Leading UK internet service providers are warning they may have to restrict customers’ access to the BBC’s new iPlayer service unless the corporation contributes to the cost of streaming videos over the internet.
Internet companies such as Tiscali, BT and Carphone Warehouse have raised concerns that the iPlayer, which allows viewers to watch TV shows over the internet, will put too much strain on their networks if it becomes popular among a mass audience.
Streaming TV shows takes up a lot of bandwidth and could clog up the network, severely slowing internet access speeds at peak times.
“The internet was not set up with a view to distributing video. We have been improving our capacity, but the bandwidth we have is not infinite,” said Mary Turner, chief executive of Tiscali UK. “If the iPlayer really takes off, consumers accessing the internet will get very slow service and will call their ISPs to complain.”
ITV and Channel 4 have also launched internet players and new media companies such as Joost are hoping to create businesses around on-demand television over the internet.
However, the free BBC service, which launched at the end of July, is seen as potentially the most popular and is therefore a focus for ISP concerns.
Ms Turner said that unless they could agree a strategy with the BBC to share network costs, Tiscali would have to restrict users’ access to the iPlayer.
This practice of “traffic shaping” is already used by Tiscali and several other internet companies to manage network traffic by giving lower priority to users who download large music, video or games files at peak times.
While it would not block access to the iPlayer, it could make it painfully slow at popular times.
The alternative would be for ISPs to create a “two-tier” system for customers, charging those people who want to download TV and other bandwidth-heavy content more for internet access.
“We are in regular discussions with the ISPs and together are monitoring the costs associated with video-on-demand,” the BBC said.
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