ISPs that block ads and porn could be in breach of updated EU guidelines on net neutrality

Ad Blocking

Internet service providers (ISP) that block ads and access to pornography could be breaking EU guidelines on net neutrality, even if customers opt in, following an update to the regulations.

Currently EU regulations let ISPs block ads for three reasons: to manage levels of traffic across a network; comply with a member state’s laws; or security.

However a revision to the guidelines issued by EU body Berec states that blocked content, whether it's porn or ads, should be implemented by a customer on their device, rather than on a network level.

The updated guidelines state: “With regard to some of the suggestions made by stakeholders about traffic management features that could be requested or controlled by end-users, Berec notes that the regulation does not consider that end-user consent enables ISPs to engage in such practices at the network level.

“End-users may independently choose to apply equivalent features, for example via their terminal equipment or more generally on the applications running at the terminal equipment, but Berec considers that management of such features at the network level would not be consistent with the regulation.”

Sky, BT and TalkTalk all decided to block access to adult sites after coming under pressure from the government. Meanwhile, mobile operator Three recently ran an ad blocking trial that required users to opt in.

Ultimately the decision on whether any of the services are in breach of the regulations lies with Ofcom.

When asked by The Drum how the changes affect its ad blocking plans, a Three spokesperson pointed out that the guidelines were for the national regulators and so the ultimate decision lay with Ofcom and that it would work with the watchdog while developing its ad blocking technology.

An Ofcom spokesperson added that it would monitor compliance with the new rules, and look into any complaints it received.

“We will consider any potential breaches as they arise in accordance with our interpretation of the regulation, and drawing upon the Berec guidelines to inform our approach,” they added.

The net neutrality rules are intended to prevent broadband operators from favouring specific sources of content, such as commercial partners. However blocking pornography represents something of a grey area given the lack of any clear legal framework in the UK.

To circumvent the ambiguity around the issue providers have relied on the opt in approach but these changes could impact that.

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