Ofcom urges ISPs to improve traffic management code

By Derek du Preez
24 Nov 2011 View Comments
An Ofcom logo

Communications regulator Ofcom has outlined steps ISPs should take to improve the industry's self-enforced code of practice for internet traffic management.

Traffic management is used by ISPs to deal with congestion on networks, by prioritising different types of traffic to ensure a smooth experience for customers.

Further reading

The UK's largest ISPs drew up a code of practice in March this year. The code aims to assure concerned parties that traffic management policies are not infringing net neutrality principles. 

The code of practice requires ISPs to publish a comparable table of traffic management information called a Key Facts Indicator, launched in June 2011.

Ofcom is now urging ISPs to improve upon this code of practice by providing internet users with clearer and more transparent information, which should include:

• Average speed information, indicating the level of services users can expect to receive;

• Information about the impact of traffic management on specific types of services, such as reduced download speeds during peak times for certain websites or software;

• Information on any specific services that are blocked.

Ofcom also insists that ISPs should not use the term 'internet access' when referring to a service that blocks lawfully available internet services.

"The internet plays an important role in the lives of citizens, consumers and industry. We now expect and depend on access to the content and services it has to offer," said Ed Richards, chief executive, Ofcom.

"How ISPs control access to the internet affects us all and it is important that we are able to understand how our access might be restricted.

"Ofcom is now looking to the ISPs to ensure that transparent information is available, and will consider intervening if it does not see improvements."

Ofcom has said it will intervene if there is evidence that the future of innovation on the internet is under threat from traffic management, when ISPs fail to leave sufficient network capacity for some services.

Matthew Howett, analyst at Ovum, argued that Ofcom's move isn't unexpected.

"I'm not entirely surprised by what Ofcom has said, as it's a continuation of the pragmatic stance it has taken so far, which is to wait and see how things develop before doing anything drastic," said Howett.

"Ofcom has said it is committed to monitoring and reviewing the industry's code of practice, which it will review in the summer of next year. It needs to keep a close eye on this to make sure they don't need to take further action."

Howett also said that Ofcom's push for transparency is essential, but added that more needs to be done to make traffic management information accessible.

"Transparency is a useful, powerful remedy, which should be given time to see if it can work," said Howett.

"However, the potential downside is that ISPs could bombard users with too much information and make it difficult to draw comparisons with other providers.

"We need to work together as an industry and agree on a fairly limited set of metrics that can be used to check offers against each other. Otherwise, consumers will experience an information overload."

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