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Ofcom wades into UK 'Net Neutrality' row

BBC tech boss says web is 'primary outlet for future Beeb content'. What's that now?

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Ofcom has reportedly warned broadband providers that it plans to probe how they manage their web traffic and give “preferential” treatment to some media owners.

The communications watchdog said yesterday it would launch a consultation into ‘Net Neutrality’ concerns raised in the past few months, reports the Financial Times.

Ofcom boss Ed Richards, who was speaking last night at the newspaper’s ‘Digital Media and Broadcasting conference’, said: “It has been a big issue for historic reasons for many years in the US. It is now beginning to be an issue here.”

The regulator will publish its preliminary plans “later in the spring” and Richards said that the proposed rollout of faster broadband in the UK needed to be more clearly thought out.

“Traffic management policies need to be very clearly explained and very transparent,” he said.

As part of its ‘Digital Britain’ strategy, the current government pledged last year that 90 per cent would be connected to so-called "superfast" services by 2017, however it didn’t define what sort of speed that term was referring to.

The Ofcom chief said the watchdog hoped to avoid the “highly interventionist” method adopted by the US over net neutrality.

He said that the UK broadband market had more room for competition compared with its American counterparts. Nonetheless, ISPs will soon be required to provide more clarity over how they apply policies to their web traffic, said Richards.

“The internet has developed successfully over the last decade with light-touch regulation and competition,” BT told the conference, according to the FT.

“It is important that Ofcom’s consideration of the net neutrality debate bears this in mind.”

Last year the BBC accused BT of “throttling download speeds” and thereby affecting viewing quality of its iPlayer service. BT hit back by saying the likes of the Beeb shouldn’t expect a “free ride” over its network.

Meanwhile, BBC tech boss Erik Huggers expressed an interesting opinion about Auntie's output at the conference last night, that seemed to fly in the face of director-general Mark Thompson's party line.

He said the internet would become “the primary outlet for all BBC content and services in the future”, according to the FT report.

“It is not a world without gatekeepers and access to content and information can be controlled,” said Huggers.

“It is essential that those who have the means to do this are properly regulated to ensure that consumers continue to benefit from content and services, and innovation on the web.”

All of which makes for interesting reading given the events of the past few days, when the Corporation confirmed that - subject to BBC Trust consultation - it would effectively halve its internet output by axeing 50 per cent of its websites by 2012 and cutting the Beeb’s online budget by a quarter by 2013. ®

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