Three and Vodafone could be fined up to 10 per cent of their annual earnings if found to have breached the net neutrality rules.
Intended to ensure all internet traffic is treated equally, EU net neutrality rules permit internet service providers from prioritising one type of traffic (such as streaming videos from specific sites) over another.
Telcos are not permitted to discriminate or reward any particular websites or services. However, under the same regulations, telcos are granted reasonable measures to manage their internet traffic in order to ensure networks run efficiently. This means there are grey areas.
Ofcom are investigating Vodafone’s traffic management policies in relation to its ‘Vodafone Passes’ bundle deals – a service that allows Vodafone customers to stream music or video without using their regular data allowance.
A Vodafone spokesperson told the Financial Times the company was “very disappointed with Ofcom’s decision to target Vodafone Passes,” stating that it had been in regular contact with the regulator over its adherence to net neutrality legislation.
Three is being investigated over whether it should be allowed to restrict tethering and prevent its customers using mobile phone SIM cards in their tablet devices. Three told the FT that it would “work closely with Ofcom to understand its concerns”.
This isn’t the first time Three and Vodafone have found themselves being investigated over net neutrality. Complaints made against both telecoms providers in December last year alerted Ofcom to the possible violation of the EU regulations.
In the case of Three, the focus was on tethering, whether it has been throttling traffic when a user has been tethering one device to another and while the user is roaming, as well as restricting the devices in which its SIMs can be used.
With Vodafone, it was a lack of transparency when it comes to zero-rated offers. Ofcom will look at whether Vodafone has effectively communicated which aspects of an app fall under the zero-rating conditions and which ones do not. If Vodafone is found to be giving customers false or misleading information, this could be a huge problem for them.
Net neutrality has been the source of much discussion in the US after FCC Chairman Ajit Pai eradicated net neutrality regulations. This means there are now few (if any) limitations on whether telcos are able to favour or restrict traffic on their networks. Several states are attempting to introduce state-specific net neutrality laws – Washington has already done this – to prevent telcos having too much control. Unlike Europe, however, the US has fewer service providers and therefore less choice for customers.
Ofcom said in a statement,
“The ‘open internet’ is the principle of ensuring that web users control what they see and do online – not the broadband provider that connects them to the internet.”
“It’s about people being free to access all lawful internet content equally, without broadband providers discriminating against particular services or websites.”
“Following an assessment of evidence gathered under this enforcement programme, Ofcom has decided to open investigations into Hutchison 3G UK Limited (Three) and Vodafone Limited (Vodafone) to assess their compliance with the EU Open Internet Access Regulation 2015.”
Ofcom is expected to publish the results of its investigation in June, along with a wider report on net neutrality compliance in the UK.
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