Online TV blamed for choking broadband networks

Online TV blamed for choking broadband networks

Summary: The huge increase in bandwidth-heavy online TV downloads by UK broadband users is causing rifts over who should pay for upgrades to gridlocked networks

TOPICS: Networking

The massive increase in bandwidth-heavy online TV and video content being downloaded by UK broadband users has raised questions about whether current networks can cope and who should pay for any upgrades.

Specifically, the recent surge of interest in the BBC's iPlayer online, on-demand TV service raised this issue following a massive 3.5 million programmes being streamed or downloaded in the two weeks following its marketing launch alone.

And, as more of these bandwidth-heavy content services — such as the multi-broadcaster Kangaroo media player — are launched and more people use them, the result could potentially be gridlock on broadband networks as bandwidth is used up.

But, if this is going to be a bandwidth problem, does the responsibility to fund network upgrades to cope with it lie with the internet service providers (ISPs) or the content providers?

Tiscali, which also owns Pipex, has been the most vocal ISP on this subject and has stated in the past it believes content providers such as the BBC should foot the bill for upgrading networks to cope with the content they're now churning out.

Tiscali claims that both the streaming and download versions of the BBC's iPlayer can create problems on its network.

Last August, a Tiscali spokeswoman told "We don't believe that the potential for it to cause congestion is being properly recognised and acknowledged."

Tiscali employs traffic shaping on its network, with bandwidth for large packets of data restricted at peak times to ensure every customer has a similar service.

This means services such as iPlayer or Channel 4's 4oD can be slowed, but not interrupted, as available bandwidth is reduced.

Despite its comments, Tiscali says it would not target iPlayer content specifically for traffic shaping — possibly as it can't distinguish iPlayer content from other BBC traffic — but the issue is something the company is concerned about.

Speaking to this week, a Tiscali spokeswoman said: "If the content providers don't come to the table on this, the cost will be solely on the end user. It is an issue and we want to talk about it."

If the content providers don't come to the table on this, the cost will be solely on the end user. It is an issue and we want to talk about it


The spokeswoman added: "My hope for this year is there will be some sort of cross-industry consultation on this."

Industry regulator Ofcom is also aware of the potential conflict that is looming and told that broadband traffic prioritisation is likely to be necessary in the near future as different kinds of traffic, such as voice, video and data, continue to proliferate.

However, Ofcom also said it isn't aware of there being any bandwidth reductions as a result of iPlayer, although it is "keeping an eye on developments".

Ofcom suggested the next generation of broadband networks may require new types of business model or commercial relationship to fund them.

This could see content providers paying for the delivery of services, as well as customers paying to receive them, much like the way retailers and customers pay to use credit-card services.

But the other major UK ISPs are less concerned with this issue than Tiscali.

BT told that the full launch of iPlayer hasn't had any impact on the service its customers receive.

On whether content producers should fund the upgrading of networks, the company said it's "assessing all options to meet the demands of its customers".

Although BT wouldn't say whether it employs traffic shaping, the telco said it manages its network to "ensure the best experience for its broadband customers".

Virgin Media also told it has received no reports of reduced bandwidth due to iPlayer usage.

The company said it will soon launch iPlayer via its TV service, which is separate from its broadband, and it is unlikely that additional uptake will have much impact on its broadband service.

Virgin Media added that download services such as iPlayer are a sign of increasing demand for higher bandwidth speeds and said it will continue to improve its network to cope.

But the company did admit it employs traffic shaping at certain times to ensure heavy users don't disrupt the service of other users.

Orange declined to comment.

For its part, the BBC told that, although its content puts demand into the networks, the solution is not to "throttle demand and, by doing so, create a digital divide".

A BBC statement said: "This is not just an issue for the BBC but for all broadcasters and for all content producers."

The BBC claims it's in the interests of the UK economy for all parties to work together to make sure the country is in the "vanguard of next-generation broadband nations".

At the moment Tiscali is pretty much alone among ISPs in publicly suggesting content providers, such as the BBC, should stump up to fund broadband network upgrades.

But, with Ofcom saying content-provider business models may need to change in the future, there is the very real possibility that the BBC and others may one day have to put their hands in their pockets if home internet users are to continue enjoying shows such as Top Gear online.

Topic: Networking

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  • Who's Responsible

    A Hypothetical question? If I do not have a TV or any means of recieving a TV signal and say for instance I watch something via iplayer, do I leagally require a TV licence? I think the answer to that is a big yes. Therefore the content provider is in effect charging me to watch the content. So it follows that the content provider is making money from my broadband use and therefore should pay towards the upgrade of the infrastructure and this should hold true for any content provider that makes money out of the system either from fees or advertising
    Why should it always come down to the ISP's to pay to solve the problem.
    A word of warning to those using these services, check your bandwidth limits and fair use policies of your ISP as these services as you can see use a lot of bandwidth and if you have capped limits it can soon bee used up.
  • You what?

    Sorry but that's complete garbage.
    What is Tiscali whingeing about? iPlayer and 4OD can't use much more than 15-20k/s. I can get 850k/s on my 8mb Sky broadband (IPStream not LLU), so around 50 people would be able to watch different content on my connection alone!
    They should stop being childish and either pressurise BT to give them more bandwidth for the same money or raise their prices for users of these "high bandwidth" services (who admittedly may then choose a proper ISP that doesn't bitch as much).

    If there genuinely is a bandwidth problem then the cause lies squarely with BT who as the major backbone provider have failed to keep up with demand.
    According to last years ITIF study, Britain comes ninth out of the 16 countries studied with an average speed of 2.4mbps.
    That's lower than Poland and Slovakia.

    A decade and a half of no investment in the infrastructure will do that but hey, at least the shareholders are happy.
    They are finally having to bite the bullet and upgrade to the 21cn but it is actually more like a 20th century network. Some countries already have 100mb fibre to the customers' door..

    And sure, we pay the license fee, but this is added value. The BBC are buying new equipment and leasing more bandwidth to deliver the content from their end, why should they then pay the ISP's to deliver it? That's like Jiffy paying the post office extra to deliver their bags because they don't fit in the letter box and the postie has to knock the door to give it to you. Get a grip.
  • No Tiscali, its your responsibility

    This is a bit like the bus driver asking McDonald's to contribute towards fuel costs simply because the food they sell makes the passengers fat!

    The argument that somehow content providers should pay networks is a risk to the internet as we know it; services like BBC iPlayer, Youtube couldn't afford to pay for the sort of bandwidth they require. instead, such a move would lead to either charging the viewer or in the case of BBC iPlayer, cut-backs or closure of the service.

    Tiscali charges people between
  • Users wanting to use the bandwidth they pay for blamed for choking...

    I suspect this really is fairly straightforwards. Some ISP's base their service provision on a gamble; that they can sell customers a service that they are unlikely to ever make maximum use of. To ramp up their profits, they gamble that in fact they will never need to deliver on their promise. Promises like 'up to' 8Mb and 'unlimited usage - fair usage policy applies'. Guess what... it doesn't work like that. Simple supply and demand proves again and again that if people are provided with a service, they will eventually use it and ultimately want more (of a good thing).

    While I'm no fan of P2P and certainly no fan of Kontiki based applications, content providers like the BBC and C4 are responding to the demands of their audiences, who shout that they want new services and new ways to receive content. IPTv is something I've waited for, for a long time, like many others. The current level of provision is a drop in the ocean compared to what I look forwards to. It's one of the many reasons I purchased a fast connection.

    Like most people, I expect that my ISP lives up to and is able to deliver on the promises made. That's the contract between us. My ISP expects that I don't abuse the service, don't use it for commercial or unlawful purposes. In return I expect my ISP to deliver the bandwidth I pay for, consistently and without limitation on data volume - just as the contract stipulates. If an ISP has chosen to gamble that I won't actually seek to use the services I pay for, then that is a grave error.

    The BBC (ultimately the licencepayer) pays for it's data connection at it's end, while I pay for mine on my end of the line. Don't expect to charge two customers for a data transmission service and then complain when they use it, that's just plain rude.

    ISP's - if you're subscribing to the gamble model, take heed, time's up. Time to invest in actually providing the capacity you're selling. The time is now.