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Virgin and BT: broadband competition preventing US-style net neutrality wars

Intense competition between UK broadband providers prevents them throttling popular video services like BBC iPlayer, Virgin and BT claim.

Netflix by Daniel Afanador/FlickrThe UK’s leading ISPs say there’s little danger of a US-style ‘net neutrality’ war between ISPs and content providers as long as there are lots of competing broadband providers.

Net neutrality is the principle of ISPs treating all internet traffic as equal, but in the USA several ISPs have started charging content providers like Netflix to get reliable speeds to consumers.

Representatives from Virgin Media and BT Retail told the Intellect Future of Entertainment Summit 2012 that they can’t afford to throttle popular services like BBC iPlayer or customers will change ISP.

Jon James, executive director of broadband at Virgin Media, said: “There’s extremely intense competition in the UK so as long as we make sure the customers know what will and won’t happen, the level of competition will determine what can happen.

“There is traffic shaping on Virgin’s network to ensure quality of experience at peak times. Other ISPs operate traffic shaping, they but call it not investing in their networks, so you have a line that averages 6Mbits.”

Sky’s broadband doesn’t have any peak time traffic management or shaping, while Virgin imposes daytime and evening download limits, while BT only throttles P2P traffic at peak times.

BT’s TV commercial and product director, Alex Green, said that broadband TV services like their own BT Vision are making it even more important not to control what customers do online.

“All consumers should have access to all legal content and services on the internet, and in terms of capping and traffic management we are very open with our customers about where the limits are.

“With the big screen it’s very important that we guarantee high quality HD or SD experience. We start from the principle that we want to promise a good experience to the consumers and content providers but some types of traffic can have a disproportionate effect, as long as we articulate both well.”

In Korea, ISP Korea Telecom has blocked traffic to Samsung’s smart TV sets in favour of its own broadband TV services. In the USA, Google and other online video providers are being shaken down by cable companies and ISPs who are charging to guarantee reliable bandwidth.

When iPlayer launched, several ISPs suggested the BBC should pay for the impact on their networks of an explosion in peak-time streaming video traffic, and the improvements they would have to put in place.

The latest upgrades to the iPlayer are designed to ease the load on ISP networks, as online video streaming continues to increase.

The BBC will also launch 24 HD video streams via Sky, Freesat, and Virgin for the Olympics, which Alix Pryde, the director of BBC Distribution, said will take pressure off broadband networks.

She added: “We have to look at how we work in partnership with networks about traffic and how we deal with it.”

Image: Daniel Afanador/Flickr