...do managed services [for web companies]; we might," he said. "We might decide the BBC's content is so valuable that we offer them a lower managed services price than we offer other providers. We should have the freedom to strike our own deals."
With regards to why TalkTalk does not already discriminate between web content providers according to how much they are willing to pay, Heaney said some providers "might turn round and say they're not paying and might withdraw their service, and our customers might not like it and might leave us".
Heaney considered how the system might work with YouView, the web-connected on-demand TV platform that includes both TalkTalk and the BBC as consortium members. "To make sure the customer gets a good experience, they will get a better service with a managed service than a best-effort service. They might pay for it. We may say to them, 'Here's a great TV service, but if you want it looking good, whatever, three quid extra per month'," he said.
Heaney acknowledged that this approach might stop new web companies springing up, as they would be unable to pay to match rivals' quality of service. "They can either go down the best-efforts pipe or knock on our door," Heaney said. "If they want to buy something from us and don't want to pay for it, I don't see why we should [give it to them]."
When it was pointed out that start-ups do not have to pay for such quality of service now, Heaney responded: "The world changes."
Simon Milner, Heaney's counterpart at BT, was also open to the idea of charging content providers for higher quality of service. "We don't do it at the moment, but we absolutely could see situations where some content or application providers might want to pay BT for a quality of sevrice above best efforts," he said.
"That's the kind of thing we'd have to explain in our traffic-management policies and if somebody decided they don't want to have that kind of service, they'd be free to go elsewhere. We are certainly open to offers on that basis and we think, in a competitive market, that should be free to develop," Milner said.
Alissa Cooper, the chief computer scientist for the US Center for Democracy and Technology, also spoke at the eForum. "The virtue of [the internet's] application agnosticism is that innovators can know with some degree of certainty how their applications are going to perform on the network," she said. "That particular characteristic has been really crucial to the amazing landscape of internet applications and services that we all enjoy today."