By Felicity Anderson

Two of the UK’s largest mobile companies, Three and Vodafone, are facing an inquiry into their ‘internet traffic management practices,’ by the British communications regulator Ofcom.

Focusing on whether the companies throttled internet speeds for customers using their mobile internet services abroad, the investigation will also consider Three’s restrictions on tethering and the devices in which a Sim can be used.

The transparency of data use within Vodafone Passes, where Vodafone customers pay to use specific apps and websites without eating into their inclusive data allowance, both in the UK and abroad, will also be examined, according to the BBC.

What are the rules about throttling internet traffic?

Throttling is intentionally slowing down categories of traffic (e.g. video traffic, peer-to-peer and virtual private network traffic) and includes applying traffic management to customers using data on their mobiles abroad when outside of their home network, also known as ‘roaming.’

Under EU regulations, which came into effect on 30 April 2016, providers must treat all internet traffic on their networks equally, without giving preferential treatment to any particular websites or services.

Similarly, internet service providers and mobile operators cannot impose restrictions on internet traffic.

According to the BBC, they may, however, “use reasonable measures to manage their internet traffic to ensure networks run efficiently,” although they must be clear and transparent about these traffic-management policies, which should be based purely on providing technical quality of service.

Vodafone “very disappointed”

“We are very disappointed with Ofcom’s decision to target Vodafone Passes,” Vodafone has responded.

“Our Passes allow customers to access their favourite content without fear of running out of data or attracting out of bundle charges,” said Vodafone. “They are open to any content provider of video, music, chat and social.

“Vodafone does not ‘throttle’ speeds on Vodafone Passes, either in the UK or while customers are roaming,” the operator insisted.

 “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 developed Vodafone Passes in direct response to customer feedback and have provided clear information to customers about how they work,” Vodafone said.

“We will be explaining all of this to Ofcom during the course of their investigation.”

Three “working closely with Ofcom”

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

This isn’t the first time that traffic management through “throttling” has surfaced in relation to a UK mobile phone operator.

Last year, O2 admitted to deliberately throttling its network as a “temporary measure,” to combat the demands of customers using free data roaming abroad after roaming charges were scrapped across the EU on 15 June 2017.

At the time an O2 spokesperson told the independent,

“Data roaming surpassed all expectations we, therefore, have put temporary measures in place to protect the service experience for customers roaming in our Europe Zone.

“These firewalls are temporary, and we are working to have these controls removed within the coming weeks.”

Ofcom will publish a further update on both investigations in June. They stated that should they identify specific issues, they may initiate separate investigations of named providers and take enforcement action against them if appropriate.