opinion


One in the eye for net neutrality?

Virgin Media’s decision to become the first ISP to partner with the BBC and launch iPlayer on its own platform this week came as something of a surprise, given the kicking the controversial media player has got in the ISP community recently.

We’ve heard all the reports of ISPs wringing their hands over the potential explosion in traffic that iPlayer will generate, and that’s not just on the downstream, as one of the service’s options is to allow peer to peer downloading which will nobble the end user’s upstream capacity as well. Suddenly all those ‘unlimited’ traffic promises start to pose a very real problem for a country where the network infrastructure lagging behind that of its European peers in terms of capability.

Then again, Virgin is the one UK ISP striving to pull ahead of the pack in terms of capacity. While the rollout of BT’s 21CN is holding everyone else back, Virgin is promising upgrades to a more competitive 50Mbps. And more importantly it should not escape our attention that Virgin Media chief exec Neil Berkett, recently referred to the concept of net neutrality as “a load of bollocks” and said that anyone who didn’t pay Virgin a premium would have their content stuck in the slower internet “bus lane”.

Brits understand the concept of a bus lane somewhat differently but the point is clear, and it seems the Beeb has struck a deal along those lines, made more interesting by the fact that Virgin will eventually make the service available via the EPG on its own set top box.

As Ovum analyst Michael Philpott points out, it’s a move that makes sense with time shifting becoming one of the fastest growing new TV applications. “More importantly for pay-TV operators, is that studies have shown that greater use of time shifting content leads to a greater demand for paid for on-demand services,” he said.

“By mixing traditional TV and ‘Internet TV’ services and applications together, TV operators stand a better chance of keeping customers interested in their service offering. Ovum therefore expects to see a lot more of this type of partnership in the future,” Philpott said.


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