UK’s Ofcom lays out plan to look again at net neutrality

Ofcom’s HQ

UK regulator Ofcom has outlined post-Brexit plans to row back on net neutrality rules that were carried over from the UK’s membership of the EU.

The watchdog has set out proposals for consultation that would allow service providers to ‘zero rate’ certain services as well as offer ‘premium’ retail broadband or mobile packages; for example, promising lower latency.

Providers would also be allowed to develop new ‘specialised services’, which could include supporting applications like virtual reality and driverless cars and, crucially, use ‘traffic management’ measures to avoid congestion over their networks at peak times.

Ofcom is also proposing guidance on broadband providers prioritising and zero-rating access to emergency services, offering parental controls, and managing internet traffic on aeroplanes and trains.

On the question of allowing broadband providers to charge content providers for carrying traffic, the regulator said it had not yet seen sufficient evidence that this is needed but noted that it would be a matter for government and Parliament.

Any actual changes to the rules would have to be set out in legislation and would be a matter for government and Parliament.

Ofcom cited the surge in demand for capacity, the emergence of several large content providers such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, and evolving technology including the rollout of 5G as justifications for looking again at the principal of net neutrality.

Selina Chadha, Ofcom’s director of connectivity, said: “The net neutrality rules constrain the activities of broadband providers, and could be restricting their ability to develop new services and manage their networks. We want to make sure they can also innovate, alongside those developing new content and services, and protect their networks when traffic levels might push them to their limits. We believe consumers will benefit from this.”

Responses to the consultation must be submitted by January 13 2023 with the regulator expecting to publish its decision and revised guidance in autumn 2023.

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