back to article Ofcom to probe Three and Vodafone over network throttling

Gummy mouthed watchdog Ofcom has launched a probe into whether Three and Vodafone breached the EU's net neutrality rules by throttling certain services on their networks. The UK regulator is investigating whether some of the 4G mobile plans offered by operators are compliant with Europe's Open Internet Access Regulation 2015 …

  1. Rameses Niblick the Third Kerplunk Kerplunk Whoops Where's My Thribble?

    Where... Ajit Pai when you need him?

    1. hplasm

      Re: "Where... Ajit Pai when you need him?"

      Where he belongs, fortunately.

      1. DCFusor

        Re: "Where...

        All the other yanks I know, as well as myself, think Ajit belongs almost anywhere else. That's just mean, bad as we are, we don't deserve him.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Where...

      Virtual Operators like GiffGaff are bending the rules too.

      If the phone isn't used in the UK regularly (say an emergency glovebox phone), after a period of inactivity, Giffgaff notifies the user that the next time they use the phone abroad, they will now be charged more expensive roaming rates for EU calls outside the UK, even though Giffgaff have no evidence the phone itself has ever been used outside the UK.

  2. Terry 6 Silver badge


    Another piece of EU interference. Wait till we leave.

    Oh Wait!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Rules

      Yes, because we'll definitely repeal this when we leave.

      That was, for the hard of understanding, sarcasm.

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Rules

        It might be sarcasm, but wait 'til industry lobbyists start whispering in the ears of govt. ministers and senior advisors hoping for a lucrative job when they leave power and who knows....

        1. Tigra 07

          Re: Rules

          Yeah, that never happens with at the EU. *cough* Tony Blair, envoy for the same Middle East he bombed the shit out of *cough*

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Rules

            "[...] that never happens with at the EU. *cough* Tony Blair, [...]"

            The Quartet was UN, USA, EU, and Russia. Only Russia is known to have objected to his appointment. His pal George W Bush was still POTUS at that time - so that may have been a more significant factor than any EU preference.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Rules

      Another piece of EU interference. Wait till we leave.

      Firstly this is written into UK law so will still apply, secondly I think you'll find that the UK is one of the prime movers in forming EU legislation like this. You don't think the French government were keen to force this sort stuff on their mates at France Telecom, do you?

      Then again, apparently all good things come from Brussels, don't they? Where will we be without an army of European bureaucrats to help our government make simple decisions? Oh woe is me, when we leave the EU I shall have to buy myself a Dignitas day pass.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Rules

        No need, we’ll have a whip round for you.

      2. TimR

        Re: Rules

        According to the Office of National Statistics, the UK Civil Service employed 419,399 people in March 2017

        There were 46,356 people employed across all EU institutions, agencies and bodies in 2015 (from

        But don't let facts get in the way - let's just use phrases like " army of European bureaucrats..."

        1. Tigra 07

          Re: Rules

          Army definition - "a large number of people or things". He/she has used the phrase correctly by the definition Tim.

          We only have 78,000 full time soldiers, not that far ahead of Eurocrat staff numbers...Will we have to rename them the "British fighting force" instead of British Army?

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Rules

            "We only have 78,000 full time soldiers, not that far ahead of Eurocrat staff numbers..."

            Throughout UK history, the British Army has never been larger than the Prussian police force, let alone any European army. (except maybe Belgium and Luxemburg)

            It's one of those things that makes British colonialism look odd compared to other countries' history of colonialism. There were never large permanent military presences in any british colony.

            1. Tigra 07

              Re: Rules

              "There were never large permanent military presences in any british colony"

              Could have completely changed history if there had been. The British Empire might still be controlling a large swathe of the world (instead of the US). Life could be radically different for everyone.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Rules @ TimR

          According to the Office of National Statistics, the UK Civil Service employed 419,399 people in March 2017...There were 46,356 people employed across all EU institutions, agencies and bodies in 2015 (from

          You're not comparing like with like. The UK CS includes all the civil administrators at DWP (105,000), MoD (49,000), HMRC (73,000), Courts, CPS & Offender Management (70,000), Border Agency (11,000), a whole shed-load of executive agencies that total somewhere around a further 100,000 at my count. These administrators are doing something far more junior, operational and completely different to the EU policy making bureaucrats. If you count the policy making staff within Whitehall, and remove the operational management and administrative elements you'd find there's barely more than about 150 policy staff per government department (I have done this for a department I know well and validated against the organogram for a couple of others). Across ten or eleven government departments that makes for about 2,000 policy making staff. Since the EU has few executive agencies or operations. let's assume that half the EU staff are administrators or freeloaders - that's still 23,000 policy makers, compared to a tenth of that number in Whitehall.

          But don't let facts get in the way

          Indeed, let's not.

  3. Steve Todd

    Sorry Vodaphone

    “We developed this in response to customer demand” does not absolve you of breaking rules. Try providing more data as part of your standard packages instead, I think you’ll find that works also.

  4. K

    Perhap they kick Three

    Into providing proper 4G when abroad... at the moment, all they give is 3G.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Perhap they kick Three

      Quite. Whilst in the US, speeds on T-Mobile (three's preferred carrier) are appalling. Move to a different network, and, low and behold, they improve

      Of course, it may just be that T-Mobile are bobbins

    2. James 51

      Re: Perhap they kick Three

      Three 3G aboard is a result of the contract they have with their partners in other countries so they can claim it's the best they can get out of them (or at least it was when the contract was signed).

      I do wonder if they throttle VPNs though. I have often found my VPN to be extremely slow to the point it was timing out on connections almost every time I used it.

      1. Aitor 1

        Re: Perhap they kick Three

        they do throttle depending on device.. I have tested it.

        1. ARGO

          Re: Perhap they kick Three

          Never spotted that in my testing - and testing is what I do for a living.

          There is some variability between devices, but that's entirely down to the device in my experience.

          1. K

            Re: Perhap they kick Three

            Notice I said abroad.. not in THE UK!

            I've spent a lot of time travelling round Europe over the past few years with various devices ranging from the Google Nexus, Sony Xperia, Xiaomi and OnePlus.. I've only ever received 3G connections. Try manually selecting and most of the time it just reports forbidden.

      2. jonmorris

        Re: Perhap they kick Three

        Three has targeted VPNs for some time and there have long been discussions on forums, with private mails sent around, to let users know what ones work and get around the throttling that Three always argued didn't exist.

        For me, the fact that Three is still 3G only when roaming has stopped me using Three compared to either EE or Vodafone. The difference, especially as throughout Europe there's a good chance the 4G network will have better coverage, and certainly a lot more capacity (especially if a lot of 3G spectrum has been refarmed to 4G), is huge.

        I can tether with either EE or Vodafone too, and Vodafone has no roaming limit in any given month. EE and Three does.

        I haven't mentioned O2 but isn't O2 also restricted to 3G only? And I assume no tethering either?

        Feel at Home (and 3LikeHome before it) was good when the other networks treated people roaming as cash cows, but the EU changed all that. Now Three's offering is only good if you go outside the EU and the other network still charge high rates for, but that still doesn't make Three good. 3G only, throttling, no tethering... It might be better than nothing, but only just.

    3. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: Perhap they kick Three

      T.B.H. I really don't care much about mobile data speeds while in the USA. Being able to use my UK Minutes for phone calls is far more important. In most places there is plenty of free WiFi available for data.

      If I could tether while in the USA then it might be different.

  5. PaulR79

    Curious about Three's tethering

    I'm looking forward to seeing what (if anything!) happens because there are very strict limits on tethering for me and once that allowance is used I have to wait until my next billing cycle. The limit is about 4GB a month and I rarely ever need it but if my home broadband dies as happened recently then I'm reliant on that until it's fixed.

    Do I want to use tethering constantly? No. However, I would like to be able to use it without thinking, "Can I watch this video or will I run out of data on my 'unlimited' plan?" It's only made more absurd because YouTube on my phone is 4K and there are supposedly no limits on that use while it's only 1080P on my laptop which must be monitored so I don't impact others with my usage.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Curious about Three's tethering

      Agree, it is going to be interesting what Ofcom has to say about Three.

      Firstly, Three make it very obvious when you buy a SIM/Plan it is either for a phone or for mobile broadband and they will detect and politely tell you if you accidentally put the SIM in the wrong device and have done so since 2008 or prior. So I can't see Ofcom how can say much other than to rule that a SIM/Plan should be usable in any device and thus with Three if you realy want to use a data SIM in a phone, expect to pay £££ for phone calls.

      Secondly, with respect to tethering caps being different to the data cap, which only applies to some old plans and the current All-you-can-eat data plans, the only area I can see that Ofcom can have any real complaint is where a tethering cap was imposed where the plan was originally sold without an explicit tethering cap.

      Interestingly, I see that some PAYG plans have a 12GB cap on "Feel at Home".

      However, as far as I can see none of the above has any bearing on the EUs net neutrality rules, as they are all about the service you are buying, so if my plan includes 4GB of tethering then as long as my tethered traffic within my allowance is treated no differently to non-tethered traffic (within contract) then net neutrality has been delivered.

    2. Dazed and Confused

      Re: Curious about Three's tethering

      Playing devils advocate here.

      I'm looking forward to seeing what (if anything!) happens because there are very strict limits on tethering for me and once that allowance is used I have to wait until my next billing cycle.

      Three offer different types of SIMs at different prices.

      An all you can eat data for a phone SIM is now £30 (Eeek I hope they don't move me to that!)

      They don't offer an all you can eat data SIM, at £30 only gets you 40GB.

      Now I guess they do this because in their experience on average phone users use less data than "Data SIM" users. I've got all you can eat data but only average 2GB, my wife uses much less, my youngest averages over 160GB and they don't quibble. I guess he's the exception (or perhaps he's why they now want to charge £30 per month! they used to do unlimited phone data for £12.99).

      But I guess on average people with Data SIM use more than people with phones.

  6. Lee D Silver badge

    As someone with only Three as their "home broadband" (via a handheld Huawei 4G router), I don't see this. I have their "Go Binge" addon on a 40Gb package, which gives me unlimited data to TVPlayer and Netflix. That works, and I don't notice other services being any slower. If anything, that would cost them money as when I'm NOT using Netflix/TVPlayer, they are able to take it out of my data which means I would have to pay more if I use it up (I have done that in the past, it's not hard to blast through 40Gb).

    I see no evidence that either sites in the package or out of the package are throttled, though. I can stream just the same on anything that I tried, subject to the usual "4G isn't steady". There is no pattern of peak period dropout, or heavy usage dropout or anything, it just works.

    I was going to do the same with Vodafone but they're too thick to send me the SIM I ordered (and now I can't order another, and I've created another account even and still it won't let me get the SIM sent to me, only "go to a store") and so I literally can't receive their prroduct. They haven't charged me for it because I can't activate it but neither can I order another.

    Their Passes thing was a much better deal. I could get 50Gb a month for the same price as Three and for an extra £15, they wouldn't count traffic from basically all the famous sites - Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc. That would have been a much better deal for me, and they'd have made more money out of me, but that's their fault.

  7. Bonzo_red

    I can fully accept that Voodoofone does not restrict the service to customers. I just find it strange that when I visit London, my phone with a German sim is not able to connect to a 3G network, let alone a 4G one.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If Vodafone did ANYTHING in reponse to customer feedback

    We'd have a MUCH better supplier

  9. jonmorris

    I'm quite glad something is being done, eventually, even though I wrote a post on my 'Sort it out Three: using data abroad feels nothing like at home!' blog post some years ago. Three told me that people on holiday didn't need to have full speed data (they only want to Tweet or use Facebook it seems), and as long as people were posting their texts showing how much money they 'saved' on their last trip, everyone seemed happy.

    For this, I do at least feel vindicated, even if it shows how slow things operate in this industry.

    Three did of course magically remove all throttling the same day that the EU roaming rules changed. They always claimed the poor service was down to the foreign network, and constantly attempted to deny they had any throttling (they always allowed speed tests to run at full speed - funny that) so wasn't it great that in the space of minutes all those bad networks fixed the issues! Yet, shock, if you go to non-EU destinations with Feel at Home, the throttling still exists. Funny that.

    I am surprised about Vodafone and think the whole 'zero rated data' nonsense is where the problems are, and will be, going forward. We don't need to don a tin foil hat to know in time there will be likely become a requirement to buy add-on packs for certain data access, as against merely getting it unmetered if you pay more.

    If you have a standard tariff and roam, you get full speed, 4G, data access and the service is excellent. If you have a 60GB plan, you can use all 60GB - tether if you want. Vodafone needs to be commended for this, and probably offers the best service for heavy users.

    EE supposedly throttles on non-Max plans (and now you can't get Max plans SIM-only anymore) so won't Ofcom be looking into them too?

    You have to hand it to the operators though. They're starting with the zero-rated data so they'll get most consumers on side. We may know what's likely to happen, but Joe Public won't see it. And if there's no 'public interest' then chances are Ofcom will drag its heels on this as it usually does.

  10. This post has been deleted by its author

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I hope Ofcom are aware that EE also throttles their mifi data sims.

    1. HamsterNet


      Haven't seen that, using 60GB a month on an EE data only sim package. It's more likely to be the MiFi box, as they are pants, blew up two before I got a proper 4G router and its been constant speed for 6+ months, but those little boxes just can't handle 24/7 usage

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