BBC BLOGS - dot.Rory
« Previous | Main | Next »

Net neutrality: Who cares?

Rory Cellan-Jones | 08:40 UK time, Monday, 14 March 2011

Do you care about or even understand the issue of net neutrality? I bet that for most people the answer is first net what? And then no. But here's another question - if your broadband provider started throttling back the speed at which you could use some services - say a Skype video call, or a BBC iPlayer stream - would you care then?


road sign

On Wednesday, the culture minister Ed Vaizey will gather figures from across the broadband and media industries to discuss net neutrality - and whether there is a role for the regulators. The big issue here is whether a principle sacred to internet pioneers - that all traffic over the network is equal - is in danger of being watered down and, if so, whether something needs to be done.

Some broadband firms want to be free to charge media firms to give their content priority, while some content providers are adamant that this would harm consumers and stifle innovation.

I should point out at this stage that the BBC has a dog in this fight.

The former head of Future Media and Technology Erik Huggers said this in a blog post last year:

An emerging trend towards network operators discriminating in favour of certain traffic based on who provides it, as part of commercial arrangements, is a worrying development. Media organisations like the BBC fear that they are about to see all sorts of roadblocks placed between them and consumers on the internet.

At the heart of all this is what's called traffic management, the techniques used by Internet Service Providers to control the flows of data across their networks. When you sit in front of your computer at 6pm watching a video buffering, you are probably seeing the effect of the brakes being put on by your ISP.

Today the Broadband Stakeholders Group is publishing a voluntary code of practice on traffic management. BSkyB, BT, O2, TalkTalk, Three, Virgin Media and Vodafone have all signed up to pilot a code which is intended to promote a bit more transparency about exactly what they do to direct and control the traffic on their networks. The practice is, they say, a vital tool in supporting the efficient operation of the internet and providing a good experience for the
end-user.

The code defines two kinds of traffic management - that relating to particular broadband deals, such as data caps and speed limits, and practices aimed at making sure a network operates effectively during peak hours and other periods of congestion.


But the controversial element is what are called managed services, deals between ISPs and media firms to guarantee a certain level of service, presumably in exchange for a fee. The Broadband Stakeholders Group says its document is agnostic about managed services, but its code should end up giving consumers and policymakers a clearer picture of what is going on.

I'm not so sure. Any consumer reading through the BSG's document may come away with a headache and little understanding of what the whole row is about.

So let's take one example and see it from both sides. The video sharing site YouTube
is now part of a huge and powerful business, Google. Yet its output, all those millions of videos, uses up vast amounts of bandwidth. So shouldn't ISPs be allowed to charge a little bit to deliver that content, rather than see their networks become increasingly unstable??

But here's the other side. Imagine what would have happened if in 2005 when YouTube's founders got the site going, they had been told that they would have to pay even a tiny amount to shift their content over the net? The site - and the revolution it unleashed in the way we share video - would have been stillborn. Net neutrality, the argument goes, has meant there are almost no barriers to innovation online.

Ed Vaizey's net neutrality summit on Wednesday may grab few headlines. But it could be crucial in shaping the way the internet develops in the UK over the coming decade.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    It's interesting how this issue has not caught fire as it has in the States. We had an expert seminar on this a few months ago and I blogged about it with the title 'Net Neutrailty - Who Cares?'
    You can see lots of links to information, opinions and a video film about the event here:
    http://www.charliebeckett.org/?p=3192

  • Comment number 2.

    So to simplify: To keep iPlayer usable the Licence fee needs to go up to pay ISPs to prioritise the video stream over a broadband line we are already paying for.

    What if everybody pays, where does the bidding war stop?

  • Comment number 3.

    I live in Kingston-upon-Hull, the only part of the UK without BT, and we have a monopolistic telecomms provider here, Karoo. They already throttle all sorts of stuff - their service is truly appalling, and I cannot understand how this situation was ever allowed to develop.

  • Comment number 4.

    Rory you got something wrong there :)

    "Imagine what would have happened if in 2005 when YouTube's founders got the site going, they had been told that they would have to pay even a tiny amount to shift their content over the net?"

    It's often easy to forget that YouTube and in fact all internet websites and services do have their own bandwidth bills to pay, it's not free. Hosting, whether you're buying a package or building your own setup, costs money and you always pay somebody somewhere for the bandwidth delivery onto the internet.

    The result is that ISPs are effectively asking internet content providers to pay twice. Hardly very fair. Likewise, as MyVoiceinYrHead said above, once this starts where would it stop. Many online firms, such as Skype, don't make huge profits and imagine what would happen if all the ISPs began asking them for money. It's absurd.

    In any case, aren't we already paying ISPs to access this content? I wouldn't want to be the ISP that hinders traffic to Facebook or YouTube.. just say goodbye to your customers and give up.

    Mark Jackson
    Founder - ISPreview.co.uk

  • Comment number 5.

    I am sure that Sky broadband would love to throttle i-player.

  • Comment number 6.

    It's not just about bandwidth providers throttling bits, or charging more for content from particular sites. The article makes an argument in a world of pure-play ISPs. Net-neutrality in the real world is also about how to police bandwidth providers who also provide other services, such as TV & movies.

    An example: I can stream movies from LoveFilm. But my internet provider (Virgin) also provides Video-On-Demand. How can I ensure that their throttling of LoveFilm is to do with network management, and not degrading the streaming experience while bolstering their Video-On-Demand experience.

  • Comment number 7.

    One big mistake here. And sadly a mistake that many make, even those who should be thoroughly educated in the matter. You ask in the YouTube example: "Yet its output, all those millions of videos, uses up vast amounts of bandwidth. So shouldn't ISPs be allowed to charge a little bit to deliver that content, rather than see their networks become increasingly unstable?" Well, they are charged, and more than a little bit. Not only do the individuals who want to watch or contribute YouTube videos charged for their Internet service, but Google (and all other such providers of online service) are charged for their connections to the Internet. The heavy bandwidth demands of video are probably a key reason YouTube sold to Google - it's hard to keep up such payments without a great income stream. And those same demands, grown much larger, were why for so long many in the business press speculated that Google must be losing a good portion of a billion dollars each year to sustain YouTube. What the against-net-neutrality folks want isn't the right to charge for the connection, it's the right to charge even more above and beyond the connection, to make special deals that would either accelerate or decelerate the delivery of bits through their pipes (sort of like setting up special toll-lanes on a freeway that those who pay more could use to travel faster). Please don't believe that they're not getting to charge anything in the first place.

  • Comment number 8.

    More worrying than the restriction / priority for entertainment providers is the prospect of:
    1. Unintended speed problems for small business users in their commercial activities.
    2. Restriction on news and opinion providers including the blogosphere and non mainstream publishers which could involve censorship based on financial might.

  • Comment number 9.

    I work as a test manager in the telecoms industry and have some experience with this. The standard practice I've seen is to utilize quality of service settings against certain types of traffic. These settings effectively dictate the priority of traffic and under congested network conditions the lower priority traffic is discarded first. Doesn't necessarily follow that your speed will be lower, it depends on the traffic on the network.

    Last time I tested an implementation of this we assigned standard "best efforts" quality of service to most traffic. "Better than best efforts" to Video on demand and Voice over IP where order of data transmission is more sensitive (that included iPlayer, Skyplayer, ITVPlayer 4oD etc). And "less than best efforts" for less high priority traffic where order of data arriving was not so important (mainly for peer to peer). These were set based on maximising the customer experience on the network and decided without any input from the different services in our case.

    There are also "guaranteed" transmission quality settings where you can tell the network to ensure all traffic is transmitted at the requested speed. This is mainly used for dedicate video on demand services such as streaming movies etc. but I'm not sure how widespread it is.

    But yes it's clear that there is scope in there for particular websites to pay carriers to boost the priority of their traffic but I don't believe it's particularly widespread at the moment.

  • Comment number 10.

    @Richard
    Perhaps you can answer this. Why do ISP's assume that all P2P traffic is "bad" or "not important"?

    Not all P2P traffic is torrents etc. Many desktop applications use P2P. Things like Spotify and Skype use P2P. Surely for things like that, they would need the same treatment as video streaming? (or in terms of skype - even greater priority).

  • Comment number 11.

    @WelshBluebird1

    It's not about importance, it's about how much the data depends on seamless transmission.

    Take a skype video call and then cut out 25% of the data stream. You get a terrible service.
    Take a torrent file and then cut the upload speed by 25% and you just have less of the file per hour. It just means that it takes a little longer to dowlnoad but it DOESN'T make the service unusable like it would to skype.

    P2P is treated in the same way as web page traffic, they both have low priority as they don't demand consistent streams of data. It's not a crusade against peer to peer.

  • Comment number 12.

    Despite living less than a mile from the BT exchange, my line quality does not support a good data connection - when I had a 2Mb line it kept dropping out so my ISP recommended dropping back to 1Mb. I pay for this when the same ISP offers an "up to 8Mb" speed for less money, as I want to ensure a reasonable connection. If they now start throttling me back, what is the point of paying?

  • Comment number 13.

    Maybe this is over-simplifying things, but how about this scenario:

    Rather than have a network running at full capacity which must then have elements of it slowed down at peak times, why not have a system similar to the national grid whereby more capacity is added at peak times to ensure that everyone continues to get the same service as required?

  • Comment number 14.

    why not have a system similar to the national grid whereby more capacity is added at peak times

    That makes no sense. The National Grid has to have enough transmission capacity at all times to cope with peak load, what it adds is generating capacity. The internet equivalent would be to add more YouTUBEs generating traffic. That's not the problem we have. Adding more transmission capacity to the National Grid would involve building either more more power lines, or lines that could shift more power, and that would be expensive, just as adding more data transmission capacity to the net is.

  • Comment number 15.

    More capacity requires buying more servers. Every ISP is looking to cut the connection fee to be competitive so they have no interest in directly adding more costs to the customer. They’d rather charge the content suppliers who’ll pass the fee on to the end users so are not directly link to charging their customers.

    And that may not be a bad thing, a lot of people just want an internet connection for cheapest money possible and would accept slow speeds during peak times. Why not let the more wealthy with fast connections pay for premium content, delivered at speed. There’s a lot of people in not spots who’d rather not pay for other well connected people to get good speeds through their ISP.

  • Comment number 16.

    @ Charlie
    But the point is that things like skype use P2P too.
    So incutting 25% off the speed off P2P traffic, then you would also be cutting the traffic of things like Skype and Spotify.

  • Comment number 17.

    @smrgol

    That's not an accurate analogy of how traffic on the net works. On the national grid, you fire up a power station and produce energy to meet demand. with the BT grid, you can't just add power to make it meet demand. there's always a finite capacity which can only be increased by installing new backbone, high capacity cable; which costs large amounts to deploy.

    Without the sort of huge national investment that South Korea did to lay high capacity fibre cable everywhere, then ISP's will have a good position to argue for premium rates for what is a limited commodity (bandwidth)

  • Comment number 18.

    @WelshBluebird1 It's not that the traffic is not important, just less sensitive to retransmission errors. VoIP and VoD only work well if the data is transmitted and recieved in a given order. Otherwise you get sound and picture errors. For P2P it doesn't matter what order the data arrives in. Therefore in conditions where the network is busy (and therefore some traffic is going to get dropped anyway) the quality of service settings drop the traffic first where the order it arrives in isn't critical, in preference to that where the order is more important.

    For exmaple, you're watching a youtube stream online and in the background also have some peer to peer sessions going. Do you want your stream to be interrupted with video errors or your peer to peer traffic to take 30 seconds longer to finish downloading? (obviously it's more complex than that as it's managed for everyone on the network, not just you, but in essence that's what it's about).

  • Comment number 19.

    At issue is the ever increasing demands made upon the medium. As mentioned P2P & video streaming they are bandwidth greedy and far too many of ISP have had no intention of supporting the rollout of a fully multicast enabled Internet. it is 17 years since the Rolling Stones at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas performing the first major Multicast Concert in Cyberspace. Like all fine ideals the net neutrality is doomed because of the Bandwidth guzzlers The reluctance to support a more efficient delivery protocol will inevitably lead to those that can pay for the top tier will encounter less congestion. Face facts the information superhighway will have to have a toll-bar soon to fit in with the real world. Right or wrong there will be a information freeway alongside a information Tollway

  • Comment number 20.

    @Richard
    As I said, some VOIP providers (like Skype) use P2P to provide their service though. So for things like that, then it DOES matter how the data is recieved.

  • Comment number 21.

    @smrgol Unfortunately it doesn't work like that with the networks we have at present. The capacity of networks used is fixed and only expanded by adding more network capacity (bandwidth and amount of cables, switch gear etc.) which can't be done dynamically. Whatever network you have has a more or less fixed cost to run it and therefore the operators try and ensure they make the best use of the network at any given time.

  • Comment number 22.

    Bandwidth throttling for ISPs is a dangerous game - once the practice has been implemented it would not be long before heavy bandwidth users notice the limitations imposed upon them and begin to shop around for better deals (if indeed there are any to be had). I suspect that a major review/overhaul of current broadband pricing structures will be required if this is to be the way forward.

  • Comment number 23.

    @welshbluebird1 Skype are completely aware of how networks give lower priority to p2p traffic and manage their implementation accordingly I would assume. If not is it really the fault of the network if someone choses a method to deliver voice traffic via a solution which was not designed to guarantee the order in which data arrives?

  • Comment number 24.

    What is to stop someone like Sky paying ISPs to completely block trafic to certain sites or content such as BBC and IPlayer ?
    Once it is allowed that ISPs can throttle back traffic for specific content this will destroy the internet.
    If someone either can not pay or does not want to pay they could potentially be forced to close down as no one would be able to access their content. Free sites with high bandwidth will be forced to start charging and potentially loose their customers.

    My broadband is so bad (less than 1.5Mb) that I can not watch streamed video such as IPlayer content and as most video is being converted to streamed without buffering this means it is of no use to me, skype is just about barable. Would my ISP throttle back my connection to this content which I struggle to access as it is?

  • Comment number 25.

    Net neutrality went a while ago.
    My (very large) ISP introduced "Traffic Shaping" ages ago effectively blocking access to the NNTP protocol and preventing access to newsgroups. Although this may not be a deliberately motivated business choice to make me use Google groups or Yahoo Groups (that use more bandwidth) that's the effect it would have on most users. An ISP especially one that's also a major TV provider could easily use a similar "Traffic Shaping" scheme to restrict protocols used by other broadcasters to provide video on demand.

    I'm fortunate that I can worked around the restriction but am now moving and will obviously try to find a provider without theses issues.

  • Comment number 26.

    13. At 11:52am on 14 Mar 2011, smrgol wrote:

    Rather than have a network running at full capacity which must then have elements of it slowed down at peak times, why not have a system similar to the national grid whereby more capacity is added at peak times to ensure that everyone continues to get the same service as required?"

    As well as the preceding arguments about how the "national grid" itself does have a fixed capacity, there is the fact that many big consumers of electricity/gas will modify their demand based on other demands on the grid. Household consumers don't see this, but big consumers of fuel will often have pricing by the minute/hour where they will decrease usage if demand is high (or have to pay more at those times). This may come in to domestic markets as well at some time when electricity generation becomes more expensive (eg to allow freezers/storage heaters/electric car charging etc to dynamically use cheaper electricity when available).

    So, even in the National Grid, there isn't a fixed price per unit of product. There is a valid argument that the same should apply to Internet use as well.

    As long as suppliers are open about it, and there is sufficient competition, then you could have people choosing cheaper Internet connections because they just want email and a bit of web browsing, and people who need Skype, VoD etc will choose more expensive Internet connections. Without the option for traffic management, you just have everyone on the more expensive connections.

  • Comment number 27.

    @15 Tim said: "a lot of people just want an internet connection for cheapest money possible and would accept slow speeds during peak times"

    ... You're not holding out much hope for YouView then?

  • Comment number 28.

    Hi Rory

    I am wondering if it is possible to get my hands on any form of transcript for the Net Neutrality debate you chaired back in 2010?

    I remember reading your article on it but I am struggling to find it, here is a link that references it:

    http://www.trefor.net/2010/10/15/net-neutrality-debate-in-westminster-surprise-vote-turnaround/


    Thanks in advance

    O2 Hell
    [Personal details removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 29.

    Net Neutrality and ISPs:

    All domestic (i.e, not business) Internet connections are the networking equivalent of budget airlines. Most ISPs charge under £20 a month for their broadband services (many much less), for that price you are never going to get an end-to-end service at the advertised rate, and as speeds rise the chance of that goes down.

    Your 8 MBps (or whatever) connection shares a common link from the exchange with up to 50 other users. Most of the time you don't notice this because, most of the time, other users aren't online or aren't actively using the bandwidth at that moment. This works quite well with "bursty" traffic (such as web pages, eMail, etc), but falls apart with streaming services.

    If you are actively using (say) 2 MBps video streaming of a 20Mbps link shared by 49 other users, then that's leaves only 18Mbps for the other users. If 10 users are all streaming at 2Mbps then the entire shared bandwidth is effectively used up and there are still a potential 40 others that may want in. If 20 user try to stream video, the maximum they can get will be 1Mbps ( in reality, though, some get the full rate while others get almost nothing ).

    The bottom line is that you are never going to get a continuous, and consistent end to end rate at anything like that advertised by the ISPs for the price they are asking. To give a user a guaranteed 5Mpbs would cost substantially more then the £20ish a month most people are paying for broadband (by substantially more, I mean in the order of several £1000 per month).

    So, in order to give most users the appearance of a fast end-to-end service, ISPs need to control the use of the available "budget airline" bandwidth, they need to control the use of those services that make continuous and protracted use of that bandwidth. That means streaming video, P2P, etc.

    The bottom line is that "traffic shaping" is a necessary evil unless you want to pay £thousands for your broadband.

    I do have to say, though, that ISP should be substantially more transparent with regards to the contention ratios and traffic shaping they use and how this may affect your peak hours broadband usage, and usage of certain high bandwidth services.

  • Comment number 30.

    It's such a politically contentious issue but this capacity crunch has to be addressed somehow. There are a lot of subtle and sophisticated methods of dealing with this. Think about a situation in which the Service provider offers a differentiated service to end users in which it’s up to the users to decide what they do with it. Suppose a user pays for a service from ABC Telco where 100kbps of their bandwidth is guaranteed to have low latency (or at least lower latency than the rest). They could then subscribe to a VoIP service provider, who sends packets to them with an appropriate priority marking. ABC Telco delivers them with priority treatment, provided their bandwidth doesn’t exceed 100kbps (if it does, ABC discards the excess; this discourages abuse of the service). The technology is readily available now to put intelligent differentiation at the heart of the services telcos offer.

  • Comment number 31.

    WHY all this talk about net neutrality? As is done now, ISPs should simply charge those who use more bandwidth more money. The CONSUMER is the one consuming, charge them for it.
    As has already been said, content providers already pay their bandwidth costs via their hosting fees. The way the system works now should be kept as it is. Net neutrality is vital, and those who use more pay more. Simple.

  • Comment number 32.

    I "allegedly" have a 20MB line with virgin media. I get the max speed at around 3 am. During the evening I get less than old dial-up which makes doing anything impossible. I don't mind the premise of throttling, but when I pay £35 a month for this it's beyond stupid.

  • Comment number 33.

    What's the HD bit-rate of BBC iPlayer? 3-4Mbps? Perhaps ISPs should look at their 10Mbps+ services more carefully if such low bit-rates are proving too much to handle.

  • Comment number 34.

    Seems to me what this is in real danger of being about is the incumbents trying to buy the security of their position. Existing players, with big wallets, trying to stifle new business paradigms to maintain an old world order.

    That said, @29 is right, traffic shaping has been around forever and is here to stay and a bit more transparency about it would be a good thing.

    I also agree with @29 on pricing, at some point the price will be unsustainable and ISPs will probably be forced to price accounts with or without video streaming - esp as more and more TVs come with the likes of iplayer & lovefilm built-in the number of people using video streaming will grow hugely.

  • Comment number 35.

    So I've paid for my ISP connection and bandwidth allowance and now someone wants me to pay extra to use it for certain kinds of traffic?
    Not that I want to give them ideas but did the government want more road tax when I carried video tapes back from the rental shop in my car, but not for a newspaper from the same place? Did the entertainment industry get charged extra for getting more people to the cinema and using increased resources?

    This is an ill advised attempt to preserve old dinosaur business interests. Any bandwidth throttling of iPlayer etc. is going to lead to a great increase in the use of get-iplayer and the likes where people will download and keep the content and seriously reduce their need for new content. I have to as I'm on 512k so its the only way to watch...

  • Comment number 36.

    "31. At 3:06pm on 14 Mar 2011, Kassius wrote:

    WHY all this talk about net neutrality? As is done now, ISPs should simply charge those who use more bandwidth more money. The CONSUMER is the one consuming, charge them for it.
    As has already been said, content providers already pay their bandwidth costs via their hosting fees. The way the system works now should be kept as it is. Net neutrality is vital, and those who use more pay more. Simple."
    -----------------------

    I would argue that the consumer has been paying for it, for some time now, through inflated prices, whilst companies have sat back and creamed off the profit for their shareholders.

    If our infrastructure was not under-invested and from the stone age this discussion wouldn't even be taking place.

    In countries like South Korea you can get a faster connection than is even available here in the UK for the price of, or even less than, the likes of the "budget" packages from the popular ISPs.

    As for a two-tier style internet. Well we already have that.

    We have the "haves" with their expensive high bandwidth cable packages and the "have nots" relying on absolute rubbish cut price packages or worse still the local libraries for their internet.

  • Comment number 37.

    the problem with differentiated services model in the public internet is that the Bandwidth greedy would mark all their traffic as expedited, if the ISP were to honour this marking across network peering (some chance). then in order to service this it would be necessary to 'traffic shape' at the ingress to the ISP, that is once the committed bandwidth was exceeded for video or voice, any excess would be demoted until it was discarded, processing impact on the Access devices would drive up the cost of access. It is of course inevitable that those who pay will travel with a low delay & loss, whilst interlopers to the a particular network will be given the best effort or even scavenge from what bandwidth is available. Surely this is pretty much the next progression from Hot & Cold Potato routing of traffic that exists with Tier 1 and Tier 2 ISP at present, the naive days of open network for all where all the costs for infrastructure are being met by the Tier 1 providers have gone. Content providers and P2P users need to understand no such thing as free lunch. As for net neutrality you will find that a preferred model now is to treat service providers ISP traffic as separate Logical Network entity within a core Network supporting the service providers premium services and apply quality of service as required.

  • Comment number 38.

    @ boneycork
    Yep, HD iPlayer is around 3.2Mbps. Which over a few hours can easily add up to a few GB and even more.

    Its one of the reasons why I get annoyed at ISP's (and those defending them) saying that only pirates / torrent users will get hit by throttling and limits. Because in reality, especially the way things are going, the "normal" person will be using GBs and GBs of bandwidth sooner rather than later.

  • Comment number 39.

    I've just moved from AOL to SKY, mainly as Sky allows you to download video to your Sky box at night when the internet is quieter to watch via the sky box at a later date. With AOL at 17:58 my connection (should be 8MB, got 5-6) was severed for some reason & it was usually impossible to reconnect until 19:00-ish.

    I'm 100% certain post #29
    "Your 8 MBps (or whatever) connection shares a common link from the exchange with up to 50 other users. Most of the time you don't notice this because, most of the time, other users aren't online or aren't actively using the bandwidth at that moment. This works quite well with "bursty" traffic (such as web pages, eMail, etc), but falls apart with streaming services."
    Is correct

  • Comment number 40.

    "31. At 3:06pm on 14 Mar 2011, Kassius wrote:
    WHY all this talk about net neutrality? As is done now, ISPs should simply charge those who use more bandwidth more money. The CONSUMER is the one consuming, charge them for it."

    I agree. If someone wants to use their home connection to download 30Gb+ of torrents per month, why should the average user with a far smaller need pay for it? Currently, the mass downloaders are subsidised by those who don't use as much. Now it is proposed that those who use less will also, potentially, have their access restricted due to the activity of others.

    Charge people by the Gb for their connection. It's only fair.

  • Comment number 41.

    Bandwidth isn't free & the applications which use the most should bear the higher costs. Why should low bandwidth applications be penalised? They should have the highest priority, the marginal cost to high bandwidth applications is minimal.

    Jumps in streamed video are annoying but mostly due to grossly insufficient network capacity, or other applications running on the host PC, rather than small amounts of low bandwidth traffic. In any case they can be altogether avoided by downloadin the whole video to the local device before playing. Live streaming should not be a normal application mode for internet connection, the network was not designed for that purpose - the broadcast network was.

  • Comment number 42.

    #35. MadTom wrote:

    "I'm on 512k"

    Complain to your ISP and don't take no for an answer. A friend of mine's rates dropped to that, and lower, last year. (He was on 6M on DSL Max, but slumped to next to nothing progressively on ADSL2+.) The distance based estimator said he should be syncing at 21M so he moaned and moaned. It took the ISP 4 months to find the loose pair of wires at their exchange, but they did eventually do so. Now he is on 13.5M down and 1.1 up - it did take hundreds of emails and phone calls and a dozen engineers, but it was fixed eventually.....

    (The work of conversion from DSL Max to ADSL2+ was poorly done and not checked and the line testing equipment of the ISP did not identify the fault - in the end they found it by accident - and each engineer was not aware of the work of the previous engineer, leaving my friend to tell them what had been done - even to the point of engineers turning up with instructions to fit a new line filter and a service specific face plate that had already been fitted - absolutely disgraceful!)

  • Comment number 43.

    #42 addendum

    Don't even think about using mobile services.....

  • Comment number 44.

    Really, the anti-Net neutrality argument is simple.

    It's about ISPs being able to squeeze more out of existing infrastructure by giving their customers less in an attempt to improve profit margins.

    ISPs have this problem where market forces keep internet costs down, but there are only a finite number of potential internet users. Over the years they've been in a race to the bottom in terms of price and so now have a lot of customers, but with low margins.

    The net result is that the only way for ISPs to boost profits is to squeeze money out of existing customers, by avoiding what would be otherwise essential network upgrades by limiting what people can do with their connections.

    Or in other words, ISPs simply want to be able to improve their profits- not content with existing levels of profit they want to grow them further, and they want to do this by giving you less for your money.

  • Comment number 45.

    @Kassius

    I both agree and disagree on some of the points you have raised.

    As shown, certain ISPs are montising data in such a way that they are offering less as a fair use on some of their packages than other ISPs offered on their basic packages 8 years ago and this was before YouTube (Founded 2005), iPlayer (Released in 2007), ITV Player (Released in 2008), 4oD (Launched in 2006), Facebook (2004), Twitter (2006), iTunes Store (Internationally released (2004) and for Windows Platform (October 2003)), World of WarCraft (2004), XBox 360 (Launched 2005), PlayStation 3 (Launched 2006), Steam (September 2003)

    Couple this with comments made in their financial reports for the year that only 3% of their customers were really an issue so why were the other 97% put onto traffic managed packages? Couple this with comments that their customers can either pay up or leave and you see that they are not taking Ofcom's advice in dealing with heavy users.

    The answer is data monetisation and the ISPs efforts to put a price on Internet Content as opposed to offering the best service.

    Based on everything I have read, I don't argue against traffic management but I do argue against ISPs being able to pull the wool over their consumers eyes as to what it actually is.

    Lastly, a certain ISP offers so little on it's basic package and also has such extreme throttling that they are in effect creating a class system on the Internet which allows the haves access to information and the have nots to go without. But hey, I can view BBC News and iPlayer documentaries because I can afford it, forget you, got mine.

    If you wish, you can view the official UK National Statistics findings on how the poor of this country are already at a disadvantage with regards to net access:

    http://www.statistics.gov.uk/StatBase/Product.asp?vlnk=5672

    Just remember, Quality of Service does not go against Net Neutrality but effectively shutting down parts of the Internet until you pay more is.

  • Comment number 46.

    @36 - hit the nail on the head - this is a debate about under-investment in infrastructure, not net-neutrality, but incumbent players see the opportunity to sew up their position.

    Ironically, markets often do things you don't expect. The same large corporates that wanted s/w parents are now the same ones crying over them because they are being targeted by the patent equivalent of the ambulance chasers.

    @33 - I was curious about bandwidth for "streamed" HD - I measured 6.5Mb/s on an HD program the other day. However, even thought it started playing pretty much right away, the Freeview PVR that I used to play the program was clearly "buffering" the entire program - as all download stopped after about 5 or 10 mins.

  • Comment number 47.

    I've posted enough already really but a few more points people need to consider. There is no profit margin for the majority of ADSL services. They're often run at a loss, but sold as value add as part of a calls and services bundle. So squeezing more bandwidth out of their networks is not really helping anyone make more money but trying to keep ISP's competative with each other who are all doing the same.

    One thing I thought we'd see more of by now is being able to pay a premium for guaranteed rate bandwidth. I belive the BT Vision service does this to ensure when you're streaming content from that service you're at a guaranteed rate. Watchable TV content can be done in much less than the 3-4Mbps you need for HD.

    Of course even that guaranteed bandwidth only works providing there's the capacity between you and the exchange. This is where the real problem in the UK lies and where BT in particular (preferably with government help) need to concentrate on improving access.

  • Comment number 48.

    A Letter to NOAH,

    Thank you for the hunting lodge and the double monkey out the wallet.

  • Comment number 49.

    You're very right that the BBC has an interest here.

    When it comes to the internet infrastructure in the UK, The BBC is classified as an ISP. Sky, ITV and other media organisations are not - nor can they join! This status of the BBC puts it directly on the backbone shared between ISPs and therefore gives BBC content an advantage over other media organisations. These other organisations need to serve their content up to the ISP level before it is transferred and delivered to the customer - the BBC cuts out the first part of the journey.

    So it's in the BBC's interests to whoop up a brouhaha about net neutrality as it doesn't want other media providers being able to buy their way into the types of speeds the BBC already enjoys. However, it's a double-edged sword: The BBC wouldn't want its own ISP status and inter-ISP peering to be looked at too closely in case the other media organisations cry foul.

  • Comment number 50.

    It's 2011. The word "buffering" should have dropped out of our vocabulary by now. Whatever steps it takes to get there, the final result should be that every user, no matter where they are, should have a seamless internet experience. Can you imagine how the uptake of television would have fared if "buffering" happened back then? Slow downloads (or uploads) are not just an entertainment issue, affecting iPlayer, YouTube or even porn customers: it's about being able to conduct business globally, effectively and competitively.

    Make it happen.

  • Comment number 51.

    Others commenting here have suggested it already, but the fairest scheme to consumers is to move to a pay per byte system (with a small rental cost). Then those lucky users who can use a lot of bandwidth and do, will be charged a lot; whereas those who can't get a decent connection and won't run up a lot of downloads (or uploads) will pay a minimal amount. Likewise, companies providing internet services will pay a lot more if they have a very popular service which results in a lot of bytes being uploaded from their site - or could instantiate their own net throttling to keep their costs down.
    After all, most other variable delivery services (gas, electricity, telephone) are paid per unit or per second. Why not for Internet?

  • Comment number 52.

    Q: Net neutrality: who cares?
    A: No one. The average 'layman' internet user does not even know what the term/word means and could care less. Am i right or what:)

  • Comment number 53.

    @sagat4
    While you may be right, I am certain that the "layman" internet user would care once they realises the consequences of letting the ISP's do whatever they want. For example, if Sky were to restrict BBC iPlayer usage and favour traffic from its own Sky Player, then I am sure many sky customers would be up in arms about it.

    @James Rigby
    You may be unaware, but Sky (and Virgin Media for that matter) do operate ISP wings.

    @budgie_b
    It doesn't matter if the internet was not designed for continuous streaming. It was not designed for many things it used for. The copper cables that we used to access the internet were not designed to carry more than low quality voice, yet look what runs through them now.

  • Comment number 54.

    We are not all equal, some people are wealthier then others and so can afford to purchase better quality services. We live in a capitalist nation and can not expect companies providing us a service to do us any favours, they are in the business to make money. If you mind having slow internet then upgrade your package, or switch providers. It is only through competition that prices remain sensible.

    Virgin is bring 100/200mb, BT its infinity, Iplayer and skype have already reached HD, and as 4K is a while away, the amount of data they will be sending will remain the same, if you dont have skype by now, you probably never will. Let us stop complaining about ISPs making money, support them, buy their fastest products and encourage them to go faster. There are only so many uses for internet in the average home that even if all families members are heavy users there is a maximum MB/s that they actually use. Personally in a student home of 5 laptops, 1 PS3, 1 XBOX and heavy P2P use, Virgins 100mb service was more then sufficient.

    If you don't like it UPGRADE!

  • Comment number 55.

    Cem. The issue isn't so much with the speed of broadband, but the fact that ISPs could charge who they like whatever they like to have that site's traffic flow over their network. Say you've just started a great little Internet based business, but then find that no ISP will allow access to your site unless you pay them a large amount of money. That's effectively what we're looking at here.

  • Comment number 56.

    Traffic shaping doesn't HAVE to be about blocking, or even massively slowing down, particular site (although it CAN be done like that).

    Think of the problem as being like the M25 in peak time: there is no way that everyone is going to manage to go at 70mph, because of the issues that causes, so they put a speed limit on the road, so that the traffic runs slower (maybe 40mph) but smoothly, rather than a stop-start-stop-start, which makes things even slower.

    And that's the sort of thing you try to do when controlling an overloaded network link. You decide what is "interactive" traffic (skype, remote computer access, that sort of thing) and try to give it a slightly better than average performance (and the good news is that most interactive services don't actually need large amouts of bandwidth).

    Then all the "big fat stuff" like file downloads, email downloads, we slow down a bit, and make it run more smoothly, and not wasting bandwidth by stalling, and needing data to be retransmitted.

    The end result is that not only does the interactive traffic work well, but because that "big stuff" is now running smoothly, and more efficiently.... and everyone can win.

    (I say all this with the experience of having set up some clever "traffic shaping boxes" to control business customer's site-to-site links, and internet links, converting previously almost unusable links into links that work very effectively)

    Yes, like any technology, it is possible to set it up to be unfair (give ME priority, as YOUR traffic doesn't matter!!)... THAT is what we must fight against, not traffic shaping per-se, as that can actually HELP us ALL!

  • Comment number 57.

    @Cem Kemahli

    So you feel that those less fortunate than yourself have no right to access certain sections of the Internet i.e. they are not allowed to stream at all unless they pay their ISP more?

    I refer again to the fact my ISP offers a basic package with less of a fair use policy than was offered 8 years ago and restricts streaming to the point where it is an unusable service.

    ----

    Also, to throw in an argument for being billed based on usage, the only way this could ever be implemented is if everyone was aware of what services may use i.e. if I watch an episode of QI on iPlayer then how much of my total am I going to use up?

    ISPs would have to implement a way of logging every download so that anyone querying their bill would be able to investigate charges rather than take the ISPs word for it.

    Think of it along the same lines as your phone bill. You get your itemised bill and you don't recognise a number on it so what do you do?

    1 - Call the number again, does it jog your memory? That's right, you called to sort out your council tax that day, problem solved.

    2 - When the call was made, where were you? What did you have to do that day? Did someone use your phone? Oh, you had a friend staying that day, they made the call and all is well.

    3 - Call your phone company, did they work it out? It was a billing issue as no calls were made on that day. Problem solved and refund given.

    Now try to equate that to Internet Usage and you just got a bill for 20GB of usage in a month (based on current systems used to advise a customer of their usage)

    1 - Check to see what was downloaded? You can't, ISPs dont log all your traffic.

    2 - When the downloads were performed, where were you? What did you have to do that day? Did someone use your Internet? If you call your ISP then they cannot advise when downloads took place, what was downloaded, which application did it, which device was using it be it your iPhone, PC etc. My wireless password is already compromised with my ISP unless I buy a 3rd party router so how do I prove I am the only one that can access my connection?

    3 - Call your ISP, did they work it out? Nope, because they don't have the proper tools in place to deal with such an enquiry and as such you need to take their word for it and monitor your usage better.

    Also, as an example, I have 2 iPhones. I had major issues updating them both with the original firmware in my router whereby I had to turn off the router's firewall to get iTunes to verify the downloads. Getting to the stage where I properly diagnosed and resolved the issue took ages and I had to download each update in full before the error appeared. Given that each update was about 300MB in size and say I downloaded it 10 times to resolve the issue, who pays for the 3000MB given that it is not my fault?

    Does my ISP refund me my usage costs because I worked out the router was the problem?

    Does my ISP refer me to Apple stating it's a fault with iTunes since the router works fine at all other times and this is the only application affected?

    Do I just pony up the cash and take it on the chin even though it's not my fault the updates would not take and that I had to keep downloading them to resolve?

  • Comment number 58.

    Do I seem to have missed the Point here, I understand net-neutrality refers to the agnostic manner in which ISP agree to transport traffic around. As I previously stated, bHot & cold Potato routing has existed for over 10 years, so sadly we don't have the agnostic net-neutrality that Robert Mcchesney, Tim Berners-Lee & Barrack Obama espouse. IMHO the shame is that the Internet has been driven by marketing since the middle of the 90s.
    I like the concept of an agnostic Internet where all users are able to exchange information. However as we have seen by the expansion into the less libertarian countries in the world this access is removed as soon as there is unrest, as illustrated by China, Burma, Iran and our western dictator friends in North Africa & Middle east, net- neutrality is not observed by governments, so Business now would like to play by the same rules.
    Idealists like my self would love to have seen the medium to have developed along 'positive libertarian' lines, where worldwide users have the right to exchange information without formal restraints, alas this has turned out to be unattainable. As has the etiquette that existed has now given way to brutal abuse on social networking sites.
    After all is said and done, there will be a lot more spoken. The best days have passed, A Thought; Kansas Undertaker Armond Strowger invented the Automatic Telephone Exchange to attempt an early form of net-neutrality, following his belief that his competition was bribing the telephone operators divert customers away from his business.
    Money gets everywhere!

  • Comment number 59.

    If we all had more speed there would be less of a problem.
    "Fiber to the home not necessary for future multiple HD services" broadcastengineering.com

    http://broadcastengineering.com/news/fiber-to-the-home-not-necessary-future-multiple-hd-services-20110314/

  • Comment number 60.

    Fibre to the Home or the Curb, has no bearing on the net-neutrality argument. Anyway discuss,if you have a domestic Broadband service you will be limited by contention to the local exchange 10-to-1 contention could be considered good, you could get over 50-to-1 at the Data link layer to the exchange, then look at a precedence marking from the local exchange to an agregated link into the Network router where you get to the gateway of the internet where the traffic is differentiated based upon how your packets are marked. At this point any ISP will overwrite to best effort regardless of whatever Type of Service you have set and will route across its core within a seperate Internet logical network entity, the ISP will prioritise alongside its premium services that will have a precedance above that of Domestic users. This model is used by many of our High Street Brands. The local exchange equipment may be owned by one brand and shared by many according to their presence in exchange area. This is known as Local Loop Unbundling.
    It is a little 'broadcasted' fact that an 'international' satellite broadcaster acquired a leader in the local loop unbundling business for their local exchange assets and acquire market share when faced with competition from other bundled media suppliers, it then succesfully segregated the network as indicated above and has recently divested the Managed Business Services to a Venture capital company.
    You can be assured that the plethora of Broaband suppliers are pretty much served by a handful of LLU equipment operators. The real difference in any of the broadband suppliers is in the way that they handle the upstream traffic, so the less you pay the less you get.
    The UK Broadband market has been hindered not by regulation, on the contrary by a lack of centralised Strategy, the broadband rich are those who were fortunate enough to live in areas where Cable Television was allowed to florish prior to being strangled for Capital expenditure by being forced to become revenue collectors for an 'intenational' Satellite Broadcaster, who were allowed to monopolise international premier sport. So the Cable Television companies have acquired and merged into one, interestingly the incumbent subsequent to Privatisation was prevented from competing in this market space, having run very successful trials. Areas served by cable television are able to offer a faster Internet Access service to the home as a legacy and the development of the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS).
    So we need to look back 30 years to find the root problems with our Internet Access to the home. The failure of Duopoly at Privatisation, the failure to divest the incument of its national network, the limiations that prevented local authorities and other utilities from entering the market for a decade, the failure to protect the growth of Cable Television from robber barons gaining a near monopolies in 'international' 'premier' sport viewing content. The ridiculous auctioning of third generation mobile network that almost bankrupted these companies, that far from advancing technology had the effect of stunting growth. The fibre network wholesellers and their blind rush to sell like capacity like costermongers, everyone knows the first Jersey spuds can be ten times the price in the height of season.
    The 'free market' we have inherited is the result of ill-conceived, short sighted governance, the proof is to look to those countries that didn't rush to embrace the 'freemarket', we only need look to far across the channel.
    But Hindsight is a wonderful thing, a positive could be local-loop fibre suppliers working with local authorities using aternative infrastructures (sewers) to solve the local loop issue. Alternatively local consortia investing in Wimax to fill the holes not being met by our effective local loop duopoly. This only solves the local loop issue.
    The Content issue can be resolved by the handful of Local Loop unbundling companies to provide the Internet Protocol equipment to extend Multicast networking from the Tier 1 & Tier 2 to the local exchange, this could have the effect of reducing a thousands converstaions across the Internet to a hundreds of streams connecting thousands of users. I refer to my earlier comment reference the 1994 Rolling Stones Concert. This leaves the question who will pay?
    Net-neutrality is a Utopia that pre-existed the mid 1990s, whilst the success of the Internet is undeniable, but like any transport infrastructure it needs strategy. The internet authorities deserve a big pat on the back for getting this far and I propose had it been left to the International Telecommuncations Union, we would still be dialling up on modems today with a cumbersome protocol stack providing green screen graphics. That is not to say that government does not have a strategic role.
    The expectation that shared content from single users will get treated the same as content from the Media giants is a fallicous nonsense.
    I am living through interesting times in telecommunications, from my days as an apprentice maintaining a generation equipment based upon the designs of the pre-mentioned Armond Brown Strowger 30 years ago, until the present. It is not how far and fast we have got here, but how we maintain the momentum. The wider the motorway the more vehicles, not more bandwidth but smarter use of the avialable resources.

  • Comment number 61.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 62.

    I have a business broadband connection that costs me a little more. It means that domestic broadband will be choked to make sure I get priority.

    I can see a future where some ISPs will specialise in connections that are geared towards a certain type of use - like the iPlayer.

    Other ISPs will focus more towards business usages.

    You will pick your ISP not only for price but by how they balance their service.

    Far from the utopia muttered about in the corners of Slashdot - but probably reality.



  • Comment number 63.

    This article is incorrect. It says

    "Imagine what would have happened if in 2005 when YouTube's founders got the site going, they had been told that they would have to pay even a tiny amount to shift their content over the net?"

    I have a number of servers in datacenters and I can assure you, anyone who runs any service over the net is already charged for the data they move. Every video that comes out of YouTube costs Google money. Rates may vary, but I pay around 4 pence for every gigabyte I send out to a home broadband user.

    So already, providers are paying for traffic AND home users are paying for traffic, and it has always been this way. It would be a shame for non net neutrality to mean providers have a second layer of fees they must pay just to move a piece of data to an end user who has also had to pay.

  • Comment number 64.

    Bah, you should all be lucky...

    I'm currently sat on the most tempermental university network known to man. One minute, it's fast the next it struggles to load an email.

    One thing I'm missing drastically is the constant 20mb connection I have at home. At least when I'm watching sky player it wont cut out or go right down to low quality like it does here.

  • Comment number 65.

    I care about Net Neutrality and I care that my provider (Virgin Media) have already admitted to putting me into their traffic management scheme for downloading "copyrighted material illegally." However, what I had been downloading "illegally" was in fact Microsoft products I was legally downloading through the Academic Alliance. Apparently this is enough for me to be put in the sin bin for 5 hours.

    A two-tier system for The WWW is absolutely wrong. The WWW was built with a foundation of fair and free access to information, it's not up to an ISP to decide what traffic should be treated with priority. The OSI model provides methods to manage traffic, if ISPs are still having problems .. maybe they should take a look at Asia. Korea has connections reaching 100MBps at a basic level, I'm paying £35 a month for 1.5MB. The ISPs only have themselves to blame.

    I'm already paying out of the ears to have an already unstable and frankly poor Internet connection which they (VM) will not remedy. Why should I pay them to make my experience a lot worse?

  • Comment number 66.

    "54. At 12:57pm on 15 Mar 2011, Cem Kemahli wrote:

    We are not all equal, some people are wealthier then others and so can afford to purchase better quality services. We live in a capitalist nation and can not expect companies providing us a service to do us any favours, they are in the business to make money. If you mind having slow internet then upgrade your package, or switch providers. It is only through competition that prices remain sensible.

    Virgin is bring 100/200mb, BT its infinity, Iplayer and skype have already reached HD, and as 4K is a while away, the amount of data they will be sending will remain the same, if you dont have skype by now, you probably never will. Let us stop complaining about ISPs making money, support them, buy their fastest products and encourage them to go faster. There are only so many uses for internet in the average home that even if all families members are heavy users there is a maximum MB/s that they actually use. Personally in a student home of 5 laptops, 1 PS3, 1 XBOX and heavy P2P use, Virgins 100mb service was more then sufficient.

    If you don't like it UPGRADE!"

    ------------------


    South Korea is a capitalist country, as far as I know.

    Look at the service they have there, then compare it to even the best service one can buy in this country...

    ...and then try to come out with a better argument, than "it's capitalism".

  • Comment number 67.

    If anyone is still reading this old blog you may find this article interesting in terms of speed specifics for individual net requests:
    http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2011/03/internet_plumbing

  • Comment number 68.

    At 02:08am on 17 Mar 2011, ravenmorpheus2k wrote:
    "South Korea is a capitalist country, as far as I know.
    Look at the service they have there, then compare it to even the best service one can buy in this country...
    ...and then try to come out with a better argument, than "it's capitalism"."

    in reply to Cem Kemahli who wrote:
    "If you don't like it UPGRADE!"

    It wasn't capitalism, it was South Korean Initiative called 'Cyber Korea 21', underwritten buy the South Korean Government to the tune of US$1 billion give or take a million. I'm no economist, but that sure don't look like the Free enterprise stepping up to meet the demands of the market to me. Umm! did I mention how important a role Government has in driving the strategy.
    Initial spending was US$77 million for the core infrastructure another US$77 million to enable suburbia & a whopping US$926 million for rural areas. This in 1997 when Asia was in the depths of a recession.
    Now this makes interesting reading for the tiny hamlets in South Cheshire who are 'too far' from local exchange, not considering the remote Welsh or Scottish Highland communities, not served by terrestrial or Wireless connectivity solutions. These consumers would like access to the service let alone an upgrade to improve performance..
    However this is a slight digression from the point of net-neutrality, but linked in a way, the price for strategy and development of better services will inevitably be net-neutrality's demise. Government or Business will demand their pound of flesh that will be stricter control on what we connect to for the former and price or the revenue that can be generated by the latter.

    If Capitalism had been driving the space race, how close would be to the moon landing now? that is my cheap political jibe over!

  • Comment number 69.

    It seems that the ISP's want to have the world all ways. They repeatedly advertise speeds that are not achieved in anything other than test conditions. They have an infrastructure that is ageing but expensive and they have failed to invest adequately to provide the service they claim to offer. In short, net neutrality is the equivalent of the Railway Bubbles of the 1840's.

    In the early nineteenth century people were happy to invest while there were massive profits on offer. When it came to finally delivering an effective, cheap, comprehensive train service those investments suddenly disappeared amid profit-taking, scams, failures and inflated costs. Underlying the notion of 'net-neutrality' is a scramble for non-existent future profit.

    Seeking to charge people for first class, second class, pullman service, freight, cattle and mail services - just as the railways did - really only leads to some future Beecham Report of the Internet. In which the internet will be cut back to a tiny network, that is overpriced, runs late, stops at all the wrong places and only connects the big places to each other in a tenuous way.

    Either the ISP's stop advertising inflated data transport rates or they invest to build the infrastructure to support those claims. If they need such high profits then they should leave internet service provision: it is a utility service and not a cash cow. Net neutrality is about boosting profits in a maturing industry where profits are stable or contracting. It is not about catering to "different" kinds of data.

    The truth is that if you have a 20Mb/s connection then you can expect delivery of 20Mb of traffic per second. It is not negotiable. It is a technical measure of data volume per second. Equivocating about "up to 20Mb" is marketing nonsense that the industry has come to believe. The truth is that underinvestment by the shareholders is resulting in a bailout through the bogus notion that the bits are somehow, magically, different if they contain image or text.

  • Comment number 70.

    We live in a capitalist nation and can not expect companies providing us a service to do us any favours, they are in the business to make money. If you mind having slow internet then upgrade your package, or switch providers. It is only through competition that prices remain sensible.

 

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.