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ISPs hijack BBC in tiered services push

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Cash-strapped ISPs have begun a campaign to use the launch of the BBC's iPlayer on demand service to squeeze more cash from web TV viewers.

The iPlayer is still in beta and due to be fully launched in autumn. It expects to have 500,000 users before the big marketing push.

Tiscali seems to have been appointed mouthpiece for the ISPs' opening gambit, with comments in Sunday's Independent and the Financial Times today. Chief exec Mary Turner said: "The internet was not set up with a view to distributing video. We have been improving our capacity, but the bandwidth we have is not infinite."

BT and Carphone Warehouse have also been named as part of the gang.

It's the same old argument used by internet carriers who don't like carrying new internet services, but margins are tighter than ever and the stakes are higher. The BBC is a less elusive and TV a more mainstream fillip than newsgroups, BitTorrent, or VoIP.

The certain outcry if the BBC started paying carriers direct means the play for industry is to raise the spectre of being forced to tightly control access to video to stay solvent. ISPs can then create the impression of adding value with premium video packages and make their businesses slightly more viable. The twin ISP marketing conceits of higher speeds and falling price have been looking increasingly anachronistic, and harmed the industry's reputation in the last year.

The move is among the first public attempts in the UK by carriers to corral subscribers into this kind of bandwidth protection pen. Traffic shaping hardware makes it possible for ISPs to deprioritise the hybrid peer-to-peer/streaming distribution systems that iPlayer, Joost, 4OD, and other new services rely on to be anywhere near watchable.

The BBC is maintaining that it is working closely with ISPs to ensure a smooth roll-out for iPlayer. It is limiting how many beta testers are able to access the service while it monitors network performance.®

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