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BBC vs ISPs: Bandwidth row escalates as Tiscali wades in

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Outspoken broadband provider Tiscali has crossed swords with Ashley Highfield, the BBC's top technology executive, over calls he made for ISPs to lump the potentially devastating effect of the iPlayer on their business.

Since the launch of the popular streaming service, the iPlayer is costing ISPs dear, with one reporting a trebling of its streaming bandwidth charges. ISPs were already operating on razor-thin margins.

Simon Gunter, strategy chief at Tiscali, today echoed the industry scorn directed at Highfield last week, and reported by The Register. He charged that it's a "bit rich that a publicly-funded organisation is telling a commercial body how to run its business," the BBC reports.

Highfield's blog posting, published 2 April, suggested a 19-point plan for ISPs to handle the boost in bandwidth costs fired by the iPlayer. Many of his ideas were quickly shot down as unworkable, however, or seen as demonstrating a misunderstanding of how the market is regulated. He asserted providers should offer unlimited bandwidth - a pipedream in the most literal sense.

The BBC technology chief went on to threaten that ISPs who don't allow iPlayer traffic through unhindered at all times might expect to be named and shamed. "Content providers, if they find their content being specifically squeezed, shaped, or capped, could start to indicate on their sites which ISPs their content works best on (and which to avoid)," he wrote.

Gunter replied today: "Inflammatory comments about blacklisting ISPs do not help. There seems to be a lack of understanding about how networks are built. Either we are not explaining it properly or it is falling on deaf ears."

Tiscali's broadband packages are some of the most aggressively priced on the market, and it has no intention of changing that strategy. "The BBC would like us to pass all those [iPlayer bandwidth] costs on to the end user," Gunter said. Tiscali is instead demanding help from the BBC licence fee to cover the charges rather than slap a "BBC tax" on broadband subscriptions.

One possible solution, a distributed content delivery network, described here, is already under consideration at the BBC, but Highfield today said the BBC should not be expected to pay for distribution. "I don't think that's what the BBC is funded to do," he protested.

"It may be putting extra strain on the network but it would be a bit odd for the BBC to fund such an upgrade."

You can listen to a Radio 4 Today piece on the escalating hostilities by following this link. ®

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