Access Alert | Introducing Saudi Arabia’s Draft Regulations on Net Neutrality

Access Alert | Introducing Saudi Arabia’s Draft Regulations on Net Neutrality

Saudi Arabia’s technology and telecommunications regulator, the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC), has launched a public consultation to provide interested parties with the opportunity to submit their views and comments on the Draft Regulations on Net Neutrality. CITC has provided a list of questions, welcoming views from all stakeholders and members of the public, both inside and outside the Kingdom. The consultation is open until 26 May 2022 and comments can be submitted directly online.

General obligations

According to Article 4 – “Open internet access” of the proposed regulations, net neutrality is the principle that ensures end-users the right to freely access and distribute lawfully permissible information, content, applications, and services through the internet without being moderated or limited by internet service providers (ISPs). Under the regulations, ISPs are required to guarantee equal internet traffic (Article 5) when providing in-scope services without technical or commercial discrimination, restriction, or interference. In order to treat all data traffic equally, data packets need to be processed which are agnostic to the sender, receiver, class of content or device used. The class of content refers to content, services, or applications that belong to the same category. Examples of this include but not limited to social media, gaming, audio streaming, video OTT platforms, healthcare, education, and government.

According to Article 6, ISPs are also required to ensure transparency of information including any differential pricing of certain content, internet traffic management practices applied, and their impact on end-user experiences. Also, Service providers must put in place procedures to address complaints of end-users and content providers to comply with the Consumers Protection Act.

Article 7 stipulates that service providers must provide information to CITC regarding the above-mentioned obligations in accordance with CITC’s specifications, and whenever requested. Any infringement of the law may impose sanctions on the service provider in accordance with the Telecommunications Act and its bylaws.

Impact on zero-rating practices

Interested parties are strongly recommended to review the proposed regulations and participate in the public consultation, as the law will affect the future of zero-rating practices performed by ISPs and Content and Application providers (CAPs) in Saudi Arabia. The annexure to Article 5, “Guidelines on differential pricing practices”, stipulates that any zero-rating offers that limit or exclude end-users’ access to content or applications outside of the offer, despite having a sufficient data allowance, will constitute a breach of Article 4. In addition, any zero-rating offers where all content is blocked or throttled when data allowance is reached excluding zero-rated content may potentially be considered discriminatory and in breach of Article 5. The annexures to the different articles provide more details to the requirements in the obligations described above.

Access Partnership is closely monitoring developments regarding the Draft Regulations on Net Neutrality. For more information regarding the regulations or engagement in Saudi Arabia, please contact Hussein Abul-Enein at [email protected], or Anja Engen at [email protected].

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