Broadband providers support 'open internet'BT, BSkyB, O2, TalkTalk and Three sign up to code

25 July 2012

Open internet code of practice

Some of the UK's biggest broadband and mobile providers have today signed up to a voluntary code of practice in support of the open internet

Be, BT, BSkyB, KCOM, giffgaff, O2, Plusnet, TalkTalk, Tesco Mobile and Three have agreed to offer an internet service where no specific services are restricted or blocked, though some may need to be managed at busy times. These providers also agree that they will not use traffic management to slow down a competitors' services. 

Not all major internet service providers (ISPs) have signed up to the agreement yet though. Virgin Media, one of the biggest broadband providers in the UK, and mobile network providers Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone are missing from the list. So why have some providers felt they can't sign up to the code in its current form?

A Virgin Media spokesperson told Which?: 'We have no intention of discriminating or treating data differently on the basis of who owns or publishes it but we are not signing up to the Code as it stands. We had tried to encourage something that would be clearer for industry and give consumers improved transparency. However, these principles remain open to misinterpretation and potential exploitation so, while we welcome efforts to reach a broad consensus to address potential future issues, we will be seeking greater certainty before we consider signing.'

Open Internet Code of Practice

The code is a further development of the voluntary code of practice on traffic management announced in March 2011. Each of the providers to sign up to the code has committed to the following:

  • Making sure that full and open internet access products, with no blocked services are the norm within their range of services.
  • Providing greater transparency in cases where certain types of legal content, applications or services are unavailable on a product. 
  • No targeting and degrade of any content or applications of other providers. 

Content providers that believe their services are being traffic managed or blocked will be able to use a new process to raise the issue with ISPs. If the issue is not resolved the Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) will share cases with Ofcom and the Government.

What is 'internet access'?

Though the providers who have signed up have committed to the majority of their services being 'full and open', the ISPs have retained the right to offer alternative products in the future. They will not however be able use the term 'internet access' to describe these services. For example, if certain content was blocked, the provider would not be able to advertise the package as internet access and would have to communicate any restrictions to consumers effectively. 

The code of practice says this will support product differentiation and consumer choice. 

Which? broadband expert, Catherine West, says: 'We're encouraged to see ISPs and other stakeholders working together to look at issues around traffic management and the open internet. We'll be taking a closer look at this voluntary code to see whether we think it's doing enough to protect consumers, and if it offers enough clarity for all parties.'

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