The report by Francesco Caio into Next Generation Broadband makes a very important recommendation that could potentially help consumers to understand what they are buying and make differentiation between products more obvious.
As part of the recommendations for how to create stimulus that would lead to infrastructure upgrades, traffic management has been mentioned.
"Mandating transparency on traffic management policies for network capacity.
Ofcom should require internet service providers should tell their customers how they manage traffic on their network. This would make consumers aware of the ‘true’ bandwidth they were receiving, and could lead to differentiation of services in which consumers value bandwidth and are willing to pay for them. This might then create stimulus for further investment in network upgrade."Extract from "The Next Phase of Broadband" report
To some extent Ofcom is partially there with the voluntary code of practice, but as we have previously mentioned a number of providers are not being very quick about publishing details of fair use policies or how their traffic management works.
The extent to which traffic management shapes what people can do with the broadband connections will be a surprise to many. There may be hundreds of thousands of people who just think that broadband is meant to be slow and choppy, and remain unaware until they see the speed with which web pages can open or how reliable streaming video can be on a connection that has better network infrastructure behind it. Unfortunately the adage of 'you get what you pay for' is largely true with broadband; there are exceptions, but these are becoming increasingly rare.
It would be nice to see Ofcom go further than just requiring publication of how traffic is managed, requiring providers to provide details of how they populate their network is crucial. A provider can provide an unlimited service even with the relatively high prices of the BT IPstream and Datastream products currently and not use traffic management, but at peak times the packet loss and congestion would be such that people would be better off with a dial-up connection.
If the current marketing of broadband continues in the UK it will not be long before we see 100Mbps connections that are shaped down to 2Mbps and unless you are a milkman getting up to check e-mail before going out on your round you will never see these speeds. Asking consumers to pay more for a smooth gaming experience on the busiest night of the week, could be a way of funding next generation infrastructure, but this only works if all providers are forced to market their product by the same rules. If one provider can promise unlimited service for £14 a month (but the unlimited means that some services will run very slowly a lot of the time) and another provider says that you need our gaming option for an extra £5 a month to play games at peak times they are not likely to have mass market appeal.