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back to article ISPs vs BBC iPlayer: Missing the point?

The last month has seen substantial media coverage of the latest row that has erupted between BT Retail and a number of content providers including the BBC. However, we think a fundamental issue is being missed. Instead of BT Retail focusing attention on the BBC et al to contribute to its increasing costs, it should instead be …

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Anonymous Coward

@caching...

... it's not the transit bandwidth that costs with ADSL (well, it obviously does, but it's peanuts). It's the BT Central/WBC bandwidth that costs - £150+/mbit (For a 622 Central it's £200/mbit from memory, on WBC I believe it's a bit less). Caching wouldn't reduce costs by any significant amount compared to a drop in the cost of BT Central/WBC backhaul/connectivity.

As for Enta, they have the right ideas it's just that anyone with "clue" has left when it comes to implementation - Although until this year the ADSL arm was fine and the only section of the business with any clue (although exclude ADSL billing from that). Now all depeartments seem to be as poor as each other (I recall Entacall disconnecting a line without notice - we only found out because Entanet mailed us about a DSL cease due to the line cease).

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Caching iplayer won't help

The BTW ADSL architecture means that ISPs pay a high tariff for all traffic that their customers

consume, even that which originates within the ISP's own network Caching, local CDN nodes, etc only reduce their transit costs and have no impact upon the "BT Central" pipe between the ISP and the BTW ADSL connections.

If the ISPs have got higher costs, then they need to start charging more to cover them.

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FAIL

The Snake has no head.

Its all well and good noting that BTW need to update their business model but having worked with BTW personally I can say without doubt this will never happen. BTW is ran by idiots who know as much about the industry as politicians know about telling the truth.

PS Thanks for the new icons :D

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Anonymous Coward

@Jaymeister

>> Everyone keeps harping on about how the problem is the "unlimited" packages. This isn't quite the case, as if everyone was limited, we'd still have the same problems. Why? Because everyone gets home from work in the same few hours of the day and goes online. It's not the quantity of data transferred overall, but the quantity within a certain few hours of the day. This is why ISP's, an example being virgin media, throttle connections during parts of the day and especially in the evening.

If that is the case, then surely the problem is the fact that (for the most part) iPlayer requires streaming or P2P. Personally, when I get home, I watch the shows that I have already downloaded during the day with get_iplayer (as I can login remotely and initiate the download from work if I choose to). Or perhaps I will download programs late at night, when it only takes about 5 or 10 minutes.

I agree the problem isn't unlimited connections, the problem is people expecting unlimited connections not suffer from congestion an the fact that there is no guarenteed minimum speed. If BT have to throttle their customers connections to 1 mbps when it is busy, so that their other customers can also achieve 1 mbps (and to avoid the extra delays caused by congestion), I have no problem with that. It is much the same temporary speed restrictions on the M25 when it starts getting business (except that it doesn't stay in place till 3am when there isn't another car in sight), they are just doing what it takes to get the bet throughput on their network - unless ofcourse they are be giving priorty to their own TV and VOIP packages.

The real problem, so far as I can see, is that we are still stuck (for the most part) with ADSL over copper. Road congestion is inevitable in the UK as it isn't really feasable to build more or faster roads (though we could something about the trains). However, we could easily have faster and better Internet connections. At some point they will have to bite the bullet and install fibre to the door, and it may as well be now (it should have been 5 or 10 years ago). Ofcourse then we would have problems on the backbone, but much of the high bandwidth from central providers like YouTube and iPlayer could be cached and a lot of peer to peer stuff need never reach the backbone.

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WTF?

BBC already paying - but not paying enough

With iPlayer, the Beeb is basically trying to build a video-on-demand service without providing a suitable or sustainable infrastructure. If the Beeb wants a reliable delivery mechanism for its services, it should either stick to broadcast RF technolgy, or put its hand in its pocket. I just hope that the licence fee is abolished before the latter occurs.

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Thumb Down

All this from Entanot?

It's highly entertaining that Entanet feel they are qualified to preach on the business model behind Broadband in the UK, given they've very successfully hosed their network service quality by allegedly investing in all the wrong things recently.

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long winded

What a long winded way to get your point across. But yes, BT are obviously thinking so short term that they will end up asking all websites to pay for their bandwidth by the end of the year.

Let the market decide the price and stop chasing the BBC for revenue.

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Anonymous Coward

Content

To whom would BT be selling broadband if there was no-one providing compelling content?

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@JonB

>Under your scheme, they would have the money to either expand the network or pay the directors a big bonus, which do you think they'll do?

Ah yes, appologies, I was momentarily blinded by an unexpected burst of faith in humanity. You are in fact right, they would just pay the directors bigger bonuses for being useless.

>A per byte charging scheme would actually result in less traffic because there would be an incentive to customers not to use it.

This is true, however every story I've heard of such schemes, the ISP's charge insane prices for it. Australia is a good example. They're paying silly money for their bandwidth (and now getting censored too! I'd hate to be them.)

>There is a tendency in Britain at the moment to regulate to make businesses do what they would do if there was a proper market. Fundamentally unnecessary regulation is a bad choice.

Of course, a proper market would be nice, but I don't forsee any method of actually getting that except by maybe doing something utterly crazy such as allocating some spectrum for a longer range cross-country wifi mesh network, completely sidestepping the need for wired infrastructure and allowing new, smaller ISP's to appear and offer a gateway from the mesh to the rest of the world that we subscribe to. This is of course, not without some serious technological challenges, and I am unsure if it is even something that could be sustained. Especially given the reduced bandwidth over such long range, building-penetrating links.

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Isn't lots of individual streams a stupid way to broadcast?

It would seem logically flawed to try and transmit the same programme down hundreds of streams all fighting for the same backbone pipe from a group of servers in one location, to a tree of clients.

What you need is a P2P file sharing network where one stream in and one out potentially fills the whole network, and your client streams from a close by host.

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@Anonymous Coward

>>If that is the case, then surely the problem is the fact that (for the most part) iPlayer requires streaming or P2P. Personally, when I get home, I watch the shows that I have already downloaded during the day with get_iplayer (as I can login remotely and initiate the download from work if I choose to). Or perhaps I will download programs late at night, when it only takes about 5 or 10 minutes.

Indeed, that's a nice idea, but unfortunately I'm on virgin so while I'm at work I'd have my bandwidth throttled into oblivion if I did that. To add to the problem, I also tend to watch more content on other legal streaming sources (Youtube, Funimation, etc...) which do not provide the option to download in advance.

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FAIL

A couple of suggestions

Both Entanet and BT could start revealing what it is they have sold their customers as per http://bbbritain.co.uk/kitemark.aspx.

BBC iPLayer - on realising that at £15pm does not get very much - about 30Kbps of peak per second capacity per user, perhaps they shoud allow customers to schedule downloads.

The price of bandwidth is still correlated with the cost of voice calls at the peak, loosely correlated, but never the less correlated. UK Bandwidth prices look to be twice that in the US but they do pay more for their access.

We need to start with more transparency in the retail sector.

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Stop talking money - start thinking SERVICE.

Both BBC and BT are wrong.

They have totally forgotten the watchwords should be Quality and Service at fair prices.

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Megaphone

"your client streams from a close by host."

Not relevant in the UK. What matters here in the UK is costs not geography. The most expensive part of the whole network (in terms of bandwidth costs) is the little bit between the end user and their ISP; the bit between the ISP and the rest of the Internet is dirt cheap in comparison. So there is no such thing as a "close by host", they are *all* equally expensive to reach, courtesy of BTwholesale greed and Ofcon incompetence.

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Silver badge
FAIL

Is the internet fit for these purposes?

I don't think so. Here we are struggling to get a few miserable low res compressed frames per second across the internet to a smallish percentage of the population and it creaks, and sqaubbles like this break out. Just imagine how much better it's going to have to be to get hi def across the internet, and to be able to serve most of the population in doing so!

Sometimes the old ways are the best. Broadcast transmission by radio, either terrestrial or satellite, works because you don't need as much infrastructure to make it work very well indeed. Apart from DAB.

It's the same with telephony. If the whole world went Skype tomorrow, the internet would just stop stone dead. Circuit switched phone calls just work because its an efficient use of the infrastructure.

Packet switched IP telephony is inherently wasteful of the available bandwidth, so it will probably always end up costing more. And it has a nasty way of stopping working completely when overloaded. And remember on the internet there's all sorts of other traffic types getting in the way too. You might run an isolated network to get round that, in which case why bother with IP in the first place? In contrast, circuit switched allows at least a minimum number of subscribers to place calls no matter what.

Anyone seen a big nationwide 21CN deployment yet?

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Flame

Remove the unnecessary

My ISP offers web space, e-mail, virus software, this that, and the other thing. All I want from them is an IP address and bandwidth, but none the less I pay for all of these additional services that I neither want or need. If there were a provider that offered me these two things, I would switch in a minute. I don't even need a tech support number. An outage reporting number, and current network statistics are all I really need, and then only if I am having issues. I should be able to call them up, read them my CMAC number and be good to go with some all you can eat synchronous connections. This fantasy ISP would save probably 60% of their operating costs compared to other providers, and if done properly could compete with the "other" ISPs and still deliver the bandwidth you are actually paying for. ALSO, I want to make one thing perfectly clear to the charge by the byte crowd, I pay for bandwidth, rated in mb/s, NOT for the total amount of data xfered. As an ISP you should expect me to run at 80% utilization 24x7x365. If you want to charge the "consumers" by the byte, you should charge the "providers" by the byte also, effectively putting popular services out of business due to the "surprise costs" and ongoing costs.

NEVER ACCEPT A PAY BY THE BYTE SCHEME. (at least not without dinner and a kiss first, and maybe a reach around..)..

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Grenade

@AC 10:48

"If Ofcon hadn't allowed Murdoch/Sky to take over Easynet, we might by now have had a wholesale LLU network to compete (at least in attractive areas) with BTwoolsale."

Your believing the myth that was LLU Stream from Easynet.

At the time Easynet where issuing press releases to the stock exchange about deals that didnt exist to entice Sky to make the purchase.

Easynets LLU stream was all about getting Easynet sold or partnered, it was never intended as a true competitor to BT Woolsale, hence the reason why its quietly disappeared since the takeover.

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Bronze badge

Re: Isn't lots of individual streams a stupid way to broadcast?

Yes, its a stupid way to broadcast, but doing it P2P wouldn't help because the problem is the links between you and your ISP.

However, as long as the BBC is ok with paying for their connection then it's irrelevant. The problem is that some ISP's can't afford to deliver what they are selling , ie "unlimited" access packages for a fixed price.

If a bar offered unlimited beers for £5 a month then they'd make a loss because the amount they would make lose from buying the bandwidth would exceed the amount they would make from selling it.

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Dead Vulture

Death of Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality has already become another professor's "also ran" in lecture talks...

In the US, if you want to get the bandwidth to properly use a particular service, you have to pay (sometimes through the nose) to get that bandwidth. And yes, the more bandwidth you have, the more you pay, and the less the ISP will "throttle" your usage of certain services available on the Internet, public or private.

When you have a "normal" connection, it is throttled based on what you do and how you use it; all subject to extra fees and fines based on what they think you are doing.

As it relates to this story; the reason the US has "better facilities" is because we splurged during the DotCom bubble on laying wire and fiber... and the company that did it went out of business (MCI, anyone?), with its fresh assetts bought up on the cheap to be resold to our last mile consumers.

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Somewhat misses the point

No-one has mentioned multicasting. Shame. If the ISPs invested in delivering streaming content by multicasting and then throttled streaming by unicasting the problem would, more or less, be solved.

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FAIL

Is BT is abusing its Monopoly position?

It certainly looks like it...

Hmm is this something that needs to be reported to the EU Commission?

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Bronze badge
FAIL

The real problem

@Jess: Caching at the ISP end wouldn't help much: the root problem is that BT overcharges heavily for backbone capacity. For years, they've been squeezing down the price they charge per end user, making up for it on the backbone end, jacking up the per-megabit charges.

In my view, the per-line charges have now fallen to silly levels, particularly looking at cases like TalkTalk's "free" broadband; with BT charging several pounds per line per month just to patch in the copper, just how much money is left to pay for providing any backbone at all? Add a few pounds per month to each line to pay for the fibre backhaul (every user needs to have that fibre, whether they use it constantly or for a daily email check) - far better than trying to rip off heavy users with traffic charging, letting ISPs cherry-pick non-users with subsidised offers not paying a penny towards the cost of the backbone on which they rely.

That, of course, was always BT's model with phone calls: lose money on installation and line rental, then make up for it by screwing anyone who actually dared *use* the phone line they were paying for. Now they want to pull the same trick with broadband.

Years ago, someone familiar with BT remarked that if they had American levels of telephone usage with their tariff at the time, they'd be the most profitable company on earth. They didn't come close, of course, because their tariffs had a stifling effect on telephone usage. Do we want the same to apply to Internet usage? I certainly don't - and a strand of STM-64 fibre costs the same whether you max it out 24x7 or just probe it occasionally to check it's still working.

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Anonymous Coward

Totally Agree with article

Many misunderstandings in comments though.

The cost that is being paid to Openreach is not for "internet" bandwidth to the rest of the world but the charge for connection between the ISPs own network and the exchanges where the ADSL equipment is (whether unbundled or not).

There needs to be more competition or tougher price controls in this area.

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FAIL

What a load of rubbisgh

I have BT internet, along with their phone line and television service, and in the last year have been mightly disappointed with all of them, especially the internet, not allowing me access to sites such as google and iplayer at what only seems like peek times, I believe my £35 a month contract should entitle me to look at what i want when i want online regardless of what time of day or month it is, they seem to offer an inferior product to the ones they specify in advertising and even told me that my connection speed was much more than it actually is, but that was my own equipment that was to blame, my own equipment consisting of the bt cables and home hub which was provided (or payed extra for) when I signed up, a thouroughly dissapointing service and no surprise at all that they act in this way.

What is needed is an organisation that is going to monitor the update of the entire network, maybe moving from traditional copper wires to fibre optics which i believe can carry much more data at a higher rate, BT is quickly becoming dead in the water and I would recommend to anyone that they use a different company, the only trouble being, that at some point you are going to have to connect through BT, so maybe something for the monopolies commission to look at.

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Anonymous Coward

"No one's mentioned multicasting"

No one's mentioned multicasting because it's irrelevant. This is a regulatory/economic issue. Multicasting doesn't help, because the issue is the hugely overpriced bit between the end user and their ISP (in particular, what used to be called the BT Centrals and their follow on in the much overhyped 21CN).

By the time the "content" gets outside the ISP, it's already been unmulticasted (sp?). There are other technical reasons why multicast is no panacea but I'm still waiting for Mr Orlowski's article on that subject.

Wrt LLUstream from Easynet: I thought it was a bit more than slideware (as did the F2S customers and others who were using it) but if you have evidence otherwise I'll take a look at it if you're willing to share it.

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Flame

FFS, you are all idiotholes.

The fact that the BBC has upstream internet connectivity that they pay for isn't the point. iPlayer, in one of its forms, is a Peer to Peer network so once seeded the traffic is "off net" from BBC's perspective, so the BBC isn't paying the full transit cost. So ISPs are right to be concerned about this, as they are paying to deliver the content provider's content.

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Megaphone

apologies in advance for bad SPAG and meadering

re: "expect me to use 80% of bandwitdh 24/7"

statistically this is not the case, with many figures being thrown about like "10% of the users use 90% of the bandwidth" (or summat - see virgin media PR about why they are throttling).

With many ISPs racing to (apparently) £0 price tag, (is BTWholesale/openreach price still set by offcom? im a bit out of date there). geting more revenue from both ends of the pipe seems worth a cheeky punt.

I believe this whinging is merely lobbying directed at offcom to see if they can get away with it, "get away with" being the apropriate phrase.

BTW vs BBC omg ofcom may actually have to make a decision... which will probably screw the public over, then get overturned by brussels. Yay for Europe!

re: p2p is "off net" so is payed for by isps

while i can see the reasoning, its THE CONSUMER chosing (or not) to use such services that creates the extra nodes be be seeds/leeches (to use Bit torrent vernacular). The consumer has supposedly already been charged for using these services, and BTW/openreach is failing to provide the service.

Whinging such as "its not fair the BBC can use our network" doesn't cut it

(deep breath) THE BBC ISNT USING YOUR BLOODY NETWORK, YOUR CUSTOMERS ARE!! and they chose to use your network (that they cant really get access to due to lack of investment) to watch youtube, iplayer et al. If you cant afford to pay for the bandwidth/admin with your customers fees, then you are not charging enough.

Pie in the sky suggestions:

Like bus passes, economy 7 etc, there should be different charges for peak vs off peak.

The price of an "Unlimited" Plan should more accuratley reflect the cost of providing an unlimited connection (and er... actually *be* unlimited) - business sdsl anyone?), and conversley more "limited plans" (flexability is key - peak or off peak? by time or by data? ive seen mobile tarrifs like this...)

This shoud then be more "fair" ie sterotypical old ladies paying next to nothing for using less than a gig a month, and the likes of us having to think twice about that dvd iso download. The key point that may make it work is THROTTLE AFTER EXCEDING CAP, NOT SHUT DOWN, OR INCUR CHARGES (*cough mobilenetworks cough*). Actually stating what the cap is would be a good start (its one of the reasons why im with VM) or maybe having the choice to auto-upgrade to the next package (up to a preagreed limit)

but of course, the norms will balk at the cost of a truely unlimited plan, and the "flexible limited" plans will be to complicated for non techs to be bothered with, and not as proffitable as charging old lady (O.L.) the same wedge as the heavy users for an order of magnitude less usage (more? less? YKWIM). Especially while the O.L. is willing to be fleaced for the piece of mind of not having to worry about it.

if you are still reading after all that lot, you have my thanks.

Paris because she has a rather liberal fair use policy.

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