New BT service threatens open Web

British telco's latest service will allow ISPs to charge firms premium rates for high-speed delivery of Web content such as videos, reports note, raising the specter of an impending "two-tier Internet".

British Telecom (BT) has unveiled a new service that allows Internet service providers (ISPs) to charge content companies a premium for faster, higher-quality delivery of videos via the Web, according to reports. The telco denied that it is providing tools to create a "two-tier Internet", though critics say otherwise.

A Financial Times report raised concerns over Content Connect, describing the service as a "tool" for creating a two-tier Internet and going against the principle of Net neutrality.

BT, however, has rebutted the claim. The British telco said the new offering will "simply offer ISPs the option of differentiating their broadband offering through enhanced content delivery", news wire Reuters reported Tuesday.

"BT supports the concept of Net neutrality but believes that service providers should also be free to strike commercial deals should content owners want a higher quality or assured service delivery," the company said in a statement.

Content Connect is designed to enable ISPs to deliver video content within the United Kingdom to customers more cost effectively than has been possible previously, according to the company's Web site. This is achieved by "connecting a content distribution and delivery platform to the broadband network so that content bypasses the ISPs backhaul", BT stated.

Other critics have also voiced out against the service. An Internet freedom advocate told the BBC that Content Connect will reduce market competition and hinder investment in Internet businesses.

Jim Killock, executive director of Net freedom campaign organization Open Rights Group, said Content Connect will lead to a "sea change" in the way ISPs deliver content. ISPs that sign up with BT for this service, he explained, are signaling to consumers that they would rather deliver content through their own networks than deliver "whatever content is on the Internet".

As a result, there could be a fundamental shift from consumers choosing what video and gaming services they buy on the Internet to "buying services from the Internet [through] bundled services from ISPs", Killock pointed out.

The BBC report also noted that large content providers such as YouTube would have a competitive advantage over smaller players in the market due to the former's financial clout with the introduction of services such as BT's Content Connect.

When contacted, BT told ZDNet Asia that the new service will be limited to the U.K. market. It could not comment on whether such tiered pricing plans to ISPs will catch on with other telecom service providers, though.

Web regulations differ
Net neutrality has been in the spotlight recently, with United States regulators recently voting in favor of rules that are designed to uphold the tenets of keeping the Web open to all. The European Union, too, has openly backed network neutrality, but chose to introduce regulation that allows network providers to manage traffic on their networks provided their operations are transparent.

Over in the U.K., the government had earlier taken the position of light regulation, with competition between ISPs ensuring future openness, according to a report last November. Communications Minister Ed Vaizey said then that a "lightly regulated Internet is good for business, good for the economy and good for the people".

The BBC also pointed out that Vaizey supports a two-tier Internet environment. In its report, the minister was quoted saying that ISPs had to be free to experiment with new charges to help pay for the expansion in Web services and infrastructure.

"This could include the evolution of a two-sided market, where consumers and content providers could choose to pay for differing levels of quality of service," he said.


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