Ofcom report – Monitoring compliance with the EU Net Neutrality regulation

The EU Regulation on open internet access (the Open Internet Regulation) requires the safeguarding of equal and non-discriminatory treatment of traffic and related end-users’ right when providing internet access services. BEREC recently published guidelines on the implementation by national regulators of European net neutrality rules, which requires regulatory authorities such as Ofcom to apply the regulation in a consistent manor. Ofcom must also publish regular reports. The latest report covers the year ending April 2020.

The four areas under the regulation are:

  1. Monitoring the quality of internet access services.
  2. Safeguarding open internet access and traffic management.
  3. Transparency measures.
  4. Complaints and remedies.

The findings:

  • Quality – an improvement in fixed internet access services.
  • Connectivity – broadband and mobile networks coped during the peak of COVID-19 and people stayed connected.
  • Transparency of broadband speeds – codes of practices are working well and no new cases raised.
  • Open Internet Regulation – since closing three investigations in 2019 Ofcom has not identified new cases of concern regarding ISP’s traffic management practices. Ofcom published a framework setting out its approach to assessing compliance with aspects of the regulation, including a Traffic Management Framework which has helped ISPs in self-assessing any current or future traffic management measures that they may be considering.
  • Zero-rating – Ofcom concluded initial reviews of two zero-rating offers. As a result of COVID-19, a number of mobile providers gave customers free online access to the latest NHS health information and agreed to remove data charges for people accessing certain websites (e.g. providing support to victims of abuse).
  • Specialised services – no situations where the rules present a challenge.

Fixed broadband network internet access services quality:

  • Sync speeds – an upward trend of average download speeds from just over 49Mbits/s in 2018 to 61Mbit/s in 2019.
  • Mean average actual speeds – average download speeds increasing by 18% to 64.0 Mbit/s and average upload speeds increasing to 14.0 Mbit/s. This is due to the growing availability and take-up of superfast and ultrafast fibre and cable services.
  • Peak time download speeds – improvement compared to 2018 (with unchanged average maximum speed). In 2019 the figure was 62.9 Mbit/s, 96% of the average maximum speed.

Ofcom publications

Consultation: Copper retirement – process for determining when copper regulation can be removed (supplementary consultation to the WFTMR)

The consultation proposes to delay decisions about Openreach’s copper retirement process until after Ofcom has determined the outcome of the WFTMR. Justification is that Openreach’s fibre roll-out is still in its early stages and Ofcom would prefer to wait for more details on the Salisbury and Mildenhall trials.  The consultation period ends on 3 September and the outcome of the WFTMR is due to be published in Q4 2020/21.

Online Nation 2020 report

The main report is accompanied by a separate summary report and includes online behaviour during the Covid-19 pandemic. Some observations: In April 2020, the reach of education, health and government sites had all grown since January and users of news sites spent more time on these and social media sites on average each day. People used a range of sources to access news about the coronavirus, with BBC services the most popular source. Internet users in the UK spent a daily average of just over 4 hours online. With the proliferation of high-performance smartphones, mobile has steadily grown its share of online revenues reaching 52% of total online revenues.

Adults’ Media Use & Attitudes report 2020

Ofcom’s latest report examines adults’ media literacy and is a reference document for industry, stakeholders and the general public. It includes data on the digitally excluded:  Over the past five years there has been no change in the incidence of adults who do not use the internet (13% offline in 2019 vs 14% in 2014). Many non-users demonstrate a lack of appetite for going online in the near future: 77% say that nothing would encourage them to go online in the next 12 months, and 61% say they don’t currently go online due to a lack of interest or need. One in five state a reason either related to cost (19%) or difficulty (‘being too complicated’) (17%) as a barrier to their going online.

Research: Internet users’ concerns about and experience of potential online harms

According to the latest research into internet users’ concerns about and experience of potential online harms, 62% of adults have had potentially harmful online experiences in the last 12 months and 81% of children aged 12-15. Social media remains the most commonly cited source of potentially harmful experiences among both adults and children.

Review of the Access to Infrastructure Regulations – Call for Evidence

Government has launched a call for evidence as part of a review of the Access to Infrastructure (ATI) Regulations 2016, which enables sharing of information about access to physical infrastructure across the utility, transport and communications sectors. It also includes the right to access that infrastructure on fair and reasonable commercial terms and conditions.

The review will assess if there are improvements that can be made to the regulations to further boost investment in infrastructure and encourage the use of passive infrastructure sharing to deploy telecoms networks. While operators are free to make their own commercial agreements on infrastructure sharing, the ATI Regulations have not been widely used in the UK to date despite the rapid increase in the rollout of gigabit broadband to meet the government’s ambitions for nationwide coverage by 2025.

It will make it easier for high-speed broadband cables to run through the electricity, gas, water and sewer networks across the UK. It could also mean strengthening broadband companies’ access to run cables along new and existing infrastructure lining the road and rail networks across the country.

Clare MacNamara, CEO said: “It is important for the Broadband Stakeholder Group that the right measures are in place to support UK fibre and gigabit rollout in order for industry to meet the target of nationwide availability by 2025. We therefore welcome government’s review of the regulations”.

The consultation ends on 4 September 2020.

Click here for the call for evidence.

BSG report – Moving to a fibre-enabled UK: International experiences on barriers to gigabit adoption

Moving to a fibre-enabled UK:
International experiences on barriers to gigabit adoption

 The Broadband Stakeholder Group publishes report by WIK-Consult on international learnings on barriers to UK fibre and gigabit adoption

  • Supporting take-up is key to achieving the Government’s ambitions for accelerated deployment of gigabit-capable networks and will be integral to post-COVID-19 economic plans.
  • WIK  analysis of experiences in  France, Italy, Germany and Sweden on their fibre adoption experience reflect the variable factors that drive take-up of gigabit services.
  • Learnings for UK industry, policy makers and regulators are set out in four recommendations. These include an emphasis on improving consumer awareness and support for business adoption.

The  Broadband Stakeholder Group, the UK Government’s advisory group on broadband, has published a report by WIK-Consult on barriers to fibre adoption by home and business users. The report examines the experiences of France, Italy, Germany and Sweden in driving gigabit adoption and provides lessons for the UK broadband industry, Government and Ofcom as the nation recalibrates as a consequence of COVID-19. (more…)

Ofcom publishes digital exclusion analysis

As part of a weekly survey commissioned by Ofcom over the next three months, analysis of the proportion of UK adults digitally excluded, including those who do not use the internet or have access to the internet at home or have access to any connected devices, has been published. It looks at the likelihood of digital exclusion by a number of different characteristics including: age, living alone, having a condition that limits or impairs their use of communications services, being financially vulnerable.

Overall, one in ten UK adults is digitally excluded – which reflects earlier findings in the BSG research conducted by ComRes in 2019. Age is the characteristic that is most likely to identify digital exclusion, and those aged 70+ are significantly more likely to be digitally excluded than all UK adults.

Other characteristics that can also increase the likelihood of being digitally excluded include living alone, having a condition that limits or impairs their use of communications services and being financially vulnerable. When a consumer has more than one of these different characteristics, the likelihood of them being digitally excluded increases even more.   (more…)

UK is world leader in online safety innovation

In the Online Harms White Paper government set out a programme of action. As part of this DCMS has published a study ‘Safer technology, safer users: The UK as a world leader in Safety Tech’ which provides an overview of the UK’s Safety Technology sector. It highlights some of the UK’s most innovative businesses focused on tackling online harms through a range of technical solutions.

The report sets out government’s proposed measures to boost the Safety Tech sector in the UK, as well as measures to help users manage their own safety online and the wide range of Safety Tech products and services that already help make online platforms safer.

The full report can be found here.

Government guidance on traveller exemption from UK border rules

Government has published guidance explaining exemptions from new UK border rules being introduced on 8 June.

Passengers arriving into the UK will be required to self-isolate for 14 days to minimise the risk of a second wave. They will also be required to provide address and contact details to allow tracing and spot checks. Penalties will be introduced for those that break these mandatory measures, of up to £1,000, and infringements could result in criminal prosecutions. Those that refuse to comply could be refused entry to the UK.

There is a list of exemptions, including IT and telecommunications professionals who are needed to provide an essential or emergency response to threats and incidents relating to the security of any network and systems, including work for the BBC’s broadcasting transmission network and services. They will still need to follow the same rules as people who live in the UK, even if exempt from self-isolating for 14 days.  (more…)

Ofcom Connected Nations Update

Ofcom’s Spring 2020 update is an interim report based on coverage and service availability information received from providers since the last Connected Nations report published in December.

On fixed broadband:

  • Full Fibre broadband availability in the UK continues to rapidly improve with over 3.5 million homes (12%) now able to access faster, more reliable full fibre services. This is an increase of over half a million in the four months to January 2020. This is a result of increased rollout from existing broadband networks and new entrants.
  • Ultrafast broadband has increased across the UK by over 700,000 properties to over 16 million homes (55%).
  • Superfast broadband continues to be rolled out across the UK, with an additional 300,000 properties, meaning over 27 million homes (95%) can now access it.
  • Decent broadband can be accessed by the vast majority of UK properties. The number of residential and commercial properties that are not able to receive a decent broadband service from a fixed line stands at 608,000 (2%). These properties may be eligible for the broadband universal service which came into place in March and gives properties unable to get a decent connection the legal right to request one.

On mobile:

  • Two-thirds of the UK landmass has good 4G coverage from all four networks which includes 97% of the premises in the UK.
  • Just under 80% of the UK landmass is covered by all operators for calls and text services which includes 99% of premises in the UK.

The interactive report can be found here.

Home broadband performance report

The performance delivered by broadband providers is holding up well during the COVID-19 lockdown period and speeds have withstood the increase in demand from home working, online learning and streaming. While being impacted by reduced staffing levels, providers have prioritised keeping the nation connected. Fixed, broadband and mobile providers have put additional measures in place to help vulnerable customers and pledged additional support to NHS workers.

The latest report is based on performance in November 2019 but Ofcom has also included measurements taken in the first and last week of March 2020 to assess the impact of COVID-19.

Click here to view Ofcom’s full report


Ofcom allows additional time for providers to implement EECC rules

Ofcom has announced that it will allow communications providers at least 12 months to implement changes required when the EECC becomes law in the UK. This may be extended for rules that will have a major impact on systems, such as switching. Ofcom is expected to publish a statement in September once Government confirms its approach to introducing EECC into UK law.

This update follows Ofcom’s consultation in December which closed in March. Ofcom recognises that coronavirus has brought significant challenges to communications providers over recent months and that their focus has been on keeping the nation connected, supporting the vulnerable, the NHS and schools.

The specific implementation deadline for each of the new rules will be published in September.

Ofcom publishes Annual Plan for 2020/21

Following a consultation earlier in the year, Ofcom has published a statement on its Annual Plan for the period April 2020 – March 2021 which has been adapted to take account of the impact of coronavirus on the sector.

In March Ofcom announced its approach to coronavirus – that it was suspending existing consultation deadlines and information requests, and putting on hold new consultations, decisions and information requests. Timings on many areas of work have therefore changed and remain fluid. An update will follow in September, with regular quarterly updates on progress against the plan. Ofcom will continue to work with Government and telecoms providers to keep the nation connected and ensure resilience across landline, broadband and mobile and the 999 and 111 services.

The strategic themes have not changed from the original consultation, but special consideration will be given to vulnerable customers during coronavirus, for example around how to keep them connected, issues relating to termination of service and unexpectedly high bills. Ofcom will also make wider efforts to combat disinformation and will expedite enforcement cases involving potentially harmful broadcast content relating to the coronavirus (such as the myths linking 5G to coronavirus).


Government launches ‘The Skills Toolkit’

A new online learning platform was launched today by Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, to help people while they are asked to stay at home.

The Skills Toolkit is made up of free online resources to help improve digital and numeracy skills to and allows furloughed employees in particular the opportunity to keep up their skills development while at home. Digital courses include tools for using email and social media more effectively at work, to creating online content developed by the University of Leeds and the Institute of Coding, to understand the Fundamentals of Digital Marketing from Google Digital Garage, as well as Open University courses. All courses are free, online and flexible, so people can work through them at their own pace.


Broadband-enabled BBC “Bitesize Daily” to help deliver remote learning across the UK

The last month has shown more than ever the importance of digital connectivity to all our lives. Despite some initial concerns in the media, the UK’s broadband and mobile networks have been able to comfortably accommodate traffic increases with existing capacity. There have inevitably been peaks in demand, but we are now seeing a general plateau pattern across the UK and Europe.

The UK’s public service broadcasters (PSBs) have seen increases in demand too. During the week 23-29 March, the BBC reported a record-breaking 198% increase in unique visitors to its BBC Bitesize website (4.8m, beating a previous record of 3.3m). Its children’s entertainment channels were also in high demand: with a 94% increase in requests for CBBC (10.6m). The last few weeks have seen record numbers of people using BBC Sounds too, more than 3.5 million each week, with listeners turning to live radio as well as on demand content.

Today – ordinarily the start of the summer term for most children and teachers now living in exclusively online classrooms – marks the launch by the BBC of a new and extensive educational initiative. The aim is to help ensure that every child in the UK has the opportunity continue to follow the appropriate core parts of their nation’s school curriculum during COVID-19. (more…)

Major telecoms providers pledge support to the NHS during the COVID crisis

In a joint statement between the major telecoms providers and Government, BT/EE, Openreach, Sky , TalkTalk, Virgin Media, O2 , Three, Vodafone, Cityfibre, Gigaclear, Tesco Mobile, giffgaff, Hyperoptic and KCOM, have committed to providing further support to the NHS and its staff during the pandemic. This is over and above the work they continue to do to keep the nation connected, including ensuring that the new emergency hospitals being built across the country have the connectivity they need and providing zero-rated access to on mobile connections.