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Bandwidth Wars Are Back As BBC Protests BT iPlayer Throttling

imageBBC News is protesting a BT (NYSE: BT) policy which limits video speed on its “up to 8 Mbps” broadband connections to just 896 Kbps every evening, kneecapping iPlayer and other TV services.

The Beeb told BBC News: “While customers listening to audio and lower quality video streams would be unaffected, we are concerned that at peak times some customers’ higher quality video streams may be interrupted by buffering before falling back to a lower-quality version.”

BT countered: “Where we manage bandwidth, we do so in order to optimise the experience for all customers, whatever they want to do online. We believe there is a real issue that content owners like the BBC need to address and we are currently in discussions with the BBC executive to ensure that our customers get the best possible experience in the future.”

This is a replay of the tet-a-tet Auntie and the ISPs had back in 2007, when BT, Carphone and, mostly notably, Tiscali, voiced displeasure at having their networks swamped by video bits without the BBC paying for the privilege. But there’s added prescience, now that the draft Digital Britain report has guaranteed UK areas a measly minimum 2 Mbps and BT and Virgin Media (NSDQ: VMED) are rolling out next-generation networks capable of over 50 Mbps.

The relationship between telcos and content makers is a little like Field Of Dreams: if you build it, they will come. Not just on the desktop; increasingly, ISP networks will be used to deliver TV to the living room, so the sooner the key telcos upgrade their networks the better. For its part, the BBC under Anthony Rose has introduced variable-rate streaming to iPlayer, scaling streams down for as little as 500 Kbps and up to 3.2 Mbps.

Many ISPs operate bandwidth control to regulate their networks. With the broadband market already spooked about fabled “up to” speeds, the real issue for consumers is whether they expected to be getting less than an eighth of the advertised price every night. Here, Ofcom has questions to answer – BBC: “Ofcom said (its) code did not ask providers to make fair usage policies clear at point of sale, but they must be made clear on their websites.”

(Photo: Vix B, Flickr, some rights reserved)