Vodafone, Three Face Ofcom ‘Throttling’ Investigation

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The UK regulator has launched an inquiry into the ‘traffic management practices’ of Vodafone and Three amidst an ongoing debate over net neutrality

The British communications regulator Ofcom has launched an investigation into Three and Vodafone over their traffic management practices.

Specifically, the two mobile companies are being investigated over whether they throttled internet speeds while customers were aboard.

It comes amid an intense net neutrality debate in the United States, after the US FCC controversially voted to allow for two-speed internet access.

Enforcement programme

Ofcom’s said its investigation, which began in December, was to ensure that the operators were abiding by ISP traffic management practices, including those relating to mobile roaming, and other ISP practices covered by the EU Open Internet Access Regulation 2015.

“Following an assessment of evidence gathered under this enforcement programme, Ofcom has decided to open investigations into Hutchison 3G UK Limited (Three) and Vodafone Limited (Vodafone) to assess their compliance with the EU Open Internet Access Regulation 2015,” the regulator said.

Three will be investigated over allegations of restricting tethering on certain plans; imposing restrictions on the devices in which a SIM can be used; and its traffic management practices such as ‘throttling’ or intentionally slowing down particular categories of traffic.

Vodafone meanwhile is being investigated for its traffic management practices relating to ‘Vodafone Passes’ when customers are roaming, and the transparency of exceptions to zero rating within the ‘Vodafone Pass’ products.

Ofcom said it was gathering evidence and would publish a further update on both investigations in June 2018.

Under European rules, internet service providers and mobile operators are not allowed to impose restrictions on internet traffic. That said, they can take reasonable measures to manage their internet traffic to ensure networks run efficiently.

However, they have to be clear and upfront about their traffic-management policies.

Vodafone ‘disappointed’

“We are very disappointed with Ofcom’s decision to target Vodafone Passes,” Vodafone told Silicon UK in an emailed statement.

“Our Passes allow customers to access their favourite content without fear of running out of data or attracting out of bundle charges,” said Vodafone. “They are open to any content provider of video, music, chat and social.

“Vodafone does not ‘throttle’ speeds on Vodafone Passes, either in the UK or while customers are roaming,” the operator insisted. “The Video Pass is optimised so that all of our customers have a high quality experience when streaming content on the network. Optimising means making the bandwidth available that enables videos to be delivered in a faster, more efficient way, while still providing the best smartphone viewing experience, and without compromising the experience of other customers who do not use a Vodafone Pass.

“We developed Vodafone Passes in direct response to customer feedback and have provided clear information to customers about how they work,” Vodafone said. “We will be explaining all of this to Ofcom during the course of their investigation.”

Meanwhile Three offered up a more modest statement.

“We’ll be working closely with Ofcom to understand their concerns,” a Three spokesperson simply said.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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