BBC iPlayer is a popular TV catch-up service allowing viewers to re-play BBC content up to seven days after it was originally broadcast on terrestrial TV. The coverage of the Olympics have proven particularly popular with PlusNet reporting a 200% increase in iPlayer usage during the opening ceremony.
In the last few months, there has been increased discussion about the costs of delivering content from the Internet to the end user, and in particular, applications like iPlayer which are quite bandwidth intensive. Service providers are struggling to meet the bandwidth demands of users who are getting increasingly used to bandwidth hungry applications, at a price the users are willing to pay.
In a blog post by Anthony Rose, head of BBC Digital Media Technology, it has emerged that the BBC is in the process of switching its iPlayer hosting from current content distribution network (CDN) Akamai to Level 3 Communications prompting concern from a number of service providers about the increased cost burden this is likely to place on them.
"Zen Internet is expecting the decision to increase its costs as economically, all but a select few large networks must pay Level(3) to receive traffic originated within their network. The previous solution using Akamai used content hosted on a large number of small networks which are sited close to end-users and to which access is freely given. This removes the reliance on a single network, improving robustness."Zen Internet Spokesman
This may not seem significant to the average user, but in reality this is likely to increase the costs for small and medium sized service providers due to the way traffic on the Internet is exchanged. The BBC's own network and Akamai are known within the service provider community as "open peers" which means they will usually exchange traffic with anyone who asks free-of-charge by "peering" with other network operators. On the other hand, Level 3 is a tier-1 network which has a very strict peering policy, only exchanging traffic with the largest of network operators free-of-charge. Those not able to 'peer' will have no option but to pay either Level 3 or another company who peers with Level 3 for the service of exchanging traffic.
There is a suspicion, at least within part of the network operator community, that the BBC is reducing its hosting costs by switching from Akamai to Level 3, since Level 3 is able to charge service providers for access to its network, and thus shifting costs from the BBC to the broadband service providers which may put pressure on the price margins of smaller providers.