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Broadband charter suggestion from Ashley Highfield
Thursday 03 April 2008 14:27:40 by Andrew Ferguson

The BBC iPlayer has generated a lot more column inches than the Channel 4oD and Sky Anytime for the PC services which are effectively the same technology for delivering down-loadable content. I don't think anyone disputes that in 2008 on average people are downloading a lot more video or watching more streams online, but too often coverage of this seems to carry incorrect assumptions.

Ashley Highfield has written a blog entry in response to an article in the The Telegraph and reading the entry one can see why. The Telegraph article appears to suggest people using services like BBC iPlayer may see their bill rise by £20 a month. Of course this extra cost will only apply to those who are on a pay as you go broadband tariff or pay extra if they go over a specific limit. As yet we have not seen anyone complain about the amount of charges due to watching iPlayer content and suspect we won't. The vast majority of providers who have a variable charge system warn people of usage levels and the more responsible ones ask you to top-up rather than letting you run up a massive bill without you knowing.

None of the published data on iPlayer usage has looked at who is using the service and what type of broadband package they are on. One presumes people who subscribe to 1GB allowance packages are well aware of what they can and cannot do within a 1GB allowance and that most iPlayer use will be from people on flat-rate priced packages or those who have enough spare allowance that it is not an issue. The average download amount per month for a UK broadband user is thought to be around 6 to 8GB.

Is iPlayer and its competitors causing a nightmare for broadband providers? Well there is a rise in traffic, but if they are having nightmares they are pretty quiet about it.

Ashley Highfield's blog gives an insight into some of the thinking behind what is driving BBC technology forward. Oddly he considers that watching the streamed content will not be cheaper than downloaded, given the streamed content is around half the size in MegaBytes this is something of a surprise. The streaming version gives people on metered broadband the choice of trading quality for a lower potential price to view. Interestingly a ratio of 4 to 8 streams for every download is a common ratio, suggesting many people prefer not to install the iPlayer client. The popularity of streaming is possibly enhanced by the fact that unless you tell the iPlayer application not to, it will upload the video material on your PC to others, which if your provider meters the upload data will eat into allowances.

A Broadband Charter is suggested as an answer for how the problems of video usage could be mitigated, but this does not seem to stand up to scrutiny in places.

  • 'Unlimited broadband should mean unlimited', if enforced at its simplest level then unlimited will not appear on products under £200 a month. Perhaps the adoption of 'flat-rate' to indicate that your price is fixed but the experience can vary is more realistic. The general rule has been that any provider who markets true unlimited for an appealing price to consumers generally hits capacity issues and horrendous contention after a few months. Those providers that survive often have vague fair use policies which generally put off the 0.1% of people trying to download the internet to a DVD cake, or will use traffic management to stop contention causing major headaches.
  • 'an 8Mbs-1 tariff should deliver ‘at least’ 8Mbs-1', in which case ADSL can never be marketed since it is impossible to provide a 100% guarantee of any speed. At best, we would probably be back to products with speeds of 25Kbps and up to 100Kbps. Even then without traffic management it is hard to guarantee a provider will always serve data at even that slow rate. Alternatively providers will just adopt pretty names for products and make no mention of speed, which is not that weird if you've seen some broadband advertising abroad.
  • 'HD Broadband (working title) would be a minimum guaranteed speed of connection (probably 8Mbs-1', which rules out xDSL based technologies and would only work for cable broadband and fibre based systems. Also a guaranteed connection speed is of little use if further into the network contention means you will not sustain speeds to stream HD content live.
  • 'Subscribers should (and will) increasingly look for genuinely unlimited deals from their ISPs, and for ISPs that do not throttle bandwidth at peak hours, which can have the effect of causing streaming playback to not work correctly.', ironically it is often the unlimited providers who throttle at peak times and cause the problems.
  • 'There are those who are starting to ask if, as with the regulator led introduction of LLU that was necessary to kick-start broadband in the first place', is a history lesson needed? Broadband got off to a slow start but LLU only really hit the scene in a big way with the Talk Talk £20 bundles in 2006, by which time broadband was an almost unstoppable machine. Perhaps because broadband only started to get major TV coverage due to the problems when unbundling became big means, many people do not realise that broadband really started to take off demand wise in 2003 and 2004.

Ashley Highfield has raised some interesting points for debate and some comments may reflect perceptions of the broadband industry when viewed from outside. iPlayer and the other video players are not going to go away but if the public adopts them en-masse as a way to watch time shifted TV or for replacing a second TV when the digital switchover occurs the broadband industry and content providers will need to work more closely to ensure services continue to operate at a reasonable cost and performance level for the average consumer.

With so many costs in life on the rise, broadband to date has been the one product that has bucked the trend with year on year decreases in the average price. Maybe we have hit a point where it can go no cheaper and as average usage slowly creeps up so will the prices.

Comments

Posted by comnut over 8 years ago
about time!! the terms have blighted many services, I would personally like to 'string-up' the ad-execs invoved, for giving *everyone* totally unrealistic expectations of what they should get!!!
Posted by comnut over 8 years ago
- I do not blame the companies for trying to run a business for a small profit - there *are* staff to pay, BT services to pay for, investment in hardware and possible shortfall to insure against, to say nothing about waiting for BT whateva to 'pull its finger out' while thier reputation goes bad, due to the 'slow complex mess' that BT is....
Posted by finn123 over 8 years ago
No one complaining about the costs of watching iPlayer?

http://bbs.adslguide.org.uk/showthreaded.php?Cat=&Board=zen&Number=3283510&page=&view=&sb=&o=
Posted by keith_thfc over 8 years ago
"'Subscribers should (and will) increasingly look for genuinely unlimited deals from their ISPs, and for ISPs that do not throttle bandwidth at peak hours....ironically it is often the unlimited providers who throttle at peak times and cause the problems."

Unlimited providers that throttle aren't unlimited.

Genuinely unlimited means unshaped in my book -as per O2/SKY providers.
Posted by meldrew over 8 years ago
Unlimited is not a practical option. Its bit like gas, water or electricity on an unlimited basis.
Imagine leaving your bath tap on 24/7. Bandwidth is a resource with a value too. Decide how much you want and then decide if you need to turn down your central heating to pay for it.
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
Then they shouldn't use the word "unlimited" in advertising, meldrew - simple, isn't it!

Except the morons keep getting away with it.
Posted by keith_thfc over 8 years ago
A genuinely unlimited service has been available from LLU specialists for a few years now.

Posted by keith_thfc over 8 years ago
"Then they shouldn't use the word "unlimited" in advertising, meldrew - simple, isn't it!

Except the morons keep getting away with it."

They get away with it because of inadequate regulators - the real morons IMHO.
Posted by ruskin0 over 8 years ago
" A Broad Charter " Now theres an idea, just to muddle the situation up even further. Sorry for being so pesimistic but Oftel couldnt sort the problem out, we were then talking about a Euro version of Oftel ( which the British Government certainly won't take notice of). Now were going to have a Charter, I wonder whos going to write that one up, BT by any chance, yea for sure everything will be ok.

I really like the idea of that Ipod scheme, it will be wonderful, providing noone is actually wanting to use it between 18:00 and 01:00.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
quote"Genuinely unlimited means unshaped in my book -as per O2/SKY providers."
agreed
quote"Then they shouldn't use the word "unlimited" in advertising"
Agreed
quote"...Its bit like gas, water or electricity"
They are resources which once the planet has used the supply or items used to create the electric they are gone, bandwidth is completely different. Anyone can be given true unlimited bandwidth the reason they dont is Money.Nothing to do with it being a resource.
quote"..inadequate regulators - the real morons IMHO."
The most accurate and honest opinion :)
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 8 years ago
To respond to finn123.

The poster seemed to decide to abandon it, and as far as I am aware did not incur actual charges.

I believe they were on Zen Lite which carries an inclusive 3GB allowance.
Posted by chrysalis over 8 years ago
It all comes down to contention ratio. The more users that share a pool of bandwidth the harder it is to support heavier users. I expect a true unlimited product could be sold for much less than £200 as long as the contention ratio is low enough to support it. What we need is contention ratios to come down in the uk industry to 30:1 or less and prices going up to support this a minimum of £25 a month for 8mbit adsl.
Posted by jumpmum over 8 years ago
Remember that the same BBC iplayer programmes are available on BTvision and that is not charged for and is not included in your download limits. I know there is a dislike of BT on this forum but they do have some reasonable points.
Posted by c_j_ over 8 years ago
"iplayer programmes are available on BTvision and that is not charged for and is not included in your download limits."

Give it time. Weekday evening landline calls used to be ~5p per call. Now (or soon, I forget), it's 6p setup plus 1.5p per minute.

Get em hooked with a deal that looks good on paper, change the deal ("free" calls at weekends) with a blaze of publicity, make sure the price increase notification is in the tiniest possible small print, and make sure the change makes a shedload extra revenue for BT.
Posted by stilloptimistik over 8 years ago
c_j_ - to be fair, if customers have no plans to migrate from BT they can sign up for a year and get evening calls free as well, so I think the "increases or commit to us" is just a means of holding on to customers.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
quote"Remember that the same BBC iplayer programmes are available on BTvision and that is not charged for and is not included in your download limits. I know there is a dislike of BT on this forum but they do have some reasonable points."
Are you having a laugh??? BTvision is a pay for monthly service its not free at all. If you are only interested in TV you can get on Iplayer buy a cheap 10 quid digi box or a 50 quid one if you wanna record, pause and watch basically as you like without monthly charge or affecting your download limits.
Posted by jumpmum over 8 years ago
Posted by CARPETBURN Are you having a laugh??? BTvision is a pay for monthly service its not free at all.
Showing your bias again. There is no monthly fee for BTVision. (There are charges for films/VOD on a pay per use basis £0.99p/£1.99/£2.99, and subsription channels) Catch up TV from BBC is free. Box is £30 self install evrything your £50 does.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
Its a pay monthly service, part of BT total broadband services and prices, if it wasnt theres no reason people without a BT Internet connection could have it free also is there?

There is also a £30 connection fee and an additional £60 charge if you want BT to come and install it... You also dont OWN the box.. I say again.... buy a £10 freeview digi box, or a £50 recorder box, much cheaper, much less restrictive.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 8 years ago
Part of the plan for BT Vision is to offer it to other providers in time.

Honestly though Carpetburn you are stretching your point, people are well aware that you must pay for BT Total Broadband, but you can have the lowest usage package and the iPlayer content will not use your usage up when played over the Vision box.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
Oh no andrew i do agree that if you are a BT customer with BT vision indeed you can watch content that also appears on iplayer without it affecting your download allowance.
It is as it stands though technically a pay monthly service, you cant have it currently if you dont sub to a BT broadband service.
Technically if people only wanted iplayer content (AND THATS ALL) from their net connection there is no need to even have the internet as a cheap home set top box will provide everything iplayer can.
Posted by herdwick over 8 years ago
"a cheap home set top box will provide everything iplayer can."

only if you can get Freeview Digital TV, but as "Approximately 73% of households are in a location that can receive Freeview broadcasts" the coverage of broadband and hence the iPlayer is much higher.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
quote""Approximately 73% of households are in a location that can receive Freeview broadcasts" If you cant get freeview than there isnt much point in having BTVision either is there? Id also challenge that 73% figure is in fact misleading.On more than one site including the official freeview site it states i would only get a certain amount of channels, but i get them all.A person who lives about 20 miles from me it says not in a freeview area.They get every freeview channel fine.I doubt there is an accurate freeview coverage figure.
Posted by comnut over 8 years ago
In 4 - 5 years time, freeview coverage WILL be 99%... I'll bet no ISP can gaurantee that....

But then, **IF** YouKnowWho 'pulls their finger out' new transmission tech will help a lot of ISP's deliver! and I think I know who will still be overcharging for it, 'cos they got there first..... :( :(

reformed character??? naaaaaaah..
Posted by alewis over 8 years ago
"'unlimited...should mean unlimited', if enforced...then unlimited will not appear on products under £200 a month."

Regardless of price, that practice should stop. Unlimited means precisely that; unhindered by capping nor management. No one is arguing that unlimited should mean unlimited and free/cheap/low-cost, just either provide a truly unlimited service at an up-front cost, or stop advertising it as such, including the vague FUPs. I'd really love to see how such a policy would stand in an unfair contracts case, with a competent barrister.

Just my 2 cents worth.
Posted by comnut over 8 years ago
yep, still a problem with 'unlimited' ... It needs to be defined - If your speed is 4M, then you can download a 400Meg file (approx)every hour..
(YOU do the math, I downloaded a 33MegBYTE file in 5 minutes...)

And even if you are paying 500 a month for 4M, I think questions may be asked if you are actually downloading 5,000 Meg every hour....

Just like you would, if your montly gas bill suddenly goes up to 5,000!!!
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