Ofcom speaks out on traffic management Transparency steps set out for broadband providers

24 November 2011

Ofcom set out traffic management transparency steps for broadband providers

Telecoms regulator Ofcom has today set out steps it expects broadband providers to take to improve traffic management transparency.

It hopes this will ensure customers are aware of how internet traffic is being managed on their networks. Although Ofcom acknowledges broadband providers do already provide some information for consumers on their use of traffic management, it believes this currently does not go far enough and needs to be made clearer and easier to understand. 

Ofcom has also stated that if improvements are not made, it may use its powers to introduce a minimum level of consumer information. 

Traffic management transparency

Back in March 2011, some of the UK's biggest broadband provider signed up to a voluntary agreement to provide customers with better information on traffic management. Providers including BT, TalkTalk and Virgin Media signed up to the code, facilitated by the Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) and the internet service providers themselves. 

In today's announcement Ofcom welcomed this development but says it thinks the information is likely to only be of use to technically savvy customers. More work needs to be done to communicate this to consumers as a whole. 

The basic information that Ofcom has set out to be provided to broadband customers at the point of sale includes:

  • Average speed information that indicates the level of service customers can expect to receive
  • Information about the impact of any traffic management that is used on specific types of services, such as reduced download speeds during peak times for peer-to-peer software
  • Information on any specific services that are blocked, resulting in consumers being unable to run the services and applications of their choice 

It also wants the terms used by broadband providers to describe their services to be made clear. For example, a consumer paying for 'internet access' should expect this to include the full range of services available over the open internet. 

What is traffic management?

Traffic management is a practice used by a number of broadband providers to manage traffic across their network. Sometimes also referred to as 'throttling' or 'network management', it's generally only applied at peak times and to heavy users. 

Last week the New York Times reported that UK broadband providers are the worst offenders in Europe when it comes to 'throttling', according to tests carried out by the Max Planck Institute in Germany. 

Which? believes that broadband providers should be much more transparent about how they are managing traffic on their networks. They must provide clear consumer information on traffic management at the point of sale so consumers can make informed choices about the service they choose. 

More on this...

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