UK mobile operators welcome net neutrality overhaul

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The UK’s four major mobile operators have voiced their support for a review of the UK’s net neutrality legislation, arguing the current policy inhibits their ability to innovate and invest in network infrastructure.

Speaking at Connected Britain 2021, the CEOs of Three, Virgin Media O2, and Vodafone, as well as the CTO of BT-EE, all reiterated their pride at the role of the communications industry in supporting consumers and businesses during lockdown.

They added that the pandemic had demonstrated the potential for connectivity to be viewed not just as a commodity but as a vehicle for innovation.

Net neutrality review

They want a pro-investment regulatory environment that allows them to build fibre and 5G networks that can generate new revenue streams. However, there are concerns that the present neutrality framework that requires all traffic to be treated equally is a major barrier.

Essentially, net neutrality forbids service providers from prioritising certain applications beyond standard traffic management measures and from charging content providers for additional fees for the preferential treatment.

Regulator Ofcom has opened a consultation into the current legislation, a move welcomed by the operators who want to differentiate their services and benefit from the innovation and economic growth being generated on their networks.

“Seventy percent of the traffic we deliver comes from just three providers,” said Howard Watson, BT CTO. “Over the last ten years, [these providers] have taken a third of [the earnings] out of our industry. I think Net Neutrality has been their friend and it’s important that we have that discussion. We’ll certainly be submitting views [to Ofcom].”

“I welcome the call to revising Net Neutrality because the legislation wasn’t drafted with 5G use cases, like slicing, in mind,” added Ahmed Essam, Vodafone UK CEO. “You need to be able to differentiate your service without discrimination. I really welcome the review and we’ll be providing evidence.”

“It’s always good to have that conversation,” agreed Lutz Schüler, CEO at Virgin Media O2.

Three has also confirmed it will be submitting evidence to the consultation.

The principles of net neutrality were enshrined at a European level, but the UK government has more freedom in its policies following Brexit. Any move to weaken the legislation would be opposed by campaigners who fear such practices would threaten the development of an open Internet and make it more difficult for startups and innovative applications to compete with larger players.

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.