‘Net neutrality’, sometimes referred to as the ‘open internet’, is the principle that users of the internet (both consumers and those making and distributing content) should be in control of what they see and do online – not the broadband or mobile providers that connect people and businesses to the internet (otherwise known as internet service providers or ISPs). The net neutrality rules make sure that the traffic carried across broadband and mobile networks is treated equally and particular content or services are not prioritised or slowed down so that some are favoured over others.
As the internet has become an essential part of our daily lives, net neutrality has played a critical role in allowing people to access the content and services they want, from web browsing to watching streaming videos to uploading content on social media. It has also enabled new content providers to reach millions of new customers and achieve scale quickly – for example, four years after its UK launch, TikTok had almost 19 million UK adult visitors.
However, because the net neutrality rules constrain the activities of the ISPs, they may be seen as restricting their ability to innovate, develop new services and manage their networks. This could lead to poor consumer outcomes, including consumers not benefiting from new services as quickly as they should, or at all. These potential downsides might become more pronounced in the future, as people’s use of online services expands, traffic increases, and more demands are placed on networks.
We want to make sure that as technology evolves and more of our lives move online, net neutrality continues to support innovation, investment and growth, by both content providers and ISPs. Getting this balance right will improve consumers’ experiences online, including through innovative new services and increased choice.
The current net neutrality rules are set out in legislation that was carried over from the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU). Any changes to the rules in future would be a matter for Government and Parliament. Ofcom is responsible for monitoring and ensuring compliance with the rules and providing guidance on how ISPs should follow them. Last year, we started a review of the UK’s net neutrality framework. In this consultation, we set out our assessment of the issues that have been raised with us and propose revised guidance on how the rules should apply.