffic management ends at 9pm. Not for P2P it doesn't. It ends at 12. Virgin are aware their website has been incorrect for 6 weeks. As this article hihlights - they have been mis-selling their products.

By drummerbod on 24 Nov 2011

@drummerbod

I suggest you read it all through. P2P is covered in the section headed "File Sharing".

By chapelgarth on 24 Nov 2011

I am on Tiscali/Talk Talk, and I'm sure they are selectively managing traffic.

For example, I want to watch BBC iPlayer at 7pm on Monday. It doesn't work and claims that the bandwidth is not enough. But when I go to another video streaming site, I have no problems. Even when the quality of the video is the same as iPlayer.

I dont want any traffic management. I wish Ofgem would grew some balls and just tell every ISP that they cannot manage any traffic.

By jagdipa on 24 Nov 2011

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