Why is Ofcom reviewing Net Neutrality in the UK, in 2022?  by@saraho

Why is Ofcom reviewing Net Neutrality in the UK, in 2022?

Ofcom has (very quietly) created a 21 page document ‘calling for evidence’ to change Net Neutrality. Net neutrality has been regulated by the UK Government (since Brexit). Therefore a review of net neutrality should only ever be undertaken by the UK Government, not by Ofcom. Ofcom is a Quango and the UK’s communications regulator, they regulate ISPs. They do not inform or amend laws. They do not represent ISPs commercial interests to the Government and are not a lobbying think tank. The document represents a clear conflict of interest and misuse of funds at best and is, in my opinion, clear evidence of corruption. This phrase: "This review is intended to inform our work in these areas." Seems to be their sole reasoning for the document's existence but the only thing that should inform their work regarding net neutrality is existing law. It's their job to enforce it.
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Sarah Othman HackerNoon profile picture

Sarah Othman

Sarah Othman is Founder at www.verifiedwriters.org and based in Tokyo, Japan.

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I have very recently become the Brand Editor / CSM at Hacker Noon. For those who don’t know, Hacker Noon is built for technologists to read, write, and publish. We are an open and international community of 15,000+ contributing writers publishing stories and expertise for 3,000,000+ curious and insightful monthly readers.

We’re here to provide paywall-free, instantly accessible information from readers all around the world. Anyone can write for Hacker Noon but a collective of in-house editors check every story for veracity, quality, and relevance. 

I work remotely from two locations in Japan. Those locations are Tokyo and Chiba.

I am a British woman.

Back in 2017 a Hacker Noon data journalism story written by data scientist Jeff Kao "More than a Million Pro-Repeal Net Neutrality Comments Were Most Likely Fabricated," received coverage from BoingBoing, Forbes, Fortune, Stanford University, Techmeme, Buzzfeed, and other top technology publications.

The story was used by an extremely photogenic Actor, Producer, Designer, Mother, Activist (and podcaster?) named Alyssa Milano to successfully pressure the Senate to vote, and to overturn the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) controversial decision to repeal net neutrality.

Unfortunately, in the post-Brexit political landscape of the United Kingdom the net neutrality conversation is still happening. That’s what this article is about. 

I stand with Google on this.
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https://www.google.com/takeaction/action/net-neutrality/

Seriously. Why are we still talking about this? 

This year, Ofcom has created a 21 page document 'calling for evidence'.

Here's an example of a sickening question from the document:

"Question 1: Functioning of the net neutrality framework
(a) Which aspects of the current net neutrality framework do you consider work well and should be maintained? Please provide details including any supporting evidence and analysis."

The naked URL for the WayBack Machine if the above Ofcom PDF is taken down, is: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0015/224142/call-for-evidence-net-neutrality-review.pdf

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Evidence of what?
Imagine asking someone for evidence that their breathing is valuable to society.

Imagine someone calling for evidence that a black woman is as equally important as a white woman. 

These might seem like strong analogies but when it comes to Net Neutrality that is literally the difference.

The definition of Net Neutrality is: “the principle that internet service providers (ISPs) must treat all internet communications equally and not charge users different rates based on content, website, platform, application, type of equipment, source address, destination address… it goes on.”

It’s about not being discriminative. It’s about not being racist, or sexist or prejudicial. It’s about internet equality.

It’s about not awarding ‘corruption bonuses’ or ‘privileges’.

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And understandably, people are scared. If you scroll down from a ‘net neutrality’ search in Google (image below), guess what you see?

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And, you see: “Why is network neutrality a problem?”
Short answer: It isn’t. It’s AWESOME. Let’s keep it.

If you want to see what no network neutrality, or zero network neutrality looks like you do not need to look far. You can take a look at two countries that are loud and proud on the world stage right now…

Russia

Oh man…

(I’ve used full URLs so that even if these get deleted in the future you can easily read them in the WayBack Machine).

Putin is lying to the people of Russia about the war on Ukraine by taking advantage of the lack of net neutrality.

CNBC
https://www.cnbc.com/2022/03/17/russia-ukraine-war-internet-censorship-china-great-firewall.html

AP News
https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-putin-technology-business-europe-1b8fec033200c33a2aef83b3d2d18713

Council On Foreign Relations
https://www.cfr.org/in-brief/russia-censoring-news-war-ukraine-foreign-media-are-trying-get-around

New York Times
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/04/world/europe/russia-censorship-media-crackdown.html

And, in December 2021 (before Putin’s war on Ukraine started), the BBC’s Andrei Zakharov and Ksenia Churmanova published an article called: “How Russia tries to censor Western social media,” which documents a few of Putin’s attacks on Western Net Neutrality wonderfully. 

Again, the URL is also naked for prosperity: https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-59687496

And...

China

“China's Internet censorship is more comprehensive and sophisticated than any other country in the world [...] China's Internet police force was reported by official state media to be 2 million strong in 2013. [...] Fines and short arrests are becoming an optional punishment to whoever spreads undesirable information through the different Internet formats, as this is seen as a risk to social stability.” - Wikipedia on 24/03/2022

I was planning on writing this article about the UK’s absolutely bizarre, secret Net Neutrality review before the war against Ukraine started but since it did, I have been in an absolute state of shock.

Putin’s Influence

The influence of Putin on British and US politics in the years preceding the war on Ukraine cannot be ignored.

We know that there have been very serious claims that Russian interests influenced the Brexit referendum and its outcome which segregated the UK from the EU.

Now, we can easily understand it may have been an effort to stop the UK (one of Europe’s most thriving economies) from assisting Ukraine.

I’ll direct you to this article for UK Newspaper The Guardian, it's called: "Was there Russian meddling in the Brexit referendum? The Tories just didn't care," by Jonathan Lis.

Jonathan said this:

“The intelligence and security committee’s (ISC) Russia report does not hold back. It states that “we have not been provided with any post-referendum assessment of Russian attempts at interference... in stark contrast to the US handling of allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election”. Its press release is even more blunt, declaring that “the government did not take action to protect the UK’s process in 2016”. The committee duly recommends that the intelligence services “produce an analogous assessment of potential Russian interference in the EU referendum” and publish an unclassified summary.”

If that was a bit confusing for non British-English speakers (many of whom make up my close and personal friends) a rough translation into simpler English is:

“We asked the UK Government (Boris Johnson) to submit a report to us, but they didn’t. We’d like one which is as detailed as the one supplied during the 2016 Presidential Elections in the USA. The UK Government took no action to protect the referendum process from interference in 2016. They should provide a similarly detailed document to the one which was produced in the USA and also publish it transparently and publicly.”

Jonathan Lis also wrote: “As the report notes, there is credible evidence that Russian actors have interfered in foreign elections over a period of some years, and the Russian state often views foreign policy as a zero-sum game.”

Naked link: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jul/21/russian-meddling-brexit-referendum-tories-russia-report-government

I don’t think that I am being a conspiracy theorist in saying that Net Neutrality is important. 

Google agrees with me.

Alyssa Milano agrees with me and the only people who don’t agree with me, appear to be in the pockets of Putin’s regime or China’s current leaders.

So, why is Ofcom, the UK’s regulator, (extremely quietly) calling for evidence that Net Neutrality is necessary in an era when it’s SO OBVIOUSLY vital?

I can only presume that it’s because they’re on our side and like us, they want to defend it.

I can only hope.

The review says: If you want to discuss the issues and questions raised in this consultation, please contact Adam Lacey on 020 7981 3856, or by email to [email protected]

According to his LinkedIn profile, he is a competition policy manager, who project directs, manages and provides policy and analytical input into a range of competition and cross group work streams.

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I'm going to ask him some questions.

I sent Adam the below email (edited for the article).
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Hi Adam,

I'm writing an article and I would like further clarification on why Ofcom has created a 21 page document 'calling for evidence' for Net Neutrality.

I'm sincerely concerned that you are trying to manipulate and deceive the public.

Firstly, in summary this document is fundamentally flawed.

- It's presented in a socially exclusionary format (which this document itself acknowledges)
- It assumes custodianship of net neutrality (Ofcom does not determine net neutrality law, UK Government does)
- It conflates consumers and internet users (these are clearly not the same thing)
- It prioritizes the generation of revenue, commercialism and competitiveness over data-ethics
- It makes Ofcom look terrible, especially considering how important net neutrality is during Russia's war on Ukraine

I've highlighted my questions in yellow, [for the purposes of this transcript, bold.]

Q1: Why did you decide to format the review in this format with this wording? This is quite a serious question because it doesn't seem to address the subject of net neutrality appropriately.

Q2: An introduction

The Net Neutrality: Call For Evidence document cites Brexit as one of the reasons for the requirement for the review.

"The UK left the EU on 31 January 2020, with a transition period until 31 December 2020 (the ‘transition period’). Following the end of this period, the EU rules on net neutrality became part of domestic UK law. A number of small changes were subsequently made to the rules, so as to deal with minor issues arising from the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.6 For example, Ofcom is no longer required to take utmost account of the BEREC Guidelines (see paragraphs 2.10 to 2.11 below) or to submit an annual compliance report to the European Commission (although we are still required to publish a report). References to EU laws and national regulatory authorities (NRAs) were also deleted or replaced with references to national laws and Ofcom, respectively."

It also states: "This review is intended to inform our work in these areas. Any changes to the rules would be a matter for Government and ultimately Parliament."

[Edit, note: This phrase: "This review is intended to inform our work in these areas." Seems to be their sole reasoning for the document's existence but the only thing that should inform their work regarding net neutrality is existing law.]

However, the review document conflates the internet with an eCommerce platform by repeatedly referring to internet users as consumers.

There are 13 instances of the word 'consumers' in the document many of which state Ofcom wants to protect either the consumer or the 'competitiveness' of businesses by revising net neutrality practices as a regulator, and therefore influencing the practices of ISPs on behalf of revenue generating businesses. 

This seems to be the very definition of a 'conflict of interest'.

Q2: Reviewing regulatory frameworks (Ofcom is a regulator) that directly impact the net neutrality of the internet by reductively positioning internet users as consumers is damaging and fallacious. Why has Ofcom deliberately chosen to conflate citizens and consumers?

Internet users are not consumers. The inverse is true.

The internet is not only used as a place for the competitive sale of goods. To position it that way, with competitiveness and consumerism as a priority is reductive and restrictive. Yes, Ofcom regulates the sale of goods [and services, aka. internet service provision]. It does not regulate the internet.

In respect to regulatory practices for net neutrality, this paragraph is particularly inappropriate.

"2.13 Ofcom’s principal duty is to further the interests of citizens in relation to communications matters and to further the interests of consumers in relevant markets, where appropriate by promoting competition.10"

Q3: Decreasing net neutrality in the interests of capitalism or consumerism, or even 'competitiveness' as a UK regulator is not an acceptable agenda. Why does this document position Ofcom's agenda in this way?

Q4: Introduction

Within the document there are questions like: 
"Question 1: Functioning of the net neutrality framework
(a) Which aspects of the current net neutrality framework do you consider work well and should be maintained? Please provide details including any supporting evidence and analysis."

Q4: This question implies those existing aspects of network neutrality which do not garner a response within the review period will be deemed irrelevant and not maintained. 

It also assumes the reader has a working knowledge of Ofcom's current (unique) net neutrality framework based on existing laws (a basic overview is provided but not in a way that is easy for normal people to access or respond to).


Q5: In several places the document suggests that normal, ordinary people (referred to as citizens) are invited to respond to this review.

Here are two examples of the phrasing for that statement:

Example 1: "Ofcom’s principal duty is to further the interests of citizens in relation to communications matters and to further the interests of consumers in relevant markets, where appropriate by promoting competition." Again, there's the conflict between the concept of net neutrality and the concept of promotion. 

Example 2: "We invite responses from all stakeholders, including citizens and consumers and organisations that represent their interests, small and larger business consumers, CAPs and ISPs as well as from other stakeholders from across the internet value chain." 

Q5, continued: If so, why has Ofcom chosen to phrase the review process so formally and deliver it in this format instead of as a survey tailored to each sector listed?

The document also says:

"If you have any comments or suggestions on how we manage our consultations, please email us at [email protected]. We particularly welcome ideas on how Ofcom could more effectively seek the views of groups or individuals, such as small businesses and residential consumers, who are less likely to give their opinions through a formal consultation."

Q5, continued: You therefore appreciate how inappropriate this document is, within this actual document itself? Unless your intention is to limit your responses to a select few people and therefore skew the response data? If you do indeed want ordinary citizens to respond and do not want to be exclusionary a survey would seem like an obvious format to collect opinions on something like this. Why didn't you do that?

Finally, in conclusion, this document is in no way appropriate. It's not Ofcom's job to regulate the internet. It's their job to regulate ISPs as goods and services providers. Conflating the two is unacceptable.

The presumption within the document that Ofcom should be advising/recommending or amending existing net neutrality REGULATORY frameworks is entirely inappropriate.

This phrase: "This review is intended to inform our work in these areas." Seems to be their sole reasoning for the document's existence but the only thing that should inform their work regarding net neutrality is existing law.

What should this document have done?

1. It should have presented the existing framework in a way which is easy for normal citizens to understand.

2. It should have provided an easy-to-understand survey on their thoughts and opinions with open questions, not negatively-phrased questions like: 'what should be maintained?' (Akin to: How many of the Ancient books of Alexandria should we not burn?).

3. It should have made it clear on every page that net neutrality and the internet (which are not regulated by Ofcom) are completely different (and separate from the issue of consumer regulation of goods and services, which are).

4. It should have been co-authored by a third party that supports net neutrality (or at least checked by one): https://www.google.com/takeaction/action/net-neutrality/).

Please respond promptly to all 5 questions so that they can be added to my article before I publish it.

Thanks and best wishes,
Sarah Othman

My final thought: This may be proof of corruption and collusion to mislead.

Ofcom regulates TV, Telephone, Radio and historically ISPs but previously had to conform to a set of ethics and policy framework set by a third party group (the BEREC Guidelines and European Commission).

Now they should conform to existing Government guidelines.

They view ISPs as commercial entities in competition, not as a vital utility service like Gas, Electricity, or Water.

This appears to be the case despite the fact Adam is a former Ofgem employee.

According to his LinkedIn, he worked at Ofgem "...with a focus on project managing the analysis of large capital investments in energy infrastructure (ranging in size from £50m to £2bn), transmission charging, and other transmission policy issues."

We all deserve clean water to drink and we all deserve a net-neutral internet.


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