Insights Ofcom consults on revised net neutrality guidance and sets out views in relation to ISPs charging for carrying or prioritising internet access traffic


Ofcom has proposed to revise its guidance on how the net neutrality rules should apply in the UK. This follows the announcement of Ofcom’s new programme of work to ensure that digital communications markets are working well for people and businesses in the UK.

Ofcom is responsible for monitoring and ensuring compliance with the net neutrality rules and providing guidance on how broadband and mobile providers should follow them. The rules themselves are set out in legislation, and any changes to the law would be a matter for Government and Parliament.

Ofcom explains that the principle of net neutrality is that internet users, not their broadband or mobile provider, have control over what they do online. Net neutrality has played a critical role in allowing people to access the content and services they want, and content and app owners to reach customers online, it says.

Since the current rules were put in place in 2016, there have been significant developments in the online world, including a surge in demand for capacity, the emergence of several large content providers such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, and evolving technology including the rollout of 5G. Ofcom has carried out this review to ensure that net neutrality continues to serve everyone’s interests.

Ofcom says that it wants to ensure that net neutrality continues to support innovation, investment and growth, by content providers as well as broadband and mobile companies. Getting this balance right will improve consumers’ experiences online, including through innovative new services and increased choice, the regulator says.

While net neutrality remains important to support consumer choice, Ofcom proposes more clarity in its guidance so that broadband and mobile providers can:

  • offer premium quality retail broadband or mobile packages; e.g. packages with low latency;
  • develop new “specialised services”, which could include supporting applications such as virtual reality and driverless cars;
  • use “traffic management” measures to avoid congestion over their networks at peak times; and
  • offer “zero-rating” packages in certain circumstances, meaning not charging users for accessing certain services, e.g. online public health advice provided by the NHS.

Ofcom is also proposing guidance on broadband providers prioritising and zero-rating access to emergency services, offering parental controls, and managing internet traffic on aeroplanes and trains.

In the proposals, Ofcom also sets out its views on the possibility of allowing broadband providers to charge content providers for carrying traffic. However, the regulator says that it has not yet seen sufficient evidence that this is needed, although this would be a matter for Government and Parliament.

Ofcom invites responses to its proposals by 13 January 2023 and, subject to feedback, expects to publish its decision and revised guidance in autumn 2023. To access the consultation, click here.