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Now is the muttering of our discontent

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There are murmurings of discontent within the UK's ISP industry following the publication of the finalists for this year's industry awards.

As one senior industry source put it: "The list seems a bit…well…odd."

The reason for the grumbling is the omission of a number of high profile operators from the coveted "best" ISP awards named by trade body ISPA last week.

For instance, despite its dominance in the sector, BT barely gets a look in. And there was no AOL, Demon, Eclipse, Nildram, PlusNet, Virgin or Zen - all major players that many expected to make the shortlists.

Of course, some of these, including AOL, decided not to take part in the awards. Others simply didn't make it past the new vetting process and onto the shortlist.

And just to confuse matters still, there will always be some punters who reckon certain ISPs shouldn't make it to the shortlists at all.

That aside, when El Reg called a number of ISPs to canvass opinion, it became clear that the raised eyebrows were not isolated to a few operators sore at not making the finals.

Many ISPs didn't want to talk publicly for fear of tarnishing their reputations. Privately though, they all expressed surprised with the shortlists. Even those that had made it to the final stage were surprised at the ISPs that had failed to make the grade - and some of those that had made it.

As one insider put it: "These awards should be representative of the industry. Except the list of finalists doesn't reflect the industry. It doesn't tell consumers or businesses who are the best ISPs."

Another said: "It's looks a little odd that the list didn't have the usual names."

So, is it sour grapes on behalf of those who didn't make it or is a fresh line-up indicative of changes happening within the UK's ISP sector?

Nick Lansman, Secretary General of the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA), defended the awards and insisted that everything had been done to make them fair.

"These are prestigious awards and ISPs want to win," he told us. "We try our best to make sure they're fair. But we can only assess ISPs on the criteria set out in the rules. You're always going to get some companies that are upset."

He added that if companies did feel aggrieved then ISPA would look into the matter.

Curiously, this year's nominations were drawn up after each ISP that entered the awards had its service tested for between a month and six weeks over December and early January. ISPA insists that this is an improvement on previous years.

But other argue that it is also flawed, since it only takes a snapshot of an ISP's performance over a month or so. Is this really adequate for awards that are, by ISPA's own admission, so keenly fought for and "prestigious"?

If this is the approach ISPA plans to take, and if the industry body accepts that a lot is riding on these awards, then perhaps it should consider monitoring ISPs all year round. According to one well-respected industry commentator, such an approach would even up the ups and downs that ISPs sometime suffer providing a more accurate measure of their performance.

Not only would this provide useful information for consumers looking to chose ISPs, it should also result in less grumbling next year. ®

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