The recent blog entry from Ashley Highfield who used to head up the BBC iPlayer project appears to have opened up a bit of a hornets nest. Virgin Media CEO Neil Berkett has stepped into the ring suggesting that the company may charge content providers for the option of giving their traffic priority over others.
Digital Spy has more on what Neil Berkett covered in the interview for Television the Royal Television Society's magazine. It is not clear whether the talks about paid for content will simply mean better priorities over the network, or providing Virgin Media customers with higher quality video content for example.
The traffic management to date on Virgin Media cable products has been traffic type neutral, but this option of charging for a higher priority suggests that things may be changing. Given the premium price of the 20Mbps cable product and the expected price of the 50Mbps service when it arrives it remains to be seen what the reaction of the 20% of Virgin Media broadband customers who opt for the premium services will be.
Charging the content providers will be a double edged sword, as there may be a provider with very popular content who refuses to budge on paying for a priority level and customers may simply switch to other broadband services for the content. Virgin Media may be able to rely on a reasonable amount of inertia as changing from cable broadband to a DSL based service can mean sorting out a telephone line rental, and if dumping the digital cable TV finding another digital TV service as well.
Update 5pm Tuesday 15th April: A spokesman for Virgin Media has communicated with The Register suggesting that Mr Berkett's comments have been taken out of context.
"We strongly support the principle that the internet should remain a space that is open to all and we have not called for content providers to pay for distribution,[...]However, we recognise that as more customers turn to the web for content different providers will have different needs and priorities and, in the long term, it's legitimate to question how this demand will be managed. We welcome an informed debate on this issue"Part of statement from Virgin Media spokesperson
If the latest comments are correct, it appears the comments related more to peering relationships with providers such as the BBC rather than any traffic priority scheme that could be employed within the Virgin Media network with content providers being able to buy higher priorities for their traffic.