I have been interested to read on the subject of net neutrality (ie that all internet traffic is treated equal) and how the belief is that a two tier internet will be created as ISPs look to block certain types of traffic across their network to ease congestion. The fact is that for too long prices for broadband have dropped to such levels that there is just no margin anymore in providing internet access to consumers in the UK. With wholesale prices based on usage rather than fixed it puts the onus on the ISP to carry out some kind of restriction to ensure a profit is returned.
With the advent of streaming services such as video and voice this demand for traffic is only going to increase affecting all levels of communication. The main ISPs argue that the open market should decide on what is actually is delivered and ISPs should be free to restrict and shape their traffic as they see fit. If a consumer doesn’t like it, they can always vote with their feet and go elsewhere.
The problem comes however with TV/Video services making it more mainstream as technologies such as Google and Apple TV make it into the UK market space. How would SKY for example feel about a customer using their heavily subsidised and cheap internet access to view Apple TV in competing high definition? And with the likes of Google maximising advertising revenue there is also potentially lost advertising revenue as more advertising dollars move from traditional TV, online. SKY has the potential to rock the applecart and restrict this kind of traffic, the question is would its customers leave in protest? Probably not, which is why independent content providers are so worried.
What people seem to forget is that lots of services are actively restricted over the mobile networks which have been suffering for longer with higher levels of traffic. Mobile carriers were quick to restrict the use of Skype (which would have lost valuable call revenue) and restrict services such as the BBC IPlayer. You could also argue though that the medium is not fit for service and by doing this the carriers are protecting the experience other customers receive on the network. And even when 3 did embrace Skype it wasn’t as if they took the market by storm in terms of new business.
Either way there will be some fallout as the fixed line market establishes with the new feature rich content on offer. With the BBC categorically stating it will not subsidise ISPs over the use of IPlayer, because realistically where would it end, it leaves content providers in the precarious position where the quality of their content is the only reason any customer would fight to maintain access to it.
I for one believe in net neutrality but realise that some network operators will take a different view. It does however leave an opportunity for independent providers to continue to offer unrestricted access to the internet and build their customer bases.
In my own experience of the fixed line market, customers will swap ISP if they feel their service has become too restricted. As you rightly point out this trend hasn’t really impacted mobile operators in the same way, which is partly because they were quick to impose limits before Mobile Broadband services even took off; consumers now and in general have often had a somewhat low expectation of service quality and access among mobile internet solutions.
So if Sky did start imposing harsh restrictions upon popular fixed line services, although it would probably have to be more widespread than just one particular content provider, then customers might well move on. I for one would not be pleased if YouTube 480p streams or higher quality iPlayer content was suddenly taken away and would definitely move. On mobile networks I expect neither of these services but they do still work, we’re just “educated” to expect the opposite.
* “it leaves content providers in the precarious position where the quality of their content is the only reason any customer would fight to maintain access to it”
Not quite sure which “quality” you mean. I am going to assume that you mean technical quality rather than the contents “quality” (i.e. entertainment value of the content itself) because of course the general quality of any content is and always has been the only reason any customer would want to access it 🙂 .
If it is technical quality then you do have a point. I can survive without an HD stream from YouTube and iPlayer, so if my ISP limited performance to prevent those then you’re probably correct in saying that most of us would hang on. But if the ISP made it so that only the lowest resolution content was available (i.e. usually happens when capping speed lower than 2Mbps) then that might be enough to force me elsewhere.
For example, BT’s 800Kbps iPlayer cap on their entry-level packages is too low and makes the service function very poorly indeed. In this day and age of “superfast” connectivity we do rightly expect more, especially among those of us who have to share our connectivity with others (i.e. family).
Good comments Mark – yes my dyslexic way of writing doesn’t always come across clearly! Obviously I am not suggesting Sky would limit the use of other kinds of technology but it does beg the question.
I think though with regards to mobile I am not too sure it was that quick to prevent as we have had a number of corporate customers complain how Vodafone and the like have restricted Iplayer recently, which wasn’t the case before. Also back in the days of WAP, take-up was poor just because of the poor selection of services available so probably they are limiting their customer base or customers are moving to other mediums for that type of content.