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British Telecomm and Cisco's Network Neutrality Fix

British Telecomm and Cisco think they have a new way to get around Network Neutrality: Start a new country wide network just for video.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

British Telecomm and Cisco are quietly putting their own answer to Network Neutrality in place: Set up an entirely separate national wide network, Content Connect This will be used to deliver the BBC's forthcoming Internet video and Video on Demand (VoD) service Project Canvas to users.

Project Canvas will be a set of video and radio services provided by partnership of Arqiva, the BBC, BT, C4, Channel Five, ITV, and TalkTalk to build an open Internet-connected TV platform. It will offer streaming TV and radio through a set-top box hooked up to UK users' broadband connection. It will also offer DVR-style pause, rewind and record options. Think of it as a UK combination of Hulu, and the Roku Internet video player and you won't be far off.

For the most part, United Kingdom video watchers will also get it the same way Americans get Hulu: via their ISP. British Telecomm and Cisco, though, plan to side-step the Internet though with Content Connect. This will use Cisco's Content Delivery System to transmit video, other content directly to your computer, TV or mobile device, and bypass both the public Internet and ISPs.

Of course, BT and Cisco, no fools they, will be happy to have ISPs join them in creating their alternative Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) network. Neither company is proposing the Content Connect as an Internet alternative. They don't want to get caught up in Network Neutrality fights. Of course, that's exactly what they're doing though. Instead of trying to divide up the network neutral wired Internet and the multiple-price wireless Internet tiers that got Google and Verizon into so much Network Neutrality hot-water, BT and Cisco are proposing that its high-quality IPTV-only Content Connect isn't the same thing as a two-tiered Internet. Good luck with that.

Even before Content Connect showed up, other UK commercial TV providers such as Sky and Virgin Media were objecting to Project Canvas. I also wonder just how 'delighted' TalkTalk, which is also in the ISP business, is going to feel towards the BT and Cisco plan.

When it comes to Network Neutrality, people are passionate about it. Some hate it. Some love it. And, everyone seems to like to argue about it. Andy Oram, an editor for O'Reilly Media, put it best, we fight about it because "Behind the principles on both sides lie three sets of fears that lend network neutrality its force--fears over competition, censorship and creativity. In other words, debate is raging simultaneously on three different levels that sometimes get mixed up."

Try as they might, I don't see Cisco and BT avoiding these debates. The Network Neutrality fights are now going to re-ignite in the UK just as they already have in the US. Eventually, though, we're going to have to resolve our fears and decide how to handle a world where there's more and more rich content and not enough Internet bandwidth to deliver it to users. I don't see it happening anytime soon though in the US, the UK, or anywhere else for that matter.

We're in for interesting times. Lucky us.

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