Ofcom, the UK telecommunications oversight body, has spoken out about the continued lack of transparency from ISPs when it comes to the way they manage traffic. Unlike the neighboring Netherlands, the UK has no net neutrality law on its statute books, and internet service providers within the country habitually manipulate traffic flowing through their networks in ways that are rarely explained to users. Bandwidth may be prioritized for some uses over others, and per-user speeds can be throttled during peak times.

Ofcom's dissatisfaction stems from the fact that these limitations are poorly, if at all, quantified for prospective broadband subscribers at the point of sale. It's now asking UK ISPs — who already adhere to a voluntary Code of Practice and provide some cross-comparable data in so-called Key Facts Indicator tables — to be upfront about the boundaries they will place on their users' free use of the internet. They shouldn't, for example, advertise their product as "internet access" if it prevents or impairs use of certain sites or functionality (such as peer-to-peer networking). Additionally, average rather than "up to" speeds should be quoted to consumers in order to give them a realistic idea of the service they'll be getting.

The regulator's approach remains hands-off for now, with today's statement intended to act as a nudge on ISPs to continue their self-regulation, but if they don't react satisfactorily, Ofcom has the power to force them. An EU framework for the promotion of net neutrality was implemented in UK law in May of this year, granting authority for Ofcom to insist on minimum information and a minimum level of service to be provided to all users. We wouldn't mind seeing a nice bit of regulatory enforcement, though the quickest way to having better informed consumers will still be if BT, Virgin and all the others voluntarily become more open.