UK Net Neutrality to get a post-Brexit review

via Flickr © credo.action (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © credo.action (CC BY 2.0)

  • Ofcom is kicking off a Net Neutrality review -  submissions should be in by early November
  • There’s little doubt that the review will serve as a platform for the industry to push for changes
  • Initial review findings to be published in the Spring of 2022

Ofcom, the UK regulator, is going to give the UK’s net neutrality regs a once-over - presumably in response to telco and ISP urgings on the subject of “Now we’re not in the EU we shouldn’t have to obey EU laws.” Always a favourite.

In fact UK voices were at the forefront of the original discussion - urging pro network neutrality measures on the EU back in the mid noughties. After a protracted struggle and seemingly endless argument, an EU-wide approach to net neutrality was finally hammered out and found expression in UK law in 2016. But it now appears that the old arguments are being raised again on the basis that technological changes (5G, cloud etc) might mean that net neutrality needs a fresh look. 

In fact, Ofcom is careful to claim that the review is essentially to find out how well the existing framework is performing and it’s asking for submissions on that basis.  

“Ofcom is responsible for monitoring and ensuring compliance with the net neutrality rules and can issue guidance on complying with them,” it says in its ‘call for evidence’. “This review is intended to inform our work in these areas. Any changes to the rules would be a matter for Government and ultimately Parliament.”

However, there is little doubt that the review will serve as a platform for the industry to push for changes to the rules which might allow telcos and ISPs more leeway on partnering, differential pricing and so on, no doubt on the basis that incentives for network investment might be required to help networks “build back better” in the wake of Covid-19 and the so-far disastrous exit from the EU. 

So let’s do a little argument re-visiting

Net neutrality was never about ‘treating all traffic on their networks equally’, as is often cited - that was a straw man prepared and doused in petrol by objectors who could then simply point at where a blanket ban on differential treatment didn’t make sense.  

But sure enough, that old canard is back after 30 years (almost) of stale argument.  (I read it in an esteemed computing publication today). 

To be clear, this is what Ofcom thinks Net Neutrality is ‘actually’ about: “‘Net neutrality’, sometimes referred to as the ‘open internet’, is the principle of ensuring that users of the internet can control what they see and do online – not the internet service provider (ISP) that connects them to the internet.”

To that end it must also be about banning content and service ‘discrimination’ by gatekeepers (ISPs usually) and contrary to some industry opinion that’s not terribly complex or difficult to police. There’s no need to dive down technical rabbit holes to ferret out Net Neutrality breaches - they can exist in plain sight at the commercial level and an ISP can simply be hauled before a regulatory body, fined and ordered to stop doing it - just as Google and Amazon, for instance, have been fined multiple times over the past few years for non-compliance with privacy and antitrust laws. 

In summary Net Neutrality is generally about business behaviour not traffic tinkering, and it is fairly straight-forward to identify. 

It will be interesting to see what Ofcom comes up with following its call for evidence which closes on November 2, 2021, with initial review findings published in the Spring of 2022.

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