Three and Vodafone face net neutrality investigation

Ofcom is investigating mobile operators Three and Vodafone over alleged breaches of Net Neutrality legislation.

Net Neutrality was enshrined in EU law in 2016 and states that broadband and mobile providers must threat all network traffic equally. This means they cannot slow down certain services, a practice known as ‘throttling’, or prioritise one application over another.

The regulator first opened the case in December but feels there is enough evidence to warrant an investigation.

Net neutrality

The probe will examine Three’s “restrictive” tethering on certain plans and restrictions on how a SIM can be used. For example, some SIMs bought for a smartphone cannot be used with a tablet.

Ofcom will also look at Three’s traffic management practices for video, peer to peer (P2P) applications and Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).

Under the EU legislation, operators are allowed to use “reasonable” traffic management to ensure their networks are run efficiently, but they must be transparent about this.

With regards to Vodafone, Ofcom is looking into the network’s own traffic management policies, specifically in relation to ‘Vodafone Passes’ and how it zero rates certain applications. Zero rating is a practice whereby some apps don’t count against a customer’s data allowance.

Vodafone offer several passes – such as video, music, social and chat – that mean applications like Netflix, Spotify or Facebook don’t count against an allowance.

Ofcom’s concern is that Vodafone isn’t zero rating some functions of zero rated apps.

“Should we identify specific issues, we may initiate separate investigations of named providers and take enforcement action against them if appropriate,” said Ofcom.

Vodafone told TechRadar Pro that it was “disappointed” with the decision to “target” Vodafone Passes.

“Our Passes allow customers to access their favourite content without fear of running out of data or attracting out of bundle charges.  They are open to any content provider of video, music, chat and social.  22 content providers have signed up so far, ensuring Vodafone customers can enjoy the widest selection of worry-free access to content across the industry.

“Vodafone does not “throttle” speeds on Vodafone Passes, either in the UK or while customers are roaming.  The Video Pass is optimised so that all of our customers have a high quality experience when streaming content on the network.

“Optimising means making the bandwidth available that enables videos to be delivered in a faster, more efficient way, while still providing the best smartphone viewing experience, and without compromising the experience of other customers who do not use a Vodafone Pass.”

“We’ll be working closely with Ofcom to understand their concerns,” added Three.


Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.