Ofcom seeks input on revised net neutrality guidelines in new consultation

Ofcom is in the process of seeking public input on revised guidelines that outline how net neutrality should be applied in the United Kingdom. As the regulatory body responsible for monitoring compliance with net neutrality rules, Ofcom aims to offer guidance to broadband and mobile providers to ensure they follow the established regulations. It’s important to note that the rules themselves are defined in legislation, and any amendments would require the involvement of the UK government and parliament.

Net neutrality is rooted in the principle that individuals utilizing the internet should have the authority to dictate their online activities instead of being subject to restrictions imposed by their service providers. Ofcom highlights the crucial role net neutrality has played in granting users access to desired content and services, while enabling content and app owners to connect with their online audience.

Considering the various developments that have occurred since the implementation of the current regulations in 2016, such as increased demand for capacity, the emergence of prominent content providers like Netflix and Amazon Prime, and advancements in technology like 5G, Ofcom has undertaken a review.

The objective is to ensure that net neutrality fosters innovation, investment, and growth for both content providers and broadband/mobile companies. Striking the right balance in this regard can enhance consumer experiences online, allowing for the introduction of innovative services and expanded choice options.

While preserving net neutrality remains crucial to safeguard consumer choice, Ofcom is proposing clearer guidelines to assist broadband and mobile providers in the following areas:

  • Offering premium quality retail broadband or mobile packages, such as those with minimal latency to expedite data transfer and response times.
  • Developing new “specialized services” that may encompass support for applications like virtual reality and driverless cars.
  • Implementing traffic management measures to alleviate network congestion during peak usage periods.
  • Introducing “zero-rating” packages under various circumstances, wherein users aren’t charged for accessing certain services—for example, online public health advice provided by the NHS.

Ofcom also puts forward guidance pertaining to broadband providers prioritizing and zero-rating access to emergency services, implementing parental controls, and managing internet traffic on airplanes and trains.

Furthermore, Ofcom presents its stance on whether broadband providers should be allowed to charge content providers for carrying traffic. Currently, there is insufficient evidence to support the notion of implementing such charges, but the ultimate decision lies with the UK government and parliament.

Phone alert test on 23 April will not violate UK GDPR rules

There is a video circulating on Facebook that contains misleading information about the UK Emergency Alerts service and its upcoming test on April 23rd.

In the video, a man falsely claims that the alert is a “text message” that requires a reply, and that the use of phones will be limited if there is no response. He suggests that the alert will access data or install something on the phone, and alleges that phone companies are breaching GDPR laws by sharing numbers without permission.

However, this description is not accurate. The national test of the Emergency Alerts service serves to warn individuals via their phones or tablets in the event of a nearby “danger to life,” such as severe weather, fire, or flooding. Only authorized emergency services, government departments, agencies, and public bodies will have the ability to send these alerts, which will provide guidance on staying safe during emergencies.

What is the UK alert service

The test will take place across the UK on April 23rd, and the alert will appear on devices connected to 4G or 5G networks. The notification will be accompanied by a loud siren-like sound lasting up to 10 seconds.

Spreading misinformation about the data being collected may cause unnecessary concern. Some individuals may choose to opt out based on these false claims, thus putting themselves at risk by not receiving warnings about nearby dangers in the future.

Regarding the violation of GDPR regulations, it is crucial to understand that the Emergency Alert system does not utilize personal data to send alerts. According to the government, the system operates by using the cell towers that a phone is connected to. When an alert is triggered, all towers in the area will broadcast the alert. As a result, the government does not require knowledge of specific locations or personal data on individual devices.

Are the phone alerts safe?

The privacy notice for the Emergency Alerts service confirms that the alerts are broadcasted to every compatible phone and tablet within range via mobile phone masts. The sender does not require knowledge of personal data, including mobile phone numbers or device-specific information.

Thus, the cellular network provider is not in breach of GDPR regulations by sharing phone numbers with external agencies without permission, as claimed in the video. The alerts are simply sent to phones connected to cell towers and are not based on a list of numbers provided by the networks to the government.

Concerning the requirement for a “reply” to the alert, the man in the video wrongly claims that failure to reply will result in limited phone usage. However, there is no need to reply to the emergency alert. According to the government, the alert will appear on the device’s home screen, and acknowledgment of the alert is necessary before using other features.

The alert will be in the form of a notification, which may contain telephone numbers or website links offering additional information. Some people have reported alert SMS messages on https://whocall.co.uk/phone-number/01249706800 as potentially being scam but this is not the case. You can google the sender phone number to confirm whether it is legitimate or not.

There is no explicit requirement to provide a reply, but users must acknowledge the alert by pressing “ok” before they can resume using their phones.

As for concerns about limited phone usage, we have confirmed with the Cabinet Office that calls will not be diverted to voicemail if the alert has not been acknowledged. The alert will not interfere with an ongoing phone call, and notifications will still be received. To answer a call or view notifications, users will need to acknowledge the alert first.

Addressing the claim that the alert collects data, the man in the video suggests that replying or opening something related to the alert allows access to phone elements. However, the Cabinet Office has stated that the emergency alert does not access or utilize personal data. There is no collection of personal data involved in the emergency alert process.