Ofcom
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Ofcom publishes consumer guide on internet ‘traffic management’

New guide to help consumers understand how internet is managed at busy times

Ofcom yesterday published a new guide to help consumers understand the ways in which fixed-line and mobile internet service providers (ISPs) might manage their broadband services during busy peak periods.

With 46 million people in the UK having access to broadband and many using it for data heavy activities such as streaming and downloading, the internet is becoming increasingly busy.

To ensure that networks operate efficiently, ISPs can restrict or ration traffic on their networks, or give priority to some types of traffic over others. This is known as ‘traffic management’.

To help consumers better understand this practice, Ofcom’s Guide to Traffic Management highlights:

  • the different ways ISPs can manage internet traffic;
  • the circumstances when traffic management policies might be put into practice;
  • how traffic management can affect consumers’ online experience; and
  • ISPs’ individual traffic management policies.

The guide is now available to download from the Ofcom website.

Consumer research on broadband usage and traffic management

Ofcom has also published new research to understand how consumers are buying and using fixed broadband services, and their knowledge of traffic management policies.

The research revealed a general lack of awareness of traffic management, with one in 10 internet consumers (11 per cent) familiar with the term and only one per cent claiming to have considered this when choosing their broadband service.

The research also found, however, that the traffic management information provided by ISPs is broadly transparent. Seventy-three per cent of consumers that were aware of their ISP’s traffic management policy claimed that the information provided was easy to understand.

Review of Traffic Management Transparency Code

This research forms part of Ofcom’s review of the Broadband Stakeholder Group’s (BSG) Traffic Management Transparency Code to ensure it is working effectively for consumers. ISPs that sign up to the Code agree to provide meaningful, useful and comparable information for consumers about their traffic management policies.

The research identified a number of ways in which the quality of existing traffic management information could be further improved. Consumers participating in the research suggested that ISPs should:

  • provide an introduction to the traffic management information that summarises the relevance of the policy and how it affects their range of products;
  • ensure that technical terms are explained in clear and simple language;
  • provide specific and meaningful measurement criteria for when high usage or ‘fair usage’ policies are applied (for example hours of streaming allowed as opposed to how many megabytes); and
  • use clear symbols to represent ‘yes,’ ‘no’ and ‘not applicable’ in the key information tables.2

Next steps

Ofcom has asked the BSG to consider the research findings and how ISPs can implement the practical improvements outlined above.

Ofcom also plans to discuss the results of the research with consumer representatives and industry to explore ways of improving awareness of traffic management.

An update on ISPs’ traffic management policies will be included in Ofcom’s Communications Infrastructure Report 2013, due to be published later this year. Ofcom is also continuing to support the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) with its work to assess traffic management issues at an EU level.1

Claudio Pollack, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director, said: “It’s important that ISPs provide clear and transparent information on their traffic management policies to help consumers make informed choices when buying their internet service.

“Ofcom will continue to work with industry to ensure this information meets the needs of consumers and explore further ways of improving awareness of traffic management.”

ENDS

NOTES FOR EDITORS

  1. Ofcom contributed to the December 2011 Guidelines on Transparency in the Scope of Net Neutrality produced by the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC). The European Commission has also been looking at net neutrality issues, including reviewing transparency in traffic management and broadband speeds information. Ofcom responded to its consultation in October 2012 and set out our experiences of approaching these issues. Ofcom expects that the Commission will cover these topics in its forthcoming Digital Single Market proposals due to be published in September 2013.
  2. Signatories to the Broadband Stakeholder Group’s (BSG) Traffic Management Transparency Code commit to publishing a consistent Key Facts Indicator (KFI) table, summarising the traffic management practices they use for each broadband product they currently market.

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