iPlayer is getting a "free ride" say UK ISPs

BBC iPlayer download reviewA story doing the rounds in a number of UK newspapers and blogs (Independent, Financial Times, The Mail on Sunday) is that ISPs are increasingly worried about the BBC’s iPlayer, which, were it to catch on, could place an unacceptable strain on their networks. The solution, says Tiscali chief executive, Mary Turner, is for the BBC to contribute to bandwidth costs. While other ISPs are talking about implementing ‘packet shaping’ as a way of penalizing iPlayer traffic so as to maintain speeds across the rest of the network. The result would be that, during peak times at least, the iPlayer could become painfully slow.

From The Mail on Sunday:

Senior executives, including BT Retail’s Ian Livingston, The Carphone Warehouse boss Charles Dunstone and Tiscali UK’s chief Mary Turner have held informal talks amid growing anger over the BBC’s hitching a ‘free ride’ with its new iPlayer system for downloading TV programmes over the web.

In a previous post titled ‘Will ISPs spoil the online video party?‘, I noted that Channel4′s peer-to-peer catch-up service was already being penalized by ‘packet shaping’, and that other UK ISPs, such as Virgin Media, are taking more of a sledgehammer approach by simply reducing users’ download speeds during peak hours.

While ISPs clearly have a capacity problem inherent in their business models, something they’ve kept quiet for years, I object to the notion that the BBC, YouTube or any other online video service is getting a “free ride”. Without digital music and video acting as a main driver for broadband take-up, then many of these ISPs wouldn’t be in business in the first place. In part, ISPs indirectly sell customers access to the content sitting on the network, which in-turn, most web sites provide for free, paid-for through selling advertising. The symbiotic relationship between content and network providers has existed for years.

Also see: BBC iPlayer review – one week later

last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

One Response to “iPlayer is getting a "free ride" say UK ISPs”

  1. Rob Mason says:

    Just another excuse for the ISPs in this country not to invest in the infrastructure. Is this not just simple market forces at play? The public demand such a service, so the BBC steps up to the plate to supply it. As suppliers the ISPs should in turn be responding to a greater demand for bandwidth by investment and lobbying.