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TalkTalk, BT: we'd put iPlayer in the slow lane

BT Vision

By Barry Collins

Posted on 28 Sep 2010 at 13:51

The UK's two biggest ISPs have openly admitted they'd give priority to certain internet apps or services if companies paid them to do so.

Speaking at a Westminster eForum on net neutrality, senior executives from BT and TalkTalk said they would be happy to put selected apps into the fast lane, at the expense of their rivals.

We absolutely could see a situation when content or app providers may want to pay BT for quality of service above best efforts

Asked specifically if TalkTalk would afford more bandwidth to YouTube than the BBC's iPlayer if Google was prepared to pay, the company's executive director of strategy and regulation, Andrew Heaney, argued it would be "perfectly normal business practice to discriminate between them".

"We would do a deal and look at YouTube and look at the BBC, and decide," he added.

When asked the same question, BT's director of group industry policy, Simon Milner, replied: "We absolutely could see a situation when content or app providers may want to pay BT for quality of service above best efforts," although he added BT had never received such an approach.

The ISPs' stance was tacitly backed by regulator Ofcom, which has just completed a consultation on net neutrality. "We see real economic benefit for a two-sided market to emerge, especially for markets such as IPTV," said Alex Blowers, international director of Ofcom.

Blowers insisted ISPs must be transparent with customers about such arrangements.

Public service discrimination

Ofcom's consumer representatives were less enamoured with the prospect of ISPs giving some services preferential treatment. "Public services could be positively discriminated against, especially if they're high bandwidth," said Anna Bradley, chair of the Communications Consumer Panel.

"It may be that we need to consider some sort of 'must carry' obligation," for public-funded services such as the iPlayer and Government-run sites, Bradley added.

Indeed, Government officials struck a note of caution about the entire concept of blocking one site at the expense of another. "I'm a family and I sign up for a two-year contract with my ISP," theorised Nigel Hickson, head of EU and international ICT policy at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

"After 18 months, my daughter comes and knocks on my door and says 'I can't get on Facebook any more' [because the ISP had given preferential access to a rival]."

"Is that acceptable?" asked Hickson. "These questions are at the heart of this debate."

No such thing as neutrality

TalkTalk's Heaney argued that the entire concept of net neutrality had long since evaporated, with varying degrees of traffic management now commonplace among all the leading ISPs. "It's a myth we have net neutrality today - we don't," he said. "There are huge levels of discrimination over traffic type. We prioritise voice traffic over our network. We shape peer-to-peer traffic and deprioritise it during the busy hour.

"If we have a blocking policy customers don't like they vote with their feet, they move," he added.

And the TalkTalk executive urged regulator Ofcom and the EU to refrain from regulating net neutrality. "We don't have a problem, so we shouldn't be considering regulation," Heaney stated. "This is just another business model. It's a legitimate and normal business practice."

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User comments

"If we have a blocking policy customers don't like they vote with their feet, they move,"

Well, I'd surely move to an ISP who does not decide for me whose services I should be able to access. It’s like publicly admitting to accepting brown envelopes and justifying it by saying that everybody does it anyway.

By Josefov on 28 Sep 2010

If they provided the bandwidth they charged for

..we might be more sympathetic.

The current policy of oversubscribing bandwidth, then blaming iPlayer or "piracy" for poor service is a matter for the regulator (for all the good it does).

Double-booking of bandwidth and poor, under-invested infrastructure problems are certainly not caused by catch-up TV!

By cheysuli on 28 Sep 2010

backed by Ofcom

Well, it would be

It's another way for ISPs to make money, so Ofcom certainly wouldn't stand in the way

By greemble on 28 Sep 2010

That is the Problem

"We don't have a problem, so we shouldn't be considering regulation,"

The fact that they don't see a problem is in fact the problem.

The fact that bias is already impossed is not a reason to add more, it is a reason to remove what's already been done.

By omnisvalidus on 28 Sep 2010

Well....

All the more reason to avoid BT and TalkTalk. They take the UK consumers for mugs - they'd get a shock with people voting with their feet.

By everton2004 on 28 Sep 2010

Conflict ahead...

I wonder what would happen if/when an ISP took money from (e.g.) Google to prioritise Youtube, while at the same time accepting cash from their customers to prioritise (e.g.) iPlayer?

Guesses anyone? Consider how difficult it would be to catch them doing so
CS Rep: "Yes, iPlayer does seem slow tonight, must be a lot of people accessing it. It is peak time after all..."

By greemble on 29 Sep 2010

Hmm. heard that before

"We don't have a problem, so we shouldn't be considering regulation," Heaney stated. "This is just another business model. It's a legitimate and normal business practice."

Seem to remember that's what the banks said about deregulation and see where that led us.

By kurtnielsen on 29 Sep 2010

Two tier internet

The example's the wrong way around - they're more likely to favour their BBC collaborators in YouView over YouTube.

By Drew_L on 29 Sep 2010

Why would Google pay?

I'm confused....why would Google pay ISPs for users to have priority access to what is essentially (not counting ads) a free service?

By everton2004 on 29 Sep 2010

Two tier internet

The example's the wrong way around - they're more likely to favour their BBC collaborators in YouView over YouTube.

By Drew_L on 29 Sep 2010

"If we have a blocking policy customers don't like they vote with their feet, they move,"

they might if they weren't tied into a lengthy contract.

By davisrus on 30 Sep 2010

If we have a blocking Policy

IF CUSTOMERS KNOW YOU HAVE A BLOCKING POLICY!!

This is why all this was sectret.. People didn't know that their traffic was being shaped, so they just thought it was someone elses fault.. After all, You Tube works fine.. It must be the BBC's fault that iPlayer doesn't work..

The internet isn't fair because the big wigs decided it isn't fair.. The end user has no choice, their lives are shaped by secret agreements that they had no knowledge of.

Ahh.. so George Orwell was 30 years too early.. But we're getting there.

By SwissJon on 30 Sep 2010

I'm just imagining how much Rupert Murdoch would fight if someone suggests that ISPs have to carry Iplayer traffic.

By steviesteveo on 30 Sep 2010

How's this for Orwellian, SwissJon?

"We absolutely could see a situation when content or app providers may want to pay BT for quality of service above best efforts"

So basically, if you pay us enough, we'll do better than our best! I've heard of 110% commitment and ramping the volume up to 11, but this is just Newspeak!

By JohnAHind on 4 Jan 2011

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