/ Technology

Is Ofcom’s ‘threat’ enough to protect the open internet?

Ofcom yesterday published its approach to tackling concerns over the future of net neutrality. It will do nothing about broadband throttling now, but it is watching and does have a big stick if required.

Net neutrality states that in an ‘open internet’ all legal data should be treated equally, no matter what it is, where it comes from or where it’s going.

The incredible innovation that we see online today could only have occurred in an environment in which new ideas have equal, unfettered access to users and users have unfettered access to innovative services.

But, as the number of internet users has risen, and the content being accessed has become increasingly bandwidth heavy, so has the pressure on the networks to deliver.

Throttling and blocking the internet

To cope with this, internet service providers (ISPs) have turned to traffic management, or ‘throttling’ your broadband speed, to ease the pressure. Some providers have even blocked specific content.

Some degree of traffic management is essential at peak times to maintain a decent standard of internet connection for all users. The idea being that bandwidth hogs, or heavy users, are slowed to ensure the rest of us can access what we want to.

However, there are concerns that network providers may be blocking content and managing traffic to further their own agendas, in direct contravention of the principle of net neutrality.

Is Ofcom dodging its responsibility?

Ofcom’s report sets out how it intends to address these concerns. Or rather, it sets out what it could do if the industry doesn’t address them. It is Ofcom’s belief that a competitive broadband market will solve the issues of net neutrality by itself.

Ofcom expects ISPs to provide basic information on traffic management or specific blocked services at the point of sale. So what happens if consumers don’t like the way an ISP manages their traffic or blocks content they want to see? Well, they’ll just move ISP.

This is all well and good, as long as the industry plays ball. And if it doesn’t, then Ofcom will have to remain true to its promise to intervene. The ball is currently in the industry’s court, but as for how long it stays there? That will be up to Ofcom.

That said, perhaps you think Ofcom’s approach is a carefully considered prod to encourage the broadband industry to address net neutrality concerns? Or is it a way of shirking its responsibilities to ensure a minimum quality of service is available to all consumers?


I think Ofcom’s approach is probably necessary for the future development of the internet.
However Ofcom must take a firm stance on transparency with detailed information being made available by ISPs before and after sign up and any significant change on traffic management being a reason for early exit of any long-term contract.
This approach should also be kept under review to make sure that market forces are resulting in the availability of a wide range of connection packages.
In some ways this is already happening with many people being happy with a cheap but heavily throttled service at peaktime and others willing to pay a few £s more for an unthrottled service.
I dont see why ISPs shouldnt be able to offer a service with say video streaming from certain suppliers being prioritised or a low cost one with video streaming heavily throttled.