updated 11:15 am EST, Thu November 24, 2011
Ofcom wants speed, traffic filtering guarantees
UK telecom regulator Ofcom has put out a statement calling for Internet providers to step up their honesty as to traffic management. It noted that even those who had agreed to a voluntary guideline weren't providing enough detail and that it wanted basic guarantees. Providers were asked both to provide real-world average speeds as well as whatever throttling or blocking they were undertaking.
ISPs also shouldn't promise Internet access if they plan to block certain parts of the Internet, Ofcom said.
The agency saw the volunteer plans as a balance between what providers want and what net neutrality advocates have asked. In a position on neutrality published Thursday, it argued that an open Internet was needed but also agreed with providers that they occasionally needed to manage traffic under heavy loads or for very quality-sensitive features like Internet TV. Transparency let customers know how their service might be affected.
Ofcom warned, however, that it might actively regulate the industry if it didn't start providing this information on its own, although it hoped to be careful. "If Ofcom thought in the future that this innovation was under threat from traffic management -- for example by leaving insufficient network capacity for some services -- then Ofcom could use its powers to impose minimum quality of service levels on ISPs," it said.
The call could have a significant impact on British Internet access. Unlike the US, which now has an active net neutrality order, the UK has mostly relied on goodwill. It may mean the most for media-heavy services like iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube that are at risk of being throttled.