Rory Cellan-Jones

iPlayer: BBC v BT

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 2 Jun 09, 09:20 GMT

When the BBC launched its iPlayer at Christmas 2007, there was a deal of muttering from some internet service providers about the effect on their networks and their costs of handling a flood of video streaming traffic.

Then it all seemed to go quiet for a while, despite an even bigger surge in traffic than most had anticipated. Now, though, the BBC appears to be at daggers drawn with the giant of the UK broadband market over the impact of iPlayer.

iplayerI was contacted a short while ago by a BBC colleague who wanted to tell me an interesting story. He worked in the technology department at the BBC, but was also a BT customer on the basic broadband package. And he couldn't help noticing that every evening, his speed was dropping to such a low level that watching the iPlayer became a much less satisfactory experience than usual.

This chap had access to the infrastructure behind the iPlayer and so was able to investigate further. What he found was that BT appeared to be throttling back iPlayer speeds for its Option 1 customers to somewhere around 700kbps between teatime and midnight.

Bit of a shame, I thought, but I bet BT makes that perfectly clear when you sign up to their cheapest package. But when I looked at the BT Total Broadband site, I was unable to spot any such warning. It was only when the BT press office pointed me at the fair usage policy, buried deep within the website, that I spotted this clause:

"[W]e do limit the speed of all video streaming to 896Kbps on our Option 1 product, during peak times only, which is between 5pm - midnight every day."

So what that means is that if you buy a basic "up to 8Mbps" service from BT, you will find that you are viewing one key service - if that's how you see the iPlayer - at under 1Mbps.

When I suggested to BT that they were not being exactly frank with customers about this policy, they hit back strongly. They insisted that the policy was not having a detrimental effect on the way customers could view iPlayer, because it worked perfectly well at lower speeds.

But the company also suggested that managing the effect of iPlayer traffic was as much a job for the BBC as it was for BT. Here's the key sentence in their statement:

"We believe there is a real issue that content owners like the BBC need to address and we are currently in discussions with the BBC executive to ensure that our customers get the best possible experience in the future."

Now, this is an interesting contrast with BT's apparent stance two years ago, when a spokesman was quoted as saying: "We're not up in arms about iPlayer, we're not complaining to the BBC or discussing it with them."

What we're seeing is the rumblings of a revolution, where the infrastructure providers start demanding that media owners help pay for the cost of their pipes. That is obviously a threat to the principle of "net neutrality" (the idea that the internet should not discriminate between different types of traffic), but change may be inevitable.

BT and other businesses will ask why they should pay to provide a platform for the ambitions of media companies to reach audiences in new ways. The broadband market in the UK is fiercely competitive, and ISPs offering broadband at £7.78 a month are bound to want to limit their costs.

What will be important to consumers is that they get clear information about what they are buying. Catch-up TV is now becoming one of the main attractions of having home broadband - so if you sell a product which makes using that service difficult or impossible at peak times, customers need to know about that.

For now, though, the stage is set for quite a clash between a broadcaster proud of some very innovative technology and determined that it should be as widely used as possible, and a telecoms giant struggling to manage an explosion in the use of its network without forcing customers to pay more. Something has to give.


  • Comment number 1.

    The important thing is that BT are advertising a service which doesn't meet the expectations of those who buy it. It is advertised at up to 8 Mbps, but they are providing less than 1. What traffic they are doing this to is actually irrelevent.

    Personally I would like to see the Office of Fair Trading and the Advertising Standards Agency investigate this. Advertising a broadband service as up to 8 Mbps, and then capping it at peak (ie when people want to use it most) at 1 Mbps, seems to be breaking the law.

  • Comment number 2.

    BT are clearly hoping that the general public is ignorant of such things as peering arrangements, or localised QoS settings (present on just about every ADSL router or cable modem produced within the last 9 years or so). Beyond being less than frank with consumers, they're not exactly being crystal clear about what the BBC (and, presumably, anybody else running a website?) would actually be paying *for*-after all, the consumer pays for the connection, just as with any other transit arrangement.

  • Comment number 3.

    I don't use the iPlayer and have a fast (18~20mbps) cable connection but I think it's unfair that the hardware providers (in this case BT) are saying that it's someone else's fault that their network can't cope with the large demand for services. Perhaps if they invested in the network instead of reaping in the profits and giving it to their shareholders, things might be a little different.

    As far as the "Up to xMbps" claim goes, it's not breaking the law as it states clearly "UP TO" they could get away with providing .01mbps to you as long as somewhere along the line (30 cm from the exchange no doubt!) they can show a speed of 8. This also needs to be changed.

    Where is the fairness to consumers? Why are we always seen as cash-cows instead of valued people? Disgusting but it just seems to be the way of the world these days. Very sad.

  • Comment number 4.

    I wonder, do they throttle BT Vision as well? I hope so, as anything would be anti-competitive behaviour from a dominant market player. Or is that not available for Option 1 customers?

    In general though, it doesn't matter what the content is, I'm paying my ISP to deliver the bits when I request them, what those bits are has nothing to do with the ISP. Why should the ISP get a cut of the business they are carrying? BT doesn't get a cut from the insurance company when I phone up to renew my premium, the Post Office doesn't get a cut from that book or CD that Amazon posted to me, the power company doesn't get a cut from the trades I've just made using my pc powered by their product. So why does BT expect that that the content providers should have to give them a cut?

    Now, if BT has a problem delivering on the service they have sold, that's their problem, they shouldn't be over-selling their capacity. If they want to advertise up-front the terms and conditions that apply to getting a cheap plan, well and good. But their actions here can at best be described as deceptive.

  • Comment number 5.

    Similar issue with Virgin Media and their traffic management system, I have a 10M service but this is cut by 75% if a limit (750M or 1500M depending on time of day) is exceeded, so a couple of legal downloads from itunes or iplayer and the service you have paid for is lost.

    I assume BT and Virgin do this to protect their own services but they wrap it up in some PR spin about protecting the consumer or preventing illegal downloads. Wake up things have moved on from where any large file is considered illegal, I can rent films from apple and play these back on ipod or apple tv or I can download podcasts (excellent series from Stanford on iphone development) for training, but all of these will result in getting a download service of 75% of what I have paid for!

    I am never sure how some of these companies get away with "free" or "unlimited" anymore but seems to be an industry wide thing to fool the consumer. Of course consumers are protected by the regulator/government but I think they are busy at the moment with some expenses "mistakes" to worry about mere taxpayers...

  • Comment number 6.

    I'm sure that they MUST do that for BT VISION too, no?

  • Comment number 7.

    Is a tiered internet inevitable?

    I'm with PlusNet with has a comepletely transparent 'traffic shaping' policy, they even have a nice table on their website telling you which of their packages are managed, down to what speed some services go (P2P, Video Streaming etc...) You can also see that higher up their tariffs you will see there are packages that are completely unmanaged, leaving your connection speed to be whatever is possible at all times.

    Perhaps BT should be more transparent, and give people the option of upgrading their services so as people know to go on a higher tariff, which maybe costs a bit more, but people are aware of the benefits.

    When you hide stuff like this in small print, people just don't know, and will just assume that BT's connection speeds are rubbish, and will constantly circled ISPs only paying bargain bin prices, and moaning about why they only get bargain bin services.
    Good service costs a little bit more, but not as much as you think.

    But I do think it's rather arrogant of content providers (particularly the BBC) to expect all this to be provided at no impact to themselves.

  • Comment number 8.

    #1 I think OFCOM/OFT already looked into this when someone (Tiscali maybe?) advertised an "unlimited" dwonload package that had a download cap (but very high cap). OFCOM/OFT decided this was fine which simply proves that they are failing in their duty to protect the public - unlimited is a simply English word it means NO LIMITS, not even very high ones.

    As for BT blaming BBC, sorry but that is plain stupid. It has been obvious to anyone with half a brain involved in the internet (and most people heavily into internet businesses seem to have considerable more brain power than that) for probably 10 years that once download speeds were high enough people would downloand movies and tv programmes. Streaming them as an option has only been entirely obvious for at least 5 years.

    What are they going to do next - blame us for making too many phone calls.

    Sorry BT, Virgin and all the other ISPs you are going to have to rethink. It is plain daft that a govt report tells them 2 Mbps is enough - come on SKorea is running at 100Mbps. I accept that will only be in the cities and rural UK will be slower.

  • Comment number 9.

    BT do not have to pay for anything. The customer pays.

    Unfortunately unless a lot of the customers realise what is going on, as with so many services / products these days, they will simply carry on buying broadband from companies like this.

    There are so many people with more money than sense, that companies can thrive selling poor products.

  • Comment number 10.

    There is a simple solution to this; customers need to realise that BT shouldn't be a trusted brand, they're one to avoid wherever possible. If you're on BT and you don't like this, or you don't like Phorm, cancel your subscription, move somewhere else, and tell them why.

  • Comment number 11.

    Car manufacturers are allowed to have different specifications for different models in the range, if the BT Total Option 1 was the only product from BT Retail then a clear complaint is possible, but it seems BT Retail are trying to say 'If you want streaming media usage, then buy our Option 2 or Option 3 package'.

    Would anyone buy broadband if the reality of you are guaranteed 30Kilo bits per second of usage, but can burst up to 8Mbps (if using ADSL) dependent on factors like line length, was used?

    In data centres it is normal to buy 10Mbps with a burst speed to 100Mbps, or other variations depending on budget.

  • Comment number 12.

    I used to be (until September 08) with BT Broadband on their top level package (Option 3, with "unlimited" downloads), and I was throttled during the evenings - as I'm a night owl it was very obvious when the throttle was lifted at midnight, and my webpages/podcast downloads/streaming videos all jumped back up to their proper speeds.

    I was taking part in a broadband speed monitoring survey, and while I can't currently get access to the granular data to show the slowdows in the evenings, you can see the effect that the throttling had on my overall average speed here - you can tell when I moved away from BT (the throttling combined with the possibility of being subject to phorm finally pushed me away) to an alternative provider who don't operate caps or throttles, and I now get the speeds that I was paying for, but not receiving, from BT.

  • Comment number 13.

    APFerguson: That would be fine if people were choosing to trade streaming for a cheaper deal, but they're not. As Rory said, he looked at the BT site and "was unable to spot any such warning". This is only partly about net neutrality, but mainly about basic honesty. People are being sold what claims to be high speed internet access and they're not getting it.

  • Comment number 14.

    ISPs have traditionally advertised high speeds and large download quotas on the assumption that only a fraction of their customers would take advantage of it. If every customer used their maximum allowance, the network would grind to a halt. That was a risk they took. Now that online video and TV catchup services are commonplace, they are suffering from that policy.

    I see it as a failure of their own business decisions so content providers should not be made to shoulder the blame for this.

  • Comment number 15.

    I've just been to the BT website and although, yes, they do say that Option 1 is UP TO 8 meg, so are Options 2, 3 and Anywhere. Therefore, anyone comparing the packages would only see a difference in the total cap and other extras such as the ip phone and bundled anti-virus software. Thre is no mention of the speed throttling in the comparison table.

    If you click for further info on Option 1 it states that amongst other things this is 25 hours of iPlayer. Although the sums are right (25 hours of iPlayer per month at 896kbps is about 9.6 GB total), in reality you would need a faster service to watch it at that quality given that the iPlayer needs to buffer large chunks quite regularly. And also BT have no right to moan to the BBC given that BT are using the iPlayer as a marketing tool for Option 1. BT have acted completely dishonsetly in this respect.

  • Comment number 16.

    Virgin Media also do this - I'm on a 20mb connection and at times struggle to watch iPlayer on my computer in the evenings

  • Comment number 17.

    I too use Virgin Media cable broadband which is supposed to be 10mb and yet my use of the iPlayer service is always limited to 1mb connection.

  • Comment number 18.

    Competition and demand has driven down the cost of Internet connectivity over the past ten years. The Internet Service Providers *chose* to charge what they charge today for broadband (which is practically given away) and yet they have clearly over-committed themselves.

    It is ludicrous for the emphasis to be on the BBC or other application providers to 'bail out' service providers when their business models are clearly at fault. I am also strongly opposed to traffic shaping and filtering - it is an underhanded technology does not get to the root of the problem and hinders innovation.

    I would sooner pay more money for a clean unfiltered connection and use the Internet in the manner that it was intended to be used.

  • Comment number 19.

    BT will loss customer because of it.

  • Comment number 20.

    To understand what we are actually paying for, demands ISPs publish their planning rules, especially their peak hour capacity allowance per user.

    My understanding is that way back when a typical web page had no graphics, a resonable customer experience could be had if the ISP provided peak hour capacity of 10kbits per second per user on the shared backhaul and internet connectivity.

    Now that is up to 30kbps approx per user (varies by provider and geography), which is no way near enough if large numbers are running iPlayer sessions simultaniously. That 30kbps peak hour capacity contributes £3-£4 of the monthly subscription.

    While folk including journalists and the Digital Britain debate is being driven by speed, that of it self has little meaning if the end to end system is not revealed or appreciated.

    BT is being a bit silly here, but no doubt the network folk will be claiming network protection measures, and some other bit of BT wishing to sell the BBC some content distribution platform, or a separate bandwidth for TV programme distribution. What's needed is full service transparency where the customer has control how he wishes to use the available bandwidth and quality at peak periods.

    Digital Britain (interim report) dismissed net neutrality, but we do need such principles laid out the way the Norwegians have done, to prevent fair use policies being used to selectively block applications, if that is indeed the case.

    Finally, this 30 Kbps per user at peak, is driven by the price (not cost) of bandwidth. From a quick peek, bandwidth costs (backhaul + internet connectivity) in the UK are twice that of the US, something else not discussed in the Digital Britain report.

    Internet access remains an amazing thing, but if we are all online together, we have less than 30Kbps per second each - if we are lucky.

  • Comment number 21.

    I'm on Virgin's 20Mb service, and having been away for the weekend, coming back to download the TV I've missed on iPlayer, after about 3 HD shows, the connection is throttled back, rendering it useless for my housemates!

    I'm one of those that will pay for a service, assuming it is actually offered - to that end I'll be upgrading to Virgin's 50Mb service as soon as it becomes available. Yes the speed boost will be nice, but primarily it's the absence of the traffic shaping that is enticing me more!

  • Comment number 22.

    IP multicasting -a technology that effectively manages bandwidth use for real time streams in a way that can make the Internet as convenient as broadcast media for audio and video- could really help. This situation showcases the kind of problem that could be solved by multicast, where the real time data is distributed by routers at the edges of the network, thus it becomes unnecesary for multiple redundant streams of the same data to flow all the way from the content provider to the user. The way things are now, network backbones suffer increasing congestion because of this redundant data.

  • Comment number 23.

    Bt claim that this move to throttle speeds between 5pm and midnight is to optimse the broadband browsing experience for all users. This is hardly an accurate way to describe it. After all an optimised broadband experience for all users would mean that those who were online between 5pm and midnight using BT broadband would be able to watch their videos through the Iplayer as BT would have invested in improving the network instead of wasting their money on 21CN which is not going to improve speeds or connectability due to distance from the exchange.
    As a Telecoms engineer having worked on 21 CN I know this - as do a lot of the independant web sites that give info on this and other issues relating to IT and telecoms.
    BT should really be giving up on copper. Its an out dated technology far surpassed by Fibre. If it wasnt why would other countries all be moving accross to fibre, and why would people near cable areas all be starting petitions to get fibre to their homes?

  • Comment number 24.

    Please can some person tell me why a firm like BT have allowed its standards to fall and it seem to me they have lined up as a Rogue Trader.
    Signup for Broadband not explaining Terms & Conditions only to find they have changed the rules on their website. Ofcom sadly just a bit player these days made a robust survey and not one customer got 8mbits.
    Otelo do not deal with commercial problems. The ASA allow this form of advertisement.(8mbits which is deception). IS IT ME or has the UK gone soft on regulation? Do we now except that all people fiddle? In the past, when these problems took place, regulation jumped onto it like a ton of bricks - not any more. Sadly we have lost the trust of the public and there will be a price to pay!

  • Comment number 25.

    Thinking about this further:

    Throttling a specific application at specific times of the day is a horribly inefficient (i.e., expensive and error-prone) way of doing it. The sane method is to perform QoS throttling at contention points - i.e., if you're on a 50:1 connection, where you're sharing a pipe with 50 nearby users, if you start using lots of bandwidth (irrespective of the time of day and type of data being transferred) and other people are also wanting to use the connection, you get throttled back to a maximum of 1/50th of the total available bandwidth. If you're the only one of the 50 who actually using the pipe at the time, you get as much of the pipe as your last mile connection will sustain. This is, in fact, how contended connections were supposed to work in the first place, and if they were implemented this way, nobody would have any issues unless the contention ratio was so high that the amount of available bandwidth divvied up between all of the active users amounts to a pitifully small amount.

    On the consumer side, I've seen some ISPs advertise their throttling as some wonderful _feature_, which is even more disingenuous than hiding it (as consumers inevitably become convinced of the fact) - because users have no control over it, despite the fact that if they wish to do QoS themselves, most routers have supported this for years. In other words, a poorly-thought-out network management system which only *penalises* users, whether or not there's any real need (and misidentifying traffic isn't at all unusual) is somehow marketed as a fantastic selling point!

    Further, if *BT* are having the issuerather than ISPs who are charged for using BT's networkthen the problem should be solved by multicasting (if necessary, by colocating a box within BT's network as the multicast source - though I'm pretty sure the CDNs colocate within major ISPs and at major peering points already) - it really depends on where the congestion occurs, something the ISPs are cagey about, and whether it really boils down to an inability to manage contention ratios properly.

  • Comment number 26.

    APFerguson wrote:
    Car manufacturers are allowed to have different specifications for different models in the range, if the BT Total Option 1 was the only product from BT Retail then a clear complaint is possible, but it seems BT Retail are trying to say 'If you want streaming media usage, then buy our Option 2 or Option 3 package'.

    er - I'm on Option 3, but I have also noticed that my connection speed has reduced drastically over the past couple of weeks. When BT first upgraded me to their "up to 8Mb service" three years ago, connection speeds were regulary around the 6 to 6.5Mb mark, even hitting the 8Mb on occasion (despite their line test reporting that I would only achieve a maximum of 4.5Mb!) However, over the last year or two, this has settled down to around 4-4.5Mb.

    But then over the last couple of weeks, I have noticed this drop to around 2Mb on average (the speed I was on over three years ago!), even dropping as low as 750kb last weekend, when I was going to submit a complaint, but didn't get around to it. I think I will now, though, after today's article!

  • Comment number 27.

    I'm only a sometimes user of iPlayer (maybe an hour and a half over two weeks at the most), but recently I have noticed from around 5pm onwards at times (Yes, I know the kids and teenage terrors have escaped school and have hit the internet by then :) ), if I try to download a program it can give me a download time of up to 19 hours. I checked my internet speed using the link on the BBC nonspots ( uk internet speeds) item and found my normal speed of 2 1/2 Mbps. So is it iPlayer overloaded by the kids, or is Tiscali (or my bt phone connection) lowering the iPlayer download speeds?

  • Comment number 28.

    Most ISPs here in the UK appear to be employing a similar FUP (Fair Usage Policy).

    This basically boils down to the ISPs grabbing money, I note that on a more expensive BT connection you have an unlimited download limit, and I'd wager that they don't throttle the connection either.

    The more you pay the better service you get. BT are and have been unwilling to invest in the infrastructure, not surprising for a private company though, but they don't mind taking customers monies for what basically amounts to a very poor level of service compared to far eastern countries.

    Even the US doesn't have such a bad internet system as we do! I frequently converse with American people via forums and they don't seem to understand that we here in the UK have download limits and caps on speeds...

    Something needs to change and soon imo, preferably the dismantling of the private sector ISPs and infrastructure owners, either that or legislation that forces ISPs and infrastructure owners to provide the service we the people want.

    We know neither of those things will happen though because it's all about the profit!

  • Comment number 29.


    You are naive to think the US doesn't have these issues that we do. If anything they have it much worse becauase unlike in the UK, they don't have the massive number of ISPs available to choose from (though is in part due to fact the US is geographically much bigger).

    Remember this whole Net Neutraily thing actually started in the US.

    However WE DO HAVE A CHOICE!. We can choose NOT to go with BT, once they start losing customers left, right and centre, then perhaps they'll re-think this riduculous policy.

  • Comment number 30.

    @post 21, printerelf - I feel I must comment on your "I'll be moving to Virgins 50mbps service" comment.

    Do you realise that you'll be paying circa 50GBP pcm for that service, whilst users in the far east have far better connections for far less GBP. Users in the US also pay far less than we do for far better services.

    Whilst persons like yourself are willing to pay more the UK stands no chance of getting the internet services we should have compared to the rest of the world.

    The money for improvement to the infrastructure is there it's just not going where it should, instead ending up in shareholders and the other fat cats wallets.

    The only reason Virgin are charging so much for their "new" "high speed" services is because they see that people like yourself will pay for it.

    I doubt very much that they have actually spent a significant percentage from the overall profits they make from existing customers on the "improvements" to services they have made, for the select few who have access to cable.

  • Comment number 31.

    It really does seem that the internet compaines are cheating consumers. We need an honest and open system where by someone can choose to pay £10 a month for internet that will only run at 1Mbps if thats all the need and someone else who is a heavier user can pay more to have their connection at at steady 50, 8 or 4Mbps 24h a day. No throatling, no shaping, just what is advertised, an always on connection at an agreed speed. Why is that so difficult to achieve. At the minute the way things are I wouldnt trust any company to provide what they advertise. The industry needs to sort its act out.

  • Comment number 32.

    I agree with those who make the point that, quite apart from net neutrality, there's a fundamental issue of BT and other ISPs making it clear to customers upfront what speed (with whatever variations) they're getting when they sign up with the ISP, and delivering the speeds that they've led customers to believe they'll be getting.

    If ISPs don't do that, the customer should have the right to leave without penalty. It's not right that BT can effectively say (as reported in the original BBC news item yesterday): "But the voluntary code doesn't make us give full details upfront, burying it somewhere on our website is good enough for Ofcom, so that's that" (in fact the info ought to be in a "prominent place" on the website and it clearly isn't if it's buried, so isn't that a breach of the code already?).

    Both Ofcom and the ASA have been pretty toothless about all this. The code on broadband speeds needs to be stronger, and compulsory not voluntary - perhaps that will happen only if customers take a stand, complain to the OFT etc and raise the issue of unfair consumer contract terms. Not to mention unfair commercial practices.

  • Comment number 33.

    To answer a few questions about what BT do with BT Vision - that is managed separately by BT, along with the traffic from BT's VOIP phone service, BT Broadband Talk. Neither the BTV On Demand traffic (even if it is an overnight download of an HD film) nor the BTBBTalk traffic are counted in bandwidth usage, nor is the BTV traffic throttled. It is separated out and identified via the DPI technology that BT use for managing their network. I use both services and they work extremely well.

    The problem that BT are having, is that they sell the BT Option 1 Broadband package mainly on price. It is a cut-down lower cost service, with reduced bandwidth limits, and most people probably are aware that if they sign up to Option 1 Broadband they only get an allowance of, I think, 10GB per month and will have to pay if they go over that. What is NOT made at all clear, is that firstly, there is NO way for a user to monitor their bandwidth because BT refuse to provide any online metering. Secondly, there is a lot of obfuscation by BT about the throttling of speeds at peak times, both in relation to file sharing and iPlayer usage. The package is sold as being an "up to 8Mbps" service just like Options 2 and 3. The information about throttling is hidden away in the hard to locate "Fair Usage Policy", and even when you find it, or question BT support staff directly about it, they do not give clear information.

    I'm afraid BT gave up really trying to communicate clearly with customers a very long time ago. They simply want people to buy the Option 1 package on price. It would be much simpler if there was an upfront declaration of these throttling policies, and even better, if they just charged customers solely on the basis of usage - you pay for the bandwidth you use. Use the iPlayer a lot - pay for the bandwidth.

    It's a bit like the water utility company complaining to the luxury soap manufacturers that they are encouraging people to take more baths, then demanding that the soap manufacturers pay a water levy, and that if they detect a particular companies soap in the waste water from a house, they will cut off or throttle their water supply during peak hours. Of course it's madness - the water companies long ago worked out that the fairest way to deal with the problem was to install a meter so that high users pay more. Eventually this may occur to the ISPs. One day. Perhaps even to BT.

    Presumably the BBC pay their own ISP for the bandwidth used by the iPlayer leaving their network, and the end users of the iPlayer can pay THEIR ISPs for the iPlayer bandwidth coming down their connection. I know it's a revolutionary idea, but it might just work - it does for electricity, gas and water and even telephones. Where's the problem?

  • Comment number 34.

    BT throttle and port shape all their options. I was on option 3 but found i could not download a game demo from gamespy because its distributed via bit torrent, perfectly legitimately. I complained to them, but they said all bit torrent was illegal and i shouldn't be doing it!! They no longer get my money, Sky do. They removed all limits and FUPs last year and i can download what i like at any time.

  • Comment number 35.

    @BTCustomer - "Where's the problem?"

    I can immediately see one problem with you analgy with ISPs and utlity companies.

    We're ripped off on energy prices here in the UK, something which has long been the case.

    What makes you think ISPs won't use the same business model?

    Yes the ISPs are not being transparent enough, but we shouldn't have differing price plans, it should be unlimited usage, no caps, no throttling, and no fair usage policies at all.

    All for one flat fair rate.

    At the moment we have a two tier group of home internet users, with "those that can afford" having relatively good services, whilst the rest of us struggle along on the internet "super highway".

    But even in comparison to the lower end of the scale in the far east our "those that can afford" users are far behind them.

    There is only one solution - get rid of the shareholders and fat cats and hand this countries services, including the internet over to the people.

  • Comment number 36.

    Some people still labour under the impression that the regulators are there to solely protect the public interest. It seems part of their remit these days is to smooth the path for big business. In Ofcom's recent broadband report they suggested that innovation and experimentation in new business models should not be hampered if it does not result in substantial consumer harm. Perhaps being economical with the actualité is part of a new business model.

  • Comment number 37.

    Great that this story is out in the open for mass people to see. This So called management has been going on with BT for over a year now. All Options, all protocols and SSL.

    For BT to Come back and Blame BBC about slow Iplayer is crazy. I

    Urge folk to checkout to get bigger idea on whats occuring. Bt atm are getting away with whatever they want and Ofcom seem to let them get away with running a shoddy service.

    BT need to save ££. Mass Throttling of all Options on BT from 5or6-midnight im sure saves them a bucket load of money.

  • Comment number 38.

    This will only get worse, as more and more people download more and more stuff. They've had years to fix this, but have failed. Proper regulation on how they can advertise needs to be brought in, "up to X MB/s" no longer means as much as it did 7 or 8 years ago, instead peek network details should be up on screen in big letters, including contention ratios and perhaps average pings/latency for most users. Oh, and whether or not Phorm and other rubbish is included. "Fair usage" caps should also be made VERY clear on advertising. Yes it's more complicated, but this stuff has become far more important than a bandwidth figure which you may or may not reach if you're more than 10 meters from the exchange.

  • Comment number 39.

    Dont forget its not only Option 1 users that are throttled. I was on Option 3 and the fair use Policy was throttling me. BT said it was throttled because of my over use? I'm now with Sky, no Fair use policy and a decent speed around 3meg.



  • Comment number 40.

    Dear Rory,

    please have a look on the forums of thinkbroadband on BT

    we need your help to spread the word and to get BT to give us all a better service. as reported today on the BBC Broadband is getting considered by the majority of the British public as a necessary utility like water and gas. imagine when you have to use the shower in "peak" times you only get a tiny bit of water because everyone else is taking a shower. it's not acceptable for broadband providers to keep doing this to it's customers on 12-18-24 month contracts and don't give them the service needed to keep England going!

    please help and keep reporting on this issue!

  • Comment number 41.

    pay £10/month and 50p per GByte and all this stress and excitement will simply vanish. Deriving revenue from GByte charging provides the financial incentive to install the capacity to deliver more GB.

    As things are it's like a filling station with a fixed £15 monthly charge and no meters on the pumps - would one expect queues ?

  • Comment number 42.

    12: I agree. I have Option 3 and it's obvious my speed is throttled before midnight. Implying this is limited to Option 1 is disingenuous at best.

    33: I *do* pay BT more for the higher usage.

    I intend to move away from BT because of Phorm. This is just another reason.

  • Comment number 43.

    First off everyone not using cable for BB have to use a BT line so they are automatically subjected to BTs terms for BB connections to either BT or which ever ISP they use this includes Virgins ADSL BB service, so no matter who your ISP is you will never get the speeds they say you can get until BT change from copper to fiber.

    The whole point of upgrading to Virgin Medias 50mbps service is for faster downloads and no fup, also if you can afford it upgrade to the 50mb on the VIP package on VM and it only costs £10 extra and you get a new modem (capable of speeds up to the new 200mb currently being tested) and a Wireless Netgear Router able to provide fast wireless connections.

  • Comment number 44.

    This is the kind of reason why companies like BT cannot be trusted...

    Just move to Sky Broadband - so much more reliable and no throttling :)

  • Comment number 45.

    Forget about 50mbps download when you have only 1.5mbps upload. I don't mind paying even 30 more pounds on top of the 50 pounds to have 50mbps up and downstream. For any of you think why any person on earth would need more upload bandwidth other than P2P file sharing. I intend to use it for my PCoIP equipment outside my local network and 1.5mbps doesn't even worth trying for 800x600 res. (Currently a 50mb Virgin Media user)

  • Comment number 46.

    Who does voluntarily go to BT anyways? There are so many smaller ISPs out there which provide a better service than BT. In my case I use BeThere and there is no such problem. :)

  • Comment number 47.

    Given that ADSL is a contended service, it's ludicrous for everyone to expect 100% bandwidth all the time, some balancing / prioritisation is a necessary component of keeping the internet alive.

    The reality though for iPlayer is that lot's of people are accessing the same stuff, so an intelligent cache inside the BT network could easily reduce the effect of iPlayer on the rest of their network.

    If they can put in boxes from Phorm to inspect every web page I visit they should be able to do something constructive about iPlayer.

  • Comment number 48.

    @deplanque: Instead of asking BT to provide a better service change to a different provider. The first mistake you did was to go to a big company which doesn't care about their custommers but instead only cares about to maximize their profit. Virgin Media is another company which has the same proprities. But there are enough smaller companies out thee which provide better service for the same or even less money. Just vote with your wallet and show BT, Virgin Media and their alike that you do not like thier "service"...

  • Comment number 49.

    Have you noticed that BT's speedchecker does NOT EVER work inside peak browsing hours, this is interesting as you need to run this test 3 times at least 3 hours apart, but if you can never run it during peak times then yuo can never proove to BT just how bad things are for you during the evenings.

    I have a feeling this is not coincidence, and i think we're just beginning to unfurl BT's dirty tricks...

    FYI, i live in SW London zone 3 and get 1.1mbps at the most! - unreal.

  • Comment number 50.

    if they are limiting streaming video that is going to impact the new xbox live features, if microsoft switch the uk to streaming movies instead of downloads as they announced at E3 on monday.

    no 1080p streamed video for us then :(

  • Comment number 51.

    As others have mentioned BT is not the only one doing this. I'm with Virgin Media and constantly with a 10Meg connection I have trouble watching the iplayer in the evenings. It's now become a case of use a fraction of your bandwidth and throttled back by 75%. This is beyond a joke and if it wasn't for a lack of phone line I'd have left Virgin by now.

    To make it worse Virgin is promoting it's online storage for everyone to use which just ends up with anyone trying to use it throttled even faster.

  • Comment number 52.

    I spoke to BT about this as I was having trouble with high def YouTube and normal def iPlayer, despite my line stating it was connected at 7,600kbps and broadband speed testers stating I had a download speed of 6,500kbps.

    I was told...
    "As per the conversation we had over the telephone, I would like to let you know that I have run some tests on the line and found that there was no problem or fault on the line and everything is fine. Also, I would like to let you know that there is no restriction on your line which may cause any issue with the speed."

    Over the phone I asked "so you are saying the BBC article is untrue?" and was told "Yes."

    Seeing as I was having problems with streaming video even though my connection speed seems plenty, I tend to agree that there is something going on.

  • Comment number 53.

    BT should pay whatever they need to pay in order to provide full internet connectivity to its subscribers. Why? because that's the business they are in! Nobody's forcing them to be an ISP. If they don't want to do it properly they should leave it to other companies that do.

  • Comment number 54.

    BT is what's described as the incumbent. They have the largest telephone and broadband network in the UK. Under European rules they were ordered several years ago to open up their networks to other ISPs - this enabled two things. 1) ISPs to use BT wholesale products, such as IPStream to deliver services and 2) to Loop Unbundle i.e. to not use the BT backhaul from the exchange to data centers. Instead they could provide their own fibre - any ISP supplying above 8Mbps is normally a loop unbundled supplier. Those that are using BT as a backhaul using BT Wholesale IPStream products have to pay for 155Mbps segments @ at around 100K per month. These segments supply data from BT colossus to the ISPs data centre. From the ISP data centre they break out onto the Internet.

    Peak hours are traditionally between 5PM and 12PM. During this time X subscribers are all using their Internet. If they are BT customers then they are wholly on the BT network - it doesn't take much to see how X users can saturate a 155Mbps pipe (realistically 622Mbps pipes are used, but these are made up of 155Mbps segments)

    TCP/IP is used as the transport protocol for your video. BBC iPlayer layers an additional streaming protocol RTMP over the top. TCP is a reliable protocol and to guarantee QoS requires that data packets sent are acknowledged. The ACK nature of the protocol together with flow control limits connections to their true performance, as 100% saturation of a pipe isn't possible. Also ADSL is asymmetric meaning that it can pass data in both directions, but download is faster that upload, usually 56, 128 or 256Kbps - so standard ADSL download speeds are capped by the upload speeds.

    Video is delivered at a constant bit rate. Which isn't what TCP and the broadband networks was designed to do. Normal Web page browsing is bursty in nature. As I said it doesn't take much to see why ISPs have problems delivering constant video streams over their 155/622Mbps segments.

    ISPs offer silly broadband packages to attract subscribers. They then pack as many subscribers as they can onto their infrastrucure and then blame the content providers for supplying content.

    We are going to see tiered ISP packages, which will include top end packages that are designed for video consumption.

    We are going to see alternative deep caching networks that provide the QoS and bit rates required for video delivery.

    We are going to see a move away from constant bit-rates to deliver video. We will see variable or dynamic bit-rate delivery instead

    ISPs have got their pricing models wrong. Simple. If you advertise an all you can eat buffet don't be surprised when elephants turn up to eat!

    Who's going to pay - we are!

  • Comment number 55.

    Indeed, this is the point.

    It is all well and good blaming the ISPs for not investing in their infrastructure and to a point we are right to do so.

    However they are profit orientated businesses, they want a certain return from their investment. So obviously they will limit that investment to the bare minimum to keep retail price to a minimum.

    Not rocket science is it? So if you want an isp to spend more on their infrastructure the YOU and I will have to pay MORE.

    With the current internet infrastructure and charging mechanism (essentially a BT monopoly) the "all you can eat" model simply doesn't work when high bandwidth apps like iplayer start becoming popular.

    Essentially the heavy users are going to have to face facts and start paying more......

    .....unless the competition to BT deem its a good investment to unbundle BT exchanges and start installing fibre to our homes nationally I can't the situation changing any time soon.

  • Comment number 56.

    @ ravenmorpheus #30
    I'm already subscribed to the VIP service from Virgin, so as mentioned by raven2751 (#43), I'll only be paying £10/month more for the service than I am at present. Collectively my housemates and I combined are heavy users, and based on the current service offerings available we have to pay extra for a service that suits our usage. Generally we endeavour to use high bandwidth applications outside peak times, however if we can't then we get our connection throttled as a result, as we agreed to in the pages and pages of T&Cs that no-one ever reads when signing up for the contract. Before berating me for not reading the T&Cs, ask yourself when was the last time you read a EULA.... This is the best service that we can get until someone releases a better one, so that's what we're 'stuck' with, traffic shaping and all. The sooner someone offers me a connection that I can do what I want with, whenever I want it, the sooner they will get my business. However much people may dislike the fact, presently this looks to be Virgin's XXL BB.

    "The only reason Virgin are charging so much for their "new" "high speed" services is because they see that people like yourself will pay for it."
    To the UK, the service IS new because, as has been mentioned in numerous articles/blogs, in this country we are predominantly using old copper lines to connect users, with fibre having been added as an after thought, but only where it has been deemed commercially viable. If no-one takes up the 50Mb service, then obviously there's no need for it, so there's no commercial need to spend the time/money upgrading the network to support it. Japan for instance, has the capability for up to 1Gbps, in no small part due to the fact that the Allied bombardment destroyed their existing copper communications infrastructure, and so they re-established themselves with a higher quality network which as a result is currently capable of supporting these speeds (and yes, it is also heavily subsidised). They are struggling to make it commercially successful because no-one really has thought of a use for connections that fast!

    Without wishing to turn this into a financial/political debate, but if the government wants to stimulate the economy, and set the UK up as a leader in the up-coming digital world, then I think £50 billion (or however much it's up to by now) would have been FAR better spent on FTTH for the entire country, re-nationalising the physical telecoms network, and then no-one has to ever deal with BT Wholesale as a private company again! If there is public ownership of the 1+Gbps pipe to every home/office, connected to a backbone that could actually support its use, then suddenly we have a level playing field once more for all the companies that want to provide a service over it, and perhaps some real competition and choice for a change. We'd be paying for the service we received, not the physical line we receive it over. If the internet is, as the government has decided, to be a right rather than a privilige, then the infrastructure that it is broadcast over should not be owned and controlled by a company who seems to be oriented more towards satisfying shareholders than users. By all means, have service providers compete for our business, but have them do it over a network at one standard, that they have no commercial interest in, or hold over. When technological advances come along that enable a speed upgrade, it can be upgraded country-wide, and the services offered as the demand dictates.

    Back to the original topic however, as I believe has already been mentioned, if BT cannot find their way to either offering or providing the service that their consumers want, then they can and will go elsewhere to get it, as is the idea behind privatising the telecoms industry. BT have the option, as Virgin have done, to have in-house sources of the iPlayer content, allowing them to reduce the load on both their external connections, and the BBC's servers.
    It's analogous to Nintendo complaining that they can't make Wiis fast enough to keep up with demand, yet not bothering to review and improve their production processes.

  • Comment number 57.

    I don't think it's a matter of BT not providing the services that people want - they're investing millions/billions into the new 21CN network and into their Content Distribution and Delivery (CDD) services. Sure BT Global services lost a load of money with bad pricing, which has resulted in a cut back in the the 21CN roll outs etc, but as mentioned BT is a private company and struggling like the rest of us.

    Let's put this into perspective. The argument here is that BT (a private company) is throttling traffic. Have a look at the T&C's of other ISPs - you'll find that they all reserve the right to throttle traffic during peak.

    ISPs have over the last 24 months complained about not having enough capacity to serve iPlayer content. They've asked that iPlayer consider paying for it - who pays for iPlayer? We do as license payers - so if we want to watch iPlayer, or other video related services we in the end will end up paying £ to do so. The question is if we pay will we get the QoS that we're paying for? And what effect will a large number of pay to view video customers have on the networks? The answer is the same - prioritised traffic for pay to view video customers will squeeze the pipes until we're in the same situation.... so what then?

    The answer lies not with the ISPs, but in the CDNs that deliver the content. Under 21CN CDNs can have Points of Presence (POPs) in the metro nodes (under the current network structure CDNs can't put machines/kit into the BRAS nodes - LLU ISPs can co-locate at the DLE level) - this means that the content is placed closer to the consumer and therefore by passes the IPStream back hauls of the ISPs - meaning video can be served from different routes and internet traffic served from the standard ISP infrastructure.

    So it's not the ISPs that need to make investments it's the CDNs BUT where do the CDNs get the money to invest? By charging the content providers more, who in turn will either try and re-coup monies via advertising (unlikely given the current climate), or charge slightly more for their content - which we as video consumers will have to pay for - BUT how many services are now free, or completely ad-funded? Most.

    No - ISPs will charge us more, but pay CDNs to route traffic off their (ISP) networks and deliver video via deep caches or streams.

  • Comment number 58.

    Some brilliant comments on this blog post.

    BT have always been ridiculous, but their behaviour here is downright wrong!

    I had to rant about this too, on my blog:

  • Comment number 59.

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


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