Will the internet become strangled as a result of bandwidth demands?

Opinion by Dan Raywood

An article in the Telegraph last week claimed that media companies had raised concerns about the issue of net neutrality with regards to internet traffic being treated the same by internet service providers.

An article in the Telegraph last week claimed that media companies had raised concerns about the issue of net neutrality with regards to internet traffic being treated the same by internet service providers.

It said that the communications regulator Ofcom is to scrutinise the way in which video and other bandwidth-hungry services are managed on the internet. Ed Richards, chief executive of Ofcom, said that several media companies had raised concerns about the issue of net neutrality in the last few months.

He 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 deployment of traffic management techniques and policies is now happening in scale.”

Last year, the BBC accused BT of ‘throttling' download speeds for its iPlayer service, while BT said that content providers should not expect a ‘free ride'.

I asked Jim Black, chief marketing officer at Bloxx, whether he thought it was right that the internet be divided equally, or should there be a process of switching broadband traffic to allow for major events – such as sporting events or the inauguration of Barack Obama?

Black, who has a background in telecoms, said: “The reality is that the internet infrastructure is under strain and certainly in the UK the current infrastructure is woefully inadequate compared to other countries, such as France.

“This is likely to get much worse over the next few years, for example the BBC is already streaming live TV broadcasts over the internet as a beta trial. The real challenge is how this additional investment in infrastructure is funded, and if the ISPs and core network providers will be able to increase costs to end-users and content providers to cover this investment.

“With digital inclusion high on the government's agenda, it is unlikely there is much of an appetite to support any increase in broadband costs. The BBC and other content providers clearly don't want to have to pay the network providers to carry their content either.”

He believed that in the long term it will take government and regulatory intervention to look at how net neutrality is maintained and infrastructure build out continues. In the short term he said that there will be ongoing battles between the ISPs, the core network providers and the content providers, with the providers having the upper hand through their ability to shape and prioritise traffic.

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