The Open Internet, competition and transparency

The Open Internet, competition and transparency

Richard Hooper, Chair of the Broadband Stakeholder Group

The publication of the UK’s revised self-regulatory Code of Practice on the Open Internet sees us achieve the best of both worlds; the flexibility and innovation allowed under self-regulation along with a hard regulatory backstop of legislation.

Whilst we may not have attracted the same headlines as in the United States, the UK has long led the world in having a serious and considered debate on the issues that surround the Open Internet.  Minister Ed Vaizey and I agreed that the term “net neutrality” was not appropriate to the UK and that the term “Open Internet” was much better.  Much of the debate has been conducted via the Open Internet Forum, which the BSG provides the secretariat to, bringing together all of the interested parties in this area. Forum members include both network providers such as BT or Vodafone and Over-The-Top (OTT) players like the BBC and ITV. This has led to a far greater understanding of the concerns of content providers on the behalf of communication providers and vice versa.

Part of the reason that we have been able to have this debate is because we, in the UK, benefit from a high level of service level competition which incentivises operators to support the Open Internet. This is unlike the facilities-based competition model that has led to a duopoly in much of the United States.  The functional/operational separation of BT by Ofcom in 2005 has led to 500 plus internet service providers using Openreach infrastructure, providing consumers with a large choice of broadband providers.

Over the years, we have built on this foundation. In 2011, we increased the transparency around traffic management with the Traffic Management Transparency Code of Practice, with communication providers then committing to not use traffic management on the basis of commercial rivalry with the 2012 Open Internet Code. This has resulted in significant benefits to UK consumers who have access to the widest range of music and video OTT players in OECD countries.

The new Code consolidates into one the two existing codes and is fully compliant with the EU’s Connected Continent Regulation (2015/2120/EU) which was agreed last year. This Regulation means that there is now a final, legislative, backstop that underpins our own Code of Practice. The two complement each other. The Regulation will ultimately provide certainty whilst our self-regulatory approach firstly encourages a consensus approach to issues around the Open Internet and secondly allows us in the UK to address challenges and risks far more quickly than we can with European legislation alone.

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