Leading ISPs have refused to sign Ofcom’s new ‘net neutrality’
code of conduct which is designed to prevent ISPs from blocking or restricting
consumer access to content "unless there was a reason to deploy reasonable
traffic management practices.”
Virgin Media and Vodafone both refused to sign the code
citing it as either too vague or impractical; Everything Everywhere also took
the decision to opt out of the agreement.
However, ten ISPs including BT, O2 and TalkTalk all agreed
to the code, which added three new clauses to an existing agreement on traffic
management. These new commitments include the requirement of ISPs to "promise
open and full access to the net across their range of products".
The new code also sets out a clause that states that ISPs
will not be allowed to market a product if "certain kinds of legal content or
services are barred”.
Ofcom said in a statement that the changes are required to
ensure that consumers have the ability to make the correct purchasing decisions
when choosing an ISP, as well as giving them more power to act on the
information provided to switch providers when they feel it necessary.
Of course, the code
of conduct does not include blocking illegal sites such as file-sharing
sites where illegal content such as pirated movies can be downloaded. It also
doesn’t cover restrictions placed on ‘data caps’ which are related to the
package that a consumer will purchase from an ISP.
"The internet has been built on openness and low
barriers to entry, and this agreement will ensure that continues," Ed
Vazey MP, the Minister for Culture, said.
Whilst the companies which have refused to sign the code
support its details in principle, Virgin Media said that stricter definitions
should more put into place. Vodafone argued that the code "restricted how it
marketed its packages.”
"These principles remain open to misinterpretation and
potential exploitation so, while we welcome efforts to reach a broad consensus
to address future potential issues, we will be seeking greater clarity before
we consider signing," Vodafone said.
"These plans offer internet access to smartphone and
dongle users, but under the code we would have been unable to use the phrase
'internet access' to describe many of the services enjoyed by customers".
Everything Everywhere expressed the view that "it is too
early to know how a code of this type will affect customers’ internet
experience,” but added that this was something they would regularly review.
neutrality remains a thorny subject, as it’s thought that many ISPs ‘throttle’
content such as streaming TV services in order to provide traffic to more
valuable customers. The BBC has welcomed the move.