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Virgin Media Say Broadband Competition to Stave off UK Net Neutrality Battle

Friday, June 22nd, 2012 (7:47 am) - Score 609

The Executive Director of broadband at cable operator Virgin Media, Jon James, has suggested that the chances of a Net Neutrality (the principal of treating all internet traffic as equal) battle between access and content providers happening in the UK will remain remote so long as “intense competition” exists between ISPs.

The comments, which surfaced during James’s speech to the Future of Entertainment Summit 2012 and have been picked up by Recombu, echo the soft approach to regulation favoured by the European Commission (EC).

Last month the EC’s Vice President, Neelie Kroes, suggested that consumers should “vote with their feet” and switch ISP if they don’t like the service because the EC would not impose regulation that could “force each and every operator to provide full Internet” (summary of the new EC Net Neutrality proposals).

Jon James, Virgin’s Executive Director of Broadband, 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.”

Some ISPs, such as BT and TalkTalk, have long wanted to charge content providers (e.g. Facebook, Skype, iPlayer etc.) for the privilege of being allowed to send information over their related broadband networks (example).

However content providers already pay for their bandwidth and many could struggle to survive if they were suddenly forced to pay an Internet Tax. More than a few critics blame ISPs for the situation, many of which have kept their prices extremely low in the face of aggressive market competition. Crucially not all ISPs do this, which helps competition and keeps providers in check.

BT’s Commercial Director of TV, Alex Green, said at the same event, “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.” But Green also warned that “some types of traffic can have a disproportionate effect” and added that the best solution was to keep consumers informed about what they could and couldn’t do on a service.

Meanwhile the European Telecommunications Network Operators Association (ETNO) are attempting to have a new ITR rule introduced that could make it difficult for consumer groups and politicians to oppose the introduction of tougher restrictions by ISPs against content providers (here). This is likely to be debated on several separate occasions throughout the year.

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7 Responses
  1. Avatar Sledgehammer says:

    I notice there is NO mention of the business customers ( who pay considerable more for their internet connection).

    So what’s stopping all the ISP’s putting their prices UP too reflect the increase in bandwidth/usage. In other words the customer now will pay for what he/she uses.

    This will REMOVE the need for new rules and tougher restrictions against content providers. Come on get in the real world you get what you pay for, thinking about what ISP’s have done to attract customers over many years with cheap offers it’s time everybody woke up to the fact that the internet is going to cost us all more in the near future. Recent line rental increases for one.

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Competition. In an ideal world there would be a far greater balance towards quality but in this country we seem to be quite price orientated. Many of us want and demand quality, yet often end up paying a pittance by choosing one of the lower cost providers.

      Commercial ISPs have to compete within this dynamic and, with the exception of some like Virgin Media perhaps, most of the biggest often turn out to be some of the cheapest.

      So ironically competition is what staves off a Net Neutrality battle but also helps to cause the problem itself.

  2. Avatar Deduction says:

    quote”BT’s Commercial Director of TV, Alex Green, said at the same event, “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.”

    LIAR nowhere does BT tell the consumer by how much they throttle traffic (IE how slow).

    LIAR nowhere does BT tell you the hours of the day this happens, instead they say “peak” hours and use the word “typical” to describe the times, then mention during “busy periods” they throttle.

    OPEN about limits… Pffft dont make me laugh i could name several whic are more open and precise about limitations.

  3. Avatar DTMark says:

    The guy makes a very good point.

    If BT is the sole distributor of fixed line broadband in half the country…

    .. and those who offer backhaul, like BE, decide to exit the market at any stage..

    .. we could potentially be left with a scenario where there are, in effect, two ISPs – Virgin cable and BT Wholesale.

    That’s very, very dangerous for free speech and a strong argument in favour of multiple providers, technologies and conduits down to the street level/actual point of delivery.

    While I don’t see how it would be possible, currently, for BT to block BE users from accessing certain sites, a piece of kit placed in the circuit between BT and BE would presumably kill that traffic before it routes over to BE.

    Governments of the future will be very keen to ensure that such kit exists and so the reliance on one single tech to deliver the service means that while it might seem laughable now that such heavy-handed blocks might be put in place the key is that with “single conduits” there’s always somewhere the block can go; technically, it’s not impossible as it ought to be.

  4. Avatar Telecom Engineer says:

    IMO access to sites should only be blocked for nation security, court orders or child protection – with strict guidance on what constitutes each to ensure we don’t feature creep into blocking things like 18 rated movies to “protect the kids”.
    However, ISPs should have a right on how to manage traffic on their networks – why should the network grind to a halt (or an isp pay an extra 3K an month in backhaul) just because I decide to torrent every episode of babylon 5 etc?
    IMO Charging providers for greater access / speed is a dud, and anti competitive, unless isps wish to give broadband away for free it wont stick – however an ISP allocating bandwidth for assured services (bt vision – sky for their go etc) is fine as it can ensure quality of service for subscribed products. The use of broadcast networks (such as bt multicasting) – where tv doesnt touch back-haul should help relieve stress from the core data network and should be an unregulated space for ISPs / wholesalers (in return for them not ruining the internet experience).

    1. Avatar DTMark says:

      I can answer your rhetorical question:

      “why should the network grind to a halt (or an isp pay an extra 3K an month in backhaul) just because I decide to torrent every episode of babylon 5 etc?”

      Because you have unlimited broadband, so you can do what you like. That’s what you were sold. The ISP told you it was OK, as that they have unlimited capacity and bandwidth. They must have in order to pass on the unlimited offer, right?

      Ths ISPs are their own worst enemies. But sadly the broadband game is far more about numbers and volumes than quality and we’re still not seeing absolute consumer protection which enables the customer to exit long contracts when performance goes downhill or traffic shaping rules change which would discourage this type of overselling.

    2. Avatar Deduction says:

      I pretty much agree with all that Telecom Engineer (rare we agree) the only thing i would add is ANY ISP that tinkers with traffic should BY LAW be made to be very clear to the customer EXACTLY what they are doing to traffic.

      Its all well and good prioritising certain traffic, and them blowing their trumpet about that, its a pity so many (not just BT) are not so open and honest about how BADLY they cripple other traffic.

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