- 7 Oct 09, 09:02 GMT
It's got thousands of football fans enraged, and set off countless pub conversations about our changing national game and the attitudes of those who run it. But the decision to allow live viewing of Saturday's Ukraine v England game to take place solely online will serve one useful purpose. It could provide an excellent snapshot of the state of Broadband Britain.
Why? Because at 1700 on Saturday as many as a million people will be online for what should be the UK's single biggest live-streaming event so far. And that will mean four key questions about Britain's broadband performance could be answered.
Question One: Can our infrastructure take it?
Remember the fuss made by some internet service providers about the strain on their infrastructure caused by the launch of the BBC iPlayer? Well now are they going to have to cope with the far greater challenge of a million concurrent streams of live football.
Just as the National Grid used to have extra power stations on standby for half-time in a World Cup game, when the nation would put the kettle on, will leading ISPs have their chief engineers at work on Saturday evening shouting,"She cannae take it, Captain?"
Question Two: Are we fast enough?
Watching streaming video is generally accepted to need an internet connection of at least 2Mbps - the same speed that the Digital Britain report is promising as a right for just about every household in the country. But will fans across the country be chucking things at the laptop when the image freezes just as Wayne Rooney draws back his right foot to shoot?
We should find out just how many people do have a broadband connection fast enough to make live video an acceptable experience. And don't forget that millions of people experience "throttling" at peak times which, in the case of BT's basic broadband package, makes web video a no-no.
Question Three: Will We Pay?
Every media company in the world is trying to work out whether consumers will pay for compelling online content. And by Saturday evening we will know whether Perform and Kentaro, the companies behind the football stream, have got their strategy right. They're asking a minimum of £4.99, rising to £11.99 on match day for the right to watch online. That seems a lot for an experience that could be a lot less satisfactory than popping down to the pub to watch it for nothing.
Question Four: Will we find another way?
Ah but it won't be available in the pub - or will it? Expect lots of people to find ways of watching the football on something better than a small computer screen. What's to stop your local hiring a projector and beaming the stream from a laptop onto a wall? Looking through the complex terms and conditions on the streaming site, pub projection doesn't seem to be banned - as long as the landlord doesn't charge the customers. Whether the quality of the picture will stand up to a big screen is another matter. But the race to move internet video from the PC to the TV is on - and Saturday's match will encourage more experimentation.
So the Ukraine v England game matters little for our footballing future - but it could prove just how advanced we are when it comes to competing in the global broadband league.
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