Tired of your broadband connection slowing to a crawl just as that sniper appears on the BF3 horizon? New rules from Ofcom, the UK telecoms regulator, aren't going to end the problem of randomly rising ping times, but at least they'll help you understand why.
In a document published today, Ofcom's approach to net neutrality , the regulator spells out its thoughts on traffic management. ISPs should be clear about their policy, and describe in an easily accessible format that customers can use to compare services transparently.
Ofcom's main concern is net neutrality and the risk that premium rate services – like IPTV – will be prioritised on networks at the expense of other traffic. While there's no concerns in the UK at the moment, it says, at some point in the future there could be a deliberate blocking of competitor services which needs to be avoided. Its a protection against a possible scenario in which an ISP did a deal with one direct download service, for example, and then blocked Steam traffic on its network.
Any service advertised as 'internet access', it says, should offer unrestricted access to all internet services lawfully available on the internet. “If a service does not provide full access to the internet,” the document says, “We would not expect it to be marketed as internet access”.
It's a strong statement of support for net neutrality, which is good. Sadly it's not an end to the kinds of Fair Use Policy (FUP) which throttle users who go over an arbitrary cap during peak hours or shut down P2P traffic at particular times of the day – which can cripple the ability to download game patches or legitimate traffic. More and more ISPs are introducing these kinds of restrictions, and burying the details in cleverly hidden hyperlinks within other Ts&C – under the new Ofcom guidelines these kinds of service restrictions should be clearly signposted and obvious before you sign a contract and then find you're getting pings of several hundred milliseconds.
Broadband comparison site uSwitch (opens in new tab) was quick to release a press statement welcoming the report.
“Nobody questions the need for suppliers to manage broadband traffic,” said uSwitch's Ernest Doku, “It's becoming ever more congested as people increasingly use the internet for bandwidth-heavy services such as downloading movies and music, as well as watching TV online.
“"Following today's move, we can now expect consumers to know upfront about average speeds and the effects of traffic management on those speeds before they sign up to a broadband package. This is a huge step forward for broadband customers.”