BBC iPlayer upgrade prompts new ISP complaints
High definition network freezes out the little guy
The BBC is facing more criticism that the way it delivers iPlayer traffic will make it harder for smaller ISPs to survive.
The latest squeeze is a result of Auntie's decision to eschew its current content delivery network provider Akamai in favour of Level3. Content delivery networks are used to improve access to highly trafficked web media, especially video.
They work by caching content in servers distributed across networks. ISPs like them too because they reduce upstream bandwidth costs. If an episode of, say, Eastenders, is stored nearer to consumers by the content delivery network, then the consumer's broadband provider saves money by grabbing it from there rather than the public internet.
But the problem for independent ISPs is that the BBC's new content delivery provider has a rather sizeist peering policy.
Akamai makes its money from charging media companies for caching. It allows all ISPs to connect to its many small networks for free. Level3 however, as a tier one carrier, has grander ideas. It owns various big pipes and backbone infrastructure. And for it to be worth Level3's while peering with you as an ISP, you have to be big and carry lots of traffic.
The BBC's Anthony Rose, head of digital media technology, dropped news of the change of provider in a blog post last week. Writing about a forthcoming iPlayer codec upgrade to H.264 and higher definition, Rose said online viewers who have the latest version of Flash will soon be able to click an option to retrieve higher quality video via Level3.
It means that for their customers to access the new iPlayer streams, small and medium-sized ISPs will have to pay a transit carrier that peers directly with Level3. Whereas increased bandwith from a direct peer won't cost any more, the transit carriers typically sell this bandwidth in gigabit chunks, so the little guys are expecting the BBC's new content delivery policy to hurt.
For lower volume companies generally operating on thin margins, it's a major blow. The BTs and Skys of the internet won't notice.
Well-regarded independent Zen released a statement in response to the BBC's iPlayer changes, first reported by Thinkbroadband: "Zen Internet is expecting the decision to increase its costs economically; all but a select few large networks must pay Level3 to receive traffic originated within their network."
Zen argued that Akamai is a better choice for the viewer, too. "The previous solution using Akamai placed content on a number of small networks which are sited close to end-users, and to which access is freely given. This removes the reliance on a single network, improving robustness," it said.
So what's behind Auntie's switch of allegiance? Speaking to The Register, Anthony Rose said the decision to go with Level3 had not been designed to shift BBC costs onto ISP balance sheets. "We have been consulting with major ISPs on our H.264 deployment," he said. "The fact is that some content delivery networks aren't able to support H.264 currently."
Rose said the BBC would welcome more information from small ISPs on how the change will affect them. "We want to understand what [their] problems are", he said. "It's hard for us to engineer a system that enables some ISPs to get content one way and others to get it another."
As we reported earlier this year, the BBC is investigating building its own content delivery network in partnership with third party vendors. Rose said the aim of any rollout will be a system that best serves viewers ISPs and the BBC.
The Level3 contract isn't the first time iPlayer has prompted arm waving from ISPs. Earlier this year Tiscali, one of the million-plus big league providers, cheekily suggested it should get a cut of the licence fee for carrying burgeoning BBC streaming traffic. That debate quickly degenerated to public grandstanding with one Tiscali executive telling the Today Programme he didn't like civil servants doling out business advice. Erstwhile BBC tech supremo Ashley Highfield responded by threatening ISP blacklist if iPlayer bandwidth was restricted.
As many Reg readers frequently attest, the UK's smaller ISPs generally offer much better customer and network service than the giants. So here's hoping the impact of the iPlayer upgrade will be minimised swiftly. ®
Don't make me laugh. Zen from what I can see have been very bold in making this statement as it will impact end users of all ISP's at the end of the day. The BBC are quite clearly working with the big providers and muscling their way into a lucrative area that those big players will ultimately exploit to the customers cost.
Just look at some of the recent changes in internet services that are all being done in the name of safety, security, the customers benefit.
1. A new code of practice - developed by the big 6 ISP's and Ofcom (Why only those big players initially?)
2. Phorm - Big 6 (Them again) ISP's working to give you a better browsing experience with ads that "You" will want.
3. Voluntary three strikes - Big 6 (Big who?) ISP's and Government and the BPi working together to get a big slice of the music download pie by encouraging their users to not download music files. (Sky, Virgin etc now offering music downloads, I wonder why?).
I don’t think Zen being the most expensive makes the slightest bit of difference as they will always attract customers who want little downtime, a good reliable service, UK call centres (As you put it) and a package that delivers just what it says it will. Rather than that killing them off surely it's going to continue to be their saviour.
Think about it - Most if not all of the other ISP's today traffic shape you, offer you lots but deliver very little when you look a little closer including poor service, offshore in many cases, they also usually tell you what you can and can't do with your connection and at what times of day or night and throttle you if you don't adhere to it. These very same ISP's all have one thing in common - very little room to manoeuvre other than raise prices or give you an even poorer internet service and belive me when I say one or the other will happen if you want all for nothing Internet services to continue.
Something or someone has to pay for it. And guess who that is going to be? Penny dropping now is it!
Rather than seeing Zen and similar ISP’s like A&A, Newnet etc. Suffer, many bigger ISP’s would love to see the back of them because they represent what they themselves don’t and that is good solid internet services at a decent price or in other words “Value for money” properly planned and priced well enough to provide it without all the nonsense the majority appear to have no option but to use because they play the numbers game. Get as many users onto the network and worry later how to deal with them.
Bandwidth costs - Fact! Like it or not any one of us has to be very concerned at where that performance is going to come from and at what cost to us and you’d be very foolish to think it’s NOT going to cost YOU the Customer.
I'll thankfully continue to pay my ISP a premium for non traffic shaped connectivity, no downtime on my connection in over 6 years now and the reassurance that should I have to call them they will know what to do, will do it quickly and in a language that I can understand as a UK citizen.
Can you guess who my ISP is yet?
Clue - It isn't a big 6 ISP nor will it ever be.
Re MIke Smith
If you really wanted to get a true 8mb you'd be paying your ISP £60 a month for it assuming BT could provide it on their archaic copper backbone (Incidentally they can't).
You are not alone in your views and sadly typical of a large proportion of UK consumers in so much as you don't understand the technology, when it's clearly pointed out you choose to ignore it, want all for nothing and then moan about it when it doesn't happen.
If I was in a position to run my own ISP I'd do it properly and ban users like you from the start. That way all my customers would get the best experience with no hidden agenda's.
It's not all the consumers fault though because the bigger providers and some smaller ones have consistently hidden the real truth or manipulated it into a way that drags you in (Gullibility works well for these isp's) you take the bait, believe the claims and then suffer for 12 - 18 months in a contract that should wake you up to the fact that the tenner a month eat all you can ISP service was nothing like and actualy in real terms probably actually cost you around £40 a month.
Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?
Leaving the Beeb out of it, and Level 3 (PLEASE leave L3 out of it...), I don't like the sound of Zen mumbling about 'increased costs'.
They in particular could be in trouble here. Zen is currently one of the most expensive ISPs in the country, possibly the most expensive, with their decidedly tight bandwidth limits and high top up charges.
I don't believe they can increase their charges. So, what next? Even tighter bandwidth allowances? Reduction in their excellent English speaking support?
The first is effectively raising prices.
The second destroys one of their major advantages and places them on a level with the majority of ISPs who are far cheaper - effectively raising prices.
Sad to say, if this is going to be a real issue for Zen, I suspect their days are numbered.
Zen are, for most of us, teetering on the brink of being just too expensive anyway.
Time, I'm afraid, to search out the best alternative. This has happened to me about every 3-4 years. It seems to be a sort of 'life-cycle' with ISPs. Oh well, such is life.