ISPreview - PlusNet Interview
PlusNet Interview
By: Mark Jackson - Nov 19th 2007 : Page 1 -of- 2
"Unless broadband services are sold with a clear usage allowance ISPs are going to get bitten hard when VOD takes off"

Most would probably agree that PlusNet - first established in 1997, has had a pretty rough couple of years with service problems, missing e-mail sagas and BT’s recent acquisition keeping them on their toes. However despite a few slip ups the ISP now appears to be back on the road to recovery and in a good position to comment on some of the markets most recent developments:

1. Who are you and what do you do?

Neil Laycock, PlusNet CEO since August 2007. I was acting-CEO from March 2007 and prior to that held roles across PlusNet including commercial manager, development director, networks director and operations director with responsibility for customer service, network and development. Before joining PlusNet, I held business manager and sales manager positions in BT working with ISPs on SurfPort and the development of broadband.

2. Ofcom’s new broadband migration rules (GC22), which make it easier for consumers to switch ISP’s, were introduced earlier in the year; though they still fall short when it comes to unbundled (LLU) line support. Has their introduction impacted your ISP and in what areas could it still be improved?

I think the new rules are great for customers and help them see which ISPs are offering good service. We’ve only had to make minor amendments to our processes to ensure that customers always receive a MAC key within 5 days. Obviously if a customer wants to leave we’re keen to find out why. We always aim to resolve problems so that customers will want to stay with us, for our good value products and excellent service levels. I’d like to see league tables published so it’s transparent which ISPs are failing to issue the MAC keys within 5 days.

3. Several major ISP’s have expressed concern about the BBC’s new free Video-on-Demand (VoD) iPlayer Internet TV (IPTV) service, primarily pointing towards its P2P based impact upon their networks.

Tiscali even went so far as to suggest that content providers should contribute to Internet providers, thus helping them to manage the impact. Others ISP’s fear that prices may have to rise, what are your thoughts on the subject?

Innovation and new applications are what make the internet so exciting! ISPs have to constantly adapt to stay ahead of trends like IPTV and fight to keep customers happy. We’ve discussed the impact of the BBC iPlayer and similar applications at length on our Community site (here) and looked at how it will impact the broadband network. A sustainable product design is critical, we’ve long said that ‘unlimited’ is a lie. A really important issue here is that customers understand VOD and IPTV – customers need to have clear usage displays and information. Unless broadband services are sold with a clear usage allowance ISPs are going to get bitten hard when VOD takes off in the same way that social networking sites have done, as it will drive massive bandwidth usage increases. This may prove difficult for providers who do not make these things clear to customers or who have hidden FUPs.

We have tested the iPlayer extensively on our network and are extremely confident that its increasing popularity won’t affect performance for our other customers due to our advanced traffic management systems.

4. Fibre (FTTx) broadband technology has been a popular talking point of 2007, with many claiming that the UK risks falling behind other countries unless we replace our ageing copper wire based networks to keep up with global competition and bandwidth requirements.

BT has naturally expressed concern over the cost and is continuing its focus on existing infrastructure up to ADSL2+, though they do have some limited fibre trials. What do you think should happen?

Of course we’d love to be providing faster services to customers which can support multiple HD-IPTV streams along with super-fast downloads all at the same time. But I’m also pragmatic about the costs involved. BT has invested billions in upgrading its current network and is obviously forging forward with its 21st Century Network plans. While average consumer pricing is now at the £10-15 level and decreasing, and average bandwidth usage is increasing, it’s very difficult to see where the billions required for a fibre upgrade would come from. Even if the cash was instantly available, you’d be looking at years to replace copper with fibre.

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