UK ISPs that market internet access services should offer unrestricted access to the web, according to Diane Coyle, vice chairman of the BBC Trust, which oversees the governance of the UK public broadcaster.
Her comments are in response to last week’s publication of an Ofcom paper intended to open up a discussion on how the communications regulator might address traffic management concerns and what stance it should take on any potential anti-competitive discrimination amongst ISPs. “If the wrong approach is taken to net neutrality, the results would be bad for consumers,” said Coyle.
The BBC finds itself at the centre of the debate on net neutrality due to the popularity of its online platform iPlayer.
“Internet service providers (ISPs) feel they are being unfairly blamed by consumers for a sub-standard internet experience due to network congestion or poor coverage. They need to pay to upgrade to the speeds that consumers expect, so they are considering asking the content companies, whose services – like the BBC’s iPlayer – drive web traffic, to pay for a faster service for their content,” said Coyle. She said that the burden of upgrading fibre and 4G networks to deliver faster internet access need not fall entirely on ISPs. Content providers, for example, are investing in technology to reduce the bandwidth required to view videos.
However, Coyle warned that a situation whereby content owners pay telcos to deliver their content faster than anyone else’s would have an overall negative impact on consumers: “If a ‘two-tier’ system emerges, that would have a dramatic impact for users, with some content arriving quickly and some slowly. Moreover, one unintended effect might be that ISPs are less incentivised to build out new super-fast networks, where bandwidth is far less of an issue if they have locked all the bigger content providers into paying for preferential service within an inferior network. Either way, consumers would lose out.”
Coyle said the Trust backs a code of conduct for ISPs stating that they won’t block legal content or prioritise different types of content for their own commercial reasons.