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BBC tells ISPs to get stuffed

Sealed with a loving threat

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Relationships between the BBC and internet industry have plunged to an all-time low, after the BBC's internet chief Ashley Highfield used a blog post yesterday to tell ISPs to get stuffed - and even threatened to name and shame them.

The cost of carrying iPlayer traffic has been a sore point for ISPs, who must absorb steeply rising traffic costs. Regulator OFCOM's Market Impact Assessment estimated the P2P version of iPlayer would create up to £831m in extra costs for the internet industry. In the first month of the "low bandwidth" iPlayer, ISPs saw streaming costs rise 20 per cent.

(See iPlayer Politics: Behind the ISPs vs BBC row.)

But Highfield, Director of Future Media and Technology at the £4bn-a-year corporation, said the BBC won't help them out.

"I would not suggest that ISPs start to try and charge content providers," he scolds.

"They are already charging their customers for broadband to receive any content they want. If ISPs start charging content providers, the customer will not know which content will work well over their chosen ISP, and what content may have been throttled for non-payment of a levy."

Highfield instead advises them to pass the increased costs onto their customers in the form of tiers of service (ie price increases).

And if ISPs didn't follow his "advice", and dared to traffic shape their networks to manage their bandwidth hogs, Highfield threatened that the BBC would name and shame them.

"Content providers, if they find their content being specifically squeezed, shaped, or capped, could start to indicate on their sites which ISPs their content worked best on (and which to avoid). I hope it doesn’t come to this, as I think we (the BBC and the ISPs) are currently working better together than ever."

Being put on the BBC's List of Shame could have serious commercial repercussions for internet providers.

(Highfield also raised eyebrows with his assertion that "The best technical solution is usually Moore’s law". An oddly ignorant thing to say, since the capacity and price of copper and fibre connections have very little to do with the density of transistors on a semiconductor die. Earth to Ashley: Ceci n'est pas une pipe.)

It's a lose-lose situation for the ISPs. If they refuse to carry iPlayer material, they lose customers and go out of business. If they do carry iPlayer material, and traffic shape their networks, the BBC will shame them, and they go out of business. Who'd be an ISP?

Highfield's heavy-handed intervention may undo much of the conciliatory work undertaken by iPlayer boss Anthony Rose. As we reported recently, the BBC is exploring building its own Content Delivery Network (CDN) to ease the delivery costs for ISPs.

One executive at a major ISP stormed back at Highfield:

"Relying on the customer's failure to read the small print is not the basis for a digital content strategy."

And so the bloodbath nears. ®

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