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BBC should not pay for fibre, Ofcom tells MPs

Never really an option

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The dog and pony show over whether the BBC should contribute to distribution costs for iPlayer rolled into Westminster yesterday, with Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards telling MPs he doesn't believe forcing Auntie to cough up for a fibre network is the best plan.

Appearing before a joint session of the Commons culture and business select committees, Richards was asked whether content providers should contribute to the cost of upgrading the national broadband infrastructure.

He said: "It is not necessarily the only way it can happen and it is not necessarily the way we would anticipate it will happen. I am not convinced myself that the right answer to that is to get the BBC to pay for the iPlayer."

Richards was on safe ground. Few in the ISP business would suggest that the BBC and other content providers should pay for a next generation infrastructure while BT sits on its hands, waiting for Ofcom to allow it to raise wholesale prices and ditch the universal service obligation.

The committee session skipped the more fraught row between Tiscali and departing BBC tech chief Ashley Highfield. The ISP's beef was that the iPlayer is hammering its business model on the existing copper wire infrastructure, not a call for BBC investment in a next generation network.

In reality of course, the BBC and ISPs are already working together to ensure quality of service for iPlayer over the current network, which necessarily requires resources from both sides. Auntie's techies are actively exploring building a content delivery network, and direct peering with big providers such as Virgin Media to avoid the public internet altogether.

Meanwhile, public philosophical posturing over "net neutrality" conceals the fundamental problem with current ISP business models: they're selling bandwidth that doesn't exist. ®

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