I am hopefully doing a short piece on this on Saturday on TalkRadio, but my blog gives me a chance to go in to a bit more details.
I have mentioned this before, but now I know a lot more, and I had not fully appreciate that this is law, now. It has been since April 2016, and OFCOM were given the responsibility for enforcing it in June 2016. The law is directly from EU regulation so does not need to be transcribed in to UK law to apply. That also means it may "vanish" when we leave the EU - we have yet to see.
The key part is this: "Providers of internet access services shall treat all traffic equally, when providing internet access services, without discrimination, restriction or interference, and irrespective of the sender and receiver, the content accessed or distributed, the applications or services used or provided, or the terminal equipment used."
There are a handful of caveats, such as complying with a court order or law to block something, or reasonable and necessary traffic management measures. So, for example, we sort of prioritise smaller packets when a link is full to a customer so that services like DNS and VoIP which (unlike TCP) do not easily re-transmit can work well on a full link. This is the sort of thing we can do, and customers actually want. That said, we even allow control of that with settings on our control pages.
But what is this all in aid of? Why have these rules?
The problems are mostly theoretical, in that the worst case scenario is that you have to pick ISP based on which services you want and then have to buy specific packages for different services. One ISP could favour a particular streaming media company and make all the rest slow or block them even. Or they could make access to one service "unmetered" and charge for access to another. All of this counts as "discrimination", or "restriction", or "interference" respective of the sender or receiver.
Basically, that would be bad - a bit like having to choose your electricity provider depending on which brand of TV you use.
Initially when this all came out I was "wow, IPv6 will be mandatory now" and was shot down by people pointing out the guidelines say an ISP is still providing an Internet Access Service if they allow access to "virtually all" end points. The guidelines have one paragraph on this saying they consider an IPv4 only ISP is doing so. But the guidelines do not cover the fact that such an ISP is discriminating such traffic and effectively blocking access to IPv6 only web sites, a separate issue, and, in my view, a break of the regulations. At present the blocked sites are few and far between, or possibly mostly Chinese, but as time goes on it will be more and more of the Internet. At some point this has to count.
I tried to explain this all to someone recently, and they quite sensibly could not see why ISPs would do this, but then the next day Vodafone launched this... "The first big change is the introduction of Vodafone’s new Passes for Pay Monthly subscribers, which means you pay a set fee and then can enjoy “endless” data usage of certain specific apps on your Smartphone (e.g. Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Spotify and Viber etc.).". They are not alone as an ISP in Portugal is doing similar.
The key bit there is "specific apps". Note "applications" in the very wording of the regulation! I.e. they are "discriminating" which things will be free to use as much as you like, and which will not be - clearly a blatant breach of the net neutrality regulation that has been in place for over a year!
It seems to me that differential pricing based on sender or receiver or application is exactly the sort of thing that net neutrality is there to stop. It also impedes new entrants to the market that somehow have to get on Vodafone's list for specific packages (possibly even for a fee?).
The real test now is whether OFCOM have the teeth to do anything about it? They have the power, but do they care?
P.S. Thank you Vodafone for launching this now so as to highlight why we need net neutrality - now do the right thing and scrap it so you comply with the law please.
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