Back in March 2018, Ofcom launched in investigation to find out whether mobile operators Three and Vodafone were breaching EU regulations on net neutrality.
Now the regulator has published its updated findings, which suggest that the companies have potentially breached net neutrality laws, and indicated that it will be investigating further.
Net neutrality is a policy aimed at making sure that consumers have fair access to all websites. ISPs and mobile providers are not allowed to block legitimate websites or slow their customers’ connections to such websites. However, providers are allowed to slow or restrict access to sites if there are legal or security concerns, or if they need to manage the strains on their network placed by excessive usage.
Since the law came into force in 2016, Ofcom has become increasingly concerned a ISPs attempt to push the envelope. Its report last year found there were no major instances of companies breaching the regulations, but it noticed that a few special offers or services provided were on the verge of being unacceptable. Ofcom were particularly concerned that many ISPs were not complying with a rule that says: “end-users have the right to use terminal equipment of their choice.” This relates to using your mobile phone as a hotspot for other devices, such as tablets or laptops.
Ofcom has identified a number of actions or services by ISPs which it says are in danger of breaching the restrictions. These include TalkTalk restricting access to TeamViewer. The regulator is also concerned about unlimited data usage passes for certain apps. Both Vodafone and Three offer such packages. However, Ofcom have said in their report this year that after reviewing these offers by Three and Vodafone, they have concluded “that they, as structured at the time of our review, do not present material competition concerns warranting intervention.”
The review is mostly focused on other issues, namely to do with traffic management. It says that Ofcom is currently carrying out an investigation into Three, who they believe may be illegally slowing down roaming traffic. They are also investigating the unlimited data passes for certain apps that Vodafone offers, under the suspicion that Vodafone may be slowing down or limiting the traffic for these apps.
Ofcom’s statement announced the full scope of their investigations into Vodafone and Three:
“The investigations will examine the following:
Three’s practices of:
- Restricting tethering – the practice of using one device to connect another one to the internet – on certain plans offered by Three;
- Imposing restrictions on the devices in which a SIM can be used – e.g. where a SIM purchased for a mobile phone cannot be used in a tablet; and
- Traffic management practices such as ‘throttling’ or intentionally slowing down particular categories of traffic (e.g. video traffic, Peer-to-Peer and Virtual Private Network traffic), including where traffic management is applied when customers are roaming.
In relation to Vodafone:
- Traffic management practices relating to ‘Vodafone Passes’ – e.g. throttling particular categories of traffic – including where traffic management is applied when customers are roaming; and
- The transparency of exceptions to zero rating within the ‘Vodafone Passes’ products, which mean that certain functions within certain zero-rated applications will use customers’ general data allowance and not be zero-rated.”