UK telcos eye net neutrality overhaul opportunity
The UK’s four mobile operators have voiced support for a review into the UK’s net neutrality legislation, claiming the current policy inhibits innovation and investment in network infrastructure.
At Connected Britain 2021, the CEOs of Three, Virgin Media, O2, and Vodafone, as well as the CTO of BT-owned EE, spoke as part of a keynote telecoms panel.
The executives claimed that the pandemic had demonstrated the potential for connectivity to be viewed not just as a commodity but as a vehicle for innovation, expressing pride in how they had supported the public and care services during Covid-19.
However, they also warned that an anti-investment regulatory environment could stymie innovation, calling on the UK government and regulators to be pro-investment.
This, they claimed, allows them to build fibre and 5G networks that can generate new revenue streams. But they expressed concerns that the present neutrality framework that requires all traffic to be treated equally is a major barrier.
Net neutrality is a framework that forbids service providers from prioritising network traffic towards specific applications and aims at preserving the free nature of the internet. It means, for example, that operators cannot prioritise traffic from a partner who has paid for priority lanes.
In the US, net neutrality has been a topic of significant controversy, with the 2015 Open Internet Order ISPs clear authority to enforce net neutrality. This was repealed in 2018.
UK 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.
They also see it as an opportunity to stymie the threat of OTT players who are cutting into the business of the operators.
“70%, if not more, of the traffic we deliver comes from just three providers,” said BT CTO Howard Watson. “Over the last ten years, they have taken a third of the wallet out of our industry. I think Net Neutrality has been their friend and our foe during that period 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 Virgin Media O2 CEO Lutz Schüler.
Three has also confirmed it will be submitting evidence to the consultation, according to a report in Techradar Pro.
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