Ten UK internet service providers (ISPs) have signed a voluntary code of practice to support the open internet.
An open internet is defined as one where no specific services are restricted or blocked. The latest code builds on the transparency code of practice that was published in 2011, which stated that ISPs provide clear and comparable information on traffic management practices to consumers.
Pamela Learmonth, chief executive of the government advisory group on broadband, Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG), said: “The open internet model has long supported the innovation of new services and allowed consumers to discover informative, useful and creative applications.
“At the same time, the code will support an environment where new business models for internet-based services to the benefit of consumer choice can be developed.”
Signing the code means that the ISPs will commit to providing full and open internet access products, and they will also agree not to use traffic management practices that target and degrade the services of a competitor. The code also allows ISPs to explore managed services.
In addition, the code will establish a new process that allows content providers to highlight cases of targeted and negative discrimination with ISPs. Unresolved cases will be logged with the Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG), which will share them with industry regulator Ofcom and the government.
Signatories and non-signatories
The ISPs that have so far signed up to the code are BT, BSkyB, BE, KCOM, giffgaff, O2, Plusnet, TalkTalk, Tesco Mobile and Three.
However, some leading ISPs - Virgin Media, Vodafone and Everything Everywhere have chosen not to sign up to the code.
Virgin Media said it does not believe the code offers the best transparency for consumers. “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,” the company said in a statement.
Everything Everywhere said that it plans to wait until the code is more mature, to gauge how effective it will be. It insisted that it was still a supporter of the open internet, saying that this is why it signed up to the BSG’s code of practice on traffic management last year.
“As the market and content delivery models are still evolving, we believe it is too early to know how a code of this type will affect customers’ internet experience, but it is something that we will continually review,” Everything Everywhere said in a statement.
Vodafone is also a signatory of the BSG’s code of practice on traffic management, but has put off signing the new code of practice because it believes the wording can be misleading.
“Unfortunately, we have been unable to sign up to the new code because the language chosen by the signatories is impractical and does not reflect the services enjoyed by millions of mobile phone users every day.
“[Our internet access 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,” a Vodafone spokesperson said.
“However, we continue to support the overall work that the BSG is undertaking in this area and will continue to engage with them,” the spokesperson added.
Matthew Howett, lead analyst of regulatory telecoms at Ovum, agreed that the code needed some further clarification.
“The issue of how ‘full internet access’ is marketed is less clear at this stage. With no commonly used term to describe internet access with restrictions, which is a fairly common practice, some more clarify from the BSG would be useful,” he said.
But he added: “For competition to work, consumers should know what they can and can’t access when they take out an internet package, and this information should be communicated to t hem in a clear and easy to understand way.
“Promisingly, this is something that the majority of fixed and mobile operators, including those who have not signed up to the additional elements, have already committed to.”