Online Safety Act Paused as Ofcom Reports on Net Neutrality

UK watchdog Ofcom has proposed a loosening of the nation’s net neutrality rules so as to not unduly restrict innovation and development. While it is up to government and Parliament to change the law, recommendations from Ofcom — which was created to monitor compliance with net neutrality laws — are influential. “Since the current rules were put in place in 2016, there have been significant developments in the online world, including a surge in demand for capacity,” as well as the rollout of 5G, and the emergence of large players like Netflix and Amazon Prime.

“Ofcom has carried out this review to ensure net neutrality rules … are working well for people and businesses in the UK,” Ofcom said in an announcement.

The review itself states that while the “open internet” provisions have “enabled new content providers to reach millions of new customers and achieve scale quickly,” citing TikTok’s growth to 19 million UK adult visitors in four years, net neutrality rules have also served to “constrain the activities of the ISPs,” and thus they “may be seen as restricting their ability to innovate, develop new services and manage their networks.”

This, the report continues, “could lead to poor consumer outcomes, including consumers not benefiting from new services as quickly as they should, or at all.” These potential downsides may become more pronounced in the future, “as people’s use of online services expands, traffic increases, and more demands are placed on networks.”

Ofcom’s proposed changes offer guidance for broadband and mobile providers who want to:

  • Offer premium broadband packages featuring benefits like lower latency.
  • Develop specialized services for emerging markets like virtual reality and autonomous vehicles.
  • Offer free lifeline-type access for things like public health information provided by the NHS.
  • Implement traffic management to avoid congestion during times of peak usage.

TechCrunch writes that Ofcom’s report follows “its first year regulating a selection of video-sharing platforms (VSPs) — including TikTok, Snapchat, Twitch, Vimeo and OnlyFans — following the introduction of content-handling rules aimed at protecting minors and others from viewing harmful user-generated video content online.”

In addition to aiming to reduce the risk of minors accessing age-inappropriate content, the VSP regulations also require “in-scope Internet platforms to take steps to protect all their users from content likely to incite violence or hatred against protected groups or which would be considered a criminal offense,” TechCrunch writes.

The VSP rules are part of the broader (and somewhat controversial) Online Safety Bill, “which remains in limbo after the new UK prime minister, and her freshly appointed minister heading up digital issues, paused the draft legislation last month saying they wanted to tweak the approach in response to freedom of expression concerns,” per TechCrunch.

“Ofcom invites responses by January 13th, 2023, and, subject to feedback, expects to publish its decision and revised guidance in autumn 2023,” according to Advanced Television.

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