Thursday, November 24, 2011

Ofcom Describes Net Neutrality Policies

A new position paper by U.K. regulator Ofcom on network neutrality relies heavily on competition to maintain an open Internet access business, while at the same time generally allowing Internet service providers to use network management tools so long as they are transparent about such practices.

At the same time, Ofcom says it will watch for any signs that “best effort” Internet access, which does not allow any packet prioritization, does not coexist with any managed services ISPs may offer.

In fact, the Ofcom rules are less restrictive than current U.S. rules, which do not allow any packet prioritization on fixed networks, at all. What Ofcom does seem to warn against is forms of management that have the business result of favoring an ISP's own services, over competing services offered by other contestants.

Mobile and fixed network operators can meet new demand for high-speed Internet access either by investing in new capacity and partially by rationing existing capacity, in part by using traffic management tools,  Ofcom says in a new position paper explaining its thinking on network neutrality policy.

“The question is not whether traffic management is acceptable in principle, but whether
particular approaches to traffic management cause concern,” Ofcom says. The U.K. communications regulator rightly notes that just two broad forms of Internet traffic management exist, either a “best effort” approach that simply randomly slows down under load, or some form of “managed” access that could include priorities for delay-sensitive or higher value traffic.

Ofcom generally argues that access providers can do quite a lot where it comes to traffic management, so long as they are transparent about it and communicate those practices to end users. There is an expectation that users will have access to all lawful applications, of course.

While recognizing that best-effort and managed services will coexist, Ofcom says it would consider intervening if the amount of “managed” bandwidth jeopardized the amount of “best effort” access Ofcom considers key to continued innovation.

Likewise, Ofcom says it would be concerned if any particular management technique was applied in a way that harmed competitors to ISP-owned services. Ofcom network neutrality statement

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