back to article BBC vs ISPs: Bandwidth row escalates as Tiscali wades in

Outspoken broadband provider Tiscali has crossed swords with Ashley Highfield, the BBC's top technology executive, over calls he made for ISPs to lump the potentially devastating effect of the iPlayer on their business. Since the launch of the popular streaming service, the iPlayer is costing ISPs dear, with one reporting a …


This topic is closed for new posts.


  1. Mo

    The ISPs wading in on this…

    …seem to suffer from a fundamental misunderstanding of what their job is.

    It's dead simple. I, as a customer, pay you, the ISP, to let me access stuff on the Internet. That's it. Finito. HOW you charge me is between you, me and your accountants.

    Working this way ensures the innovative services become popular when the market decides it's ready for them, rather than when ISPs feel like approving them.

    In other words, ISPs are supposed to be gateways to the Internet, not gatekeepers.

    If ISPs’ charging models make carrying traffic for their customers uneconomical, that's their problem. If they don't like it, they can take it up with BT, their customers, or both.

  2. Shakje

    "The BBC would like us to pass all those [iPlayer bandwidth] costs on to the end user,"

    Oh, so they think that the user should pay for what they use? Obviously idiots. Why, in any imaginable situation, should the BBC have to pay for providing a service? ISPs, in selling you a service are suggesting that they can provide anything you ask for (if limits apply, limits apply), it's not like TV at all, but more like a newspaper charging people who are in it for reporting news on them because you should pay for the paper. "Oh sorry sir, I know you've just been in a car crash, but the story takes up two pages so you'll have to give us twice as much money even though it's nothing to do with you how many people actually read the story in the first place."

  3. Paul Mitchell

    Who's fooling who?

    Surely the ISPs can provide the bandwidth that their customers are already paying for, they wouldn't be taking money for services they can't provide now would they?

    I know, I know....

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    At the end opf the day, the BBC must decide if it wants to be a content provider, a broadcaster, or both.

    If the latter then they should expect to incur costs for transmission, if the former then they cannot expect any quality of service and pay nothing.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Oi Tiscali no!

    Why don't Tiscali sort out their business model rather than asking for money from the BBC? This is a ridiculous state of affairs. I would have thought the idea of stop advertising unlimited broadband £6.49 would have been a better idea?

  6. Alastair Dodd

    Tiscali should get their own house in order

    and sort out their really shoddy broadband service and especially their excessively rubbish backend hauls before wading into this battle.

  7. Neil Greatorex
    Paris Hilton

    "Always on" & "unlimited usage" are the problem here

    If the ISPs didn't flog their connections as such, knowing full well that they are unable to fulfill always on & unlimited bandwidth should, horror of horrors, customers take them at their word. There wouldn't be an issue.

    The rise of bittorrent, Youtube & iPlayer is highlighting the ridiculous contention ratios some ISP customers have to endure. Bah.

    Paris, cos she would never sell anything short.

  8. TrishaD

    No Escape

    Would it be possible, do you think, to arrange to pay an additional fee to my ISP to make sure that I do NOT have access to the BBC's recycled crap?

  9. Simon

    Cheeky gits

    Isn't that what their customers are supposed to be paying for? Either cap the connection or charge them extra. I don't see why the BBC should subsidize Tiscali customers just because their service is popular.

  10. Nev Silver badge

    Go Beeb!

    Finally, the Beeb is sticking up for itself after being left to foot the bill for terrestrial digital switch-over costs.

  11. Andrew Moore

    The solution...

    If only there was a way to transmit this stuff wirelessly...

  12. Steve Evans

    Hardly a shock...

    ...given that Tiscali's network is barely capable of handling the traffic they currently have.

    And their technical support can barely handle the levels of lying and misinformation required to fob off people reporting problems.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    Well tough shit ISPs

    It never occured to them that offering "unlimited" packages that cheaply would drop them in it?

    If they don't work out their business model right then they can't bitch when customers start using their service as it was advertised...

  14. Jess
    Paris Hilton

    Maybe the ISPs should have been clearer about their products.

    (Not using terms like unlimited in a different way to the normal meaning, for example).

    They give the impression that they were selling a product that could be used like this, but when it costs them more money they moan.

    It's their fault entirely.

    Saying that, the BBC should provide a caching system, (a live CD, that would run on the ISP's own hardware) .

    Paris, well why not?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why bother with iPlayer?

    They're both as bad as each other. The BBC for creating these costs and trying to avoid paying for the service that they are trying to provide, and the ISPs for lying to the public about limited unlimited connections amongst other things.

    To paraphrase something from one of my favourite books: it's like a wasp landing on a nettle. One of them is going to get stung and you don't care which one it is.

  16. Peter Thomas

    A bit rich?

    "A bit rich that a publicly-funded organisation is telling a commercial body how to run its business"...

    Yet it's okay that a commercial body can get away with not selling a service as advertised? And expect the publicly-funded organisation to go begging-bowl in hand for more cash?

    I leave Tiscali this month. Yayness.

  17. Kebabster
    Paris Hilton

    Aggresively priced?

    Cheap Rubbish I think is what he meant to say. I jumped ship on Tiscali a long time back cos their network couldn't handle the traffic, at peak times it couldn't even be referred to as "broadband", I'm not surprised they're complaining now.

    Surely the cost should be funded by the users - buy the bandwidth you intend to use through a series of capped packages. Works for me (with a decent, non-traffic-crippling ISP).

    Sure I'd prefer uncapped, but you get what you pay for, offer traffic-shaped, uncapped packages & full speed capped at different price points, everyone's happy.

  18. Nigel Kneale
    Thumb Down

    Why just the BBC and not the others?

    So what's going to happen when YouTube et al offer high-definition videos instead of the current low-def offerings? Are UK ISPs really going to expect US websites to donate towards their costs?

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tiscali are full of shit

    ...and that's quite well established.

    Here we have a man that is quite happy to run advertising campaigns full of untruths about what customers actually get for their money.

    Actually, publically funded bodies should be telling him how to run his business. Trading standards for one, and quite possibly the police for another.

    If it wasn't iPlayer using this bandwidth it'd be something else (heck, it already is something else - YouTube uses just as much). Tiscali's business model is a lie, and even if the BBC inexplicably paid to patch it up that doesn't mean a thing when there's a hundred thousand US companies will be providing bandwidth sinks just as bad if not worse in two years time.

  20. Daniel Voyce
    Thumb Up

    A use for the licence fee?

    I for one would be happy for part of my licence fee to go towards this.

    I rarely(if ever) watch anything from the BBC and listen to 3.5 hours of Radio 1 a day - paying a bit of money to (and I use the term loosly) "ailing" ISP's. Id rather my licence fee money was put towards this than the cost of my (horifically crippled, limited, high contention, ANTI p2p) broadband subscription being upped.

  21. Emj

    Flaky business model

    So, I pay for my 'unlimited' broadband connection flogged to me in some big marketing push by a large ISP. I then watch content on the BBC's iPlayer, which is just a fancy name for a website with a whole load of video. The BBC then get flack for causing this demand... Really doesn't make sense.

    The iPlayer is nothing particulary special - there are many sites that have provided video content for a lot longer. The only difference is the iPlayer actually gets used. Bandwidth usage has always been continuing to increase so if the ISP's were short-sighted enough that they for some god-for-known reason thought that nothing else new would come along on the Internet, then that is their problem.

    It would be like Ford producing a car (the Focus for example) and then the Government demanding Ford pay for the roads for the car to go on because people like that car...

    Really the issue falls back to the ISP's dumbass marketing departments coming up with the dumb idea of selling a product as unlimited when clearly they can't back this up.

  22. Dave S
    Paris Hilton


    I'll go with the majority here.....

    It's not the Beeb's fault if the ISPs' business model has been caught out. And why are they not asking for money from iTunes, ITV Formula 1, Youtube, (any other content provider).

    Change your business model, not force all licence payers to pay for your flawed pricing model.

    Paris because she's used plenty of bandwidth of her own over the years.

  23. Andy

    Good old Tiscali

    - where by "good old" I mean "those bastards". Their network can barely cope with all (yes, all) their customers throttled, and noone allowed to use the network between 6 and 11pm. No wonder they're crapping themselves at the thought of this.

    Meanwhile, Be* manage to provide true unlimited broadband at a consistent 8Mb, 24/7, for £14. So, it's blatantly not that Tiscali can't provide a decent 2Mb or so connection at their prices; they're just too greedy, dishonest and inept.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why is only the BBC getting picked on

    I haven't used the iplayer so don't really know how good it is, but why is the BBC getting picked out from the crowd. So their iplayer does consume a lot of bandwidth, on a per user basis it is does use up a lot.

    But what about itunes, obviously far less bandwidth requirements but I'd imagine they have many more customers. Also I can download videos from my lovefilm, why don't they have to charge extra.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Surely its a separation of roles

    I pay for the BBC product already via my licence fee, and if I want product from another site, I pay the appropriate fee or suffer the advertising. The suppliers pay for their bandwidth connection to the internet, so they do bear some of the cost at their end. If i subscribe to lots of video from the US, how does an ISP in the UK intend to recover "costs" from them? Should the BBC effectively subsidise the increased capacity that will also be used by those downloading video from overseas? No.

    Separately I pay my ISP for my connection. I accept reluctantly that due to the limits of the BT line (not living in a cabled area) I can only get a certain pathetic speed, and I have no real choice about this. I have checked quite carefully with my ISP and there is no cap on my usage, althought they state they will block illegal p2p (presumably legal p2p will not be blocked, I've yet to test this out), and I pay a bit more than to the bargain basement ISPs.

    If the ISPs want more money, they should in my view either offer the bandwidths they state "up to 8MB" is not a proper statement, and also either set unlimited download/upload tarriffs or publicly state the caps, and the consequences of breaching them.

    This could probably mean that we will pay more for our connections in the future, but it might be the chance to actually learn what we are getting for our money and force some honesty from the shadier end of the ISP market, as well as realism on the part of resellers and consumers alike. It also might lead to a realisation that we need to invest in better infrastructure (FTTH? Please) including in rural areas if our "knowledge/creative economy" (lest face it, large manufacturing is not really able to do much in the UK now) is to provide any benefit. Long live the universal service obligations (or something reasonably close to it)!

  26. Andrew Storey


    forgive me if this sounds somewhat like I don't care in any way whatsoever...but haven't the ISP's generally been making people pay for exactly the traffic that they Do use for some time now. How on earth can the ISP's complain because if they just cahrge people for usage - the way they do all the damned time anyhow - then they'll just make more money.

    Yes I understand perfectly that the amount of traffic being discussed here is significant but so is the 'I don't care one way or an other as long as the ISP's suffer' attitude that I have.

    Does anyone remember the unlimited offers? I know they are not sustainable but if ISP's were actualy transparrent *ALL* the time with their charging then what is the problem. It's the ISP's business, if they are sulking because the BBC has provided a service online that is *horror of all horrors* ... Popular... then isn't that their business problem, not the content provider. Why should any content provider pay an ISP because a customer of an ISP is using a service.

    ISP's, sorry but honestly, stop talking bollocks and do your job. Make money by charging people if you wish. Or do you feel that may put people off? Don't make me laugh. (Excuse the spelling, i'm rubbish at it)

  27. vishal vashisht
    Paris Hilton

    sponging shits...

    So let me get this right.....after lying to their customers about "unlimited" usage and letting their marketing idiots undercharge for broadband in the first place, ISPs are saying it isnt right to charge customers who use iplayer for using the bandwidth but it IS ok to take money from licence fee payers, many of whom ARENT tiscali customers to pay for the ISPs lack of investment in their networks.

    bloody cheek!!!

  28. gabor

    @ TrishaD

    Is there some 'beyond this world power' that drags your mouse to click on their link?

  29. Ben Davies
    Dead Vulture

    I dont understand the problem

    Sorry, but I'm really missing the point of the tone of the Register over this issue. The authors tone in this article, and indeed in all the articles posted by the Register regarding this issue seem to take the tone that the BBC is in the wrong here. The limitations of various ISP's is of no concern of the BBC, or indeed, any internet content provider.

    It is a well documented fact that ISP's have been vastly overselling thier capabilities and now are in a panic desperately trying to back peddal on the services they provide. I certainly understand thier protesting at the launch of a new, and I assume extreemley popular (if not now, in the future) bandwidth heavy service, but how they can demand that the BBC take responsibility is beyond me.

    If ISP's have been selling broadband cheaper than it costs to maintain, then that is thier issue. Step aside and let ISP's who know how to manage thier businesses in an appropriate manner take up the mantel (be that higher, more realist charges for bandwidth charged to the customer, then so be it).

    Can someone explain how this is any different for the BBC than, say, youtube or bit-torrent, or even, one of my own websites? Is this just an attempt by UK ISP's to broach the subject of tiered internet, anit-net nuetrality?


  30. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

    ISPs: Stop Whinging!

    We pay you for a service. That service is a connection to the internet. You have managed to get away, so far, with telling us our connection is Unilimited. Now, Shock Horror! We want to use that unlimited connection? The one we are paying for?

    If you have oversold your bandwidth, then tough shit. Your problem.

    If you have underpriced your packages assuming that we wont use it(Tiscalli, I am talking to you), then tough shit. Your problem.

    If you have lied about your products for so many years that you have come to beleive that it is right to do so, tough shit. Your problem.

    If you have done everything right, ensuring that the contention ratio is reasonable, and the price is reasonable, then you don't have a problem.

    Stop your belly aching and accept that you are now being found out for mis-selling products for many years. Guess what? TOUGH SHIT!! YOUR PROBLEM!!!!

  31. alphaxion

    blah blah blah

    The thing is, all of that data has been paid for on their networks... by the subscribers who pay for the connections. If they're providing that data stream at below cost then surely that is a problem with their business model?

    How can it be BBC's fault if the ISP's have been tryign to get away with poor business models and practices that simply don't scale.

    I hope they go bust.

  32. Nick Palmer
    Thumb Down

    You pay...

    ...for a contended connection to the internet with a usage policy attached. It used to be the case that this was unclear, but bluntly, anyone who doesn't know that by now probably uses a wobbly X as their signature. The BBC, whose license fee is ALSO supposed to cover the provision of distribution methods, are demanding that ISPs either choke their existing network with a massive increase in traffic, charge all their users for a honking great upgrade to network capacity, or go bust. They, of course, hope to remain entirely unaffected, and are likely to do so, since for all their snivelling about horrible ISPs not giving enough bandwidth to support them, they only allow streaming from their own servers and over their own bandwidth (that's the stuff they pay for) of low bitrate poor quality video. The high quality version, they expect YOU to distribute for them via the abortion that is Kontiki. Easy for them to play consumer champion when either way they don't have to bear the cost of it, isn't it? I particularly liked the way that that sanctimonious prig Highfield claimed that iPlayer's impact was negligible, until the stats came in and proved he was talking through his hat. Still, at least one has the wonderful spectacle of watching a queue of turkeys lining up to vote for Christmas...

  33. Anonymous Coward

    BBC naming and shaming?

    Why does the BBC feel that it needs to name and shame any ISP that can't manage the volume of traffic on its network? If the customers aren't happy with the download rates their ISP offers, they have feet.

    Contention ratios are there for a reason, maximum load can't be exceeded. Customers who sign up for cheap packages should realise this, businesses who over sell on the hope that worst case contention ratios are never reached need to look at their customer base and model service levels on realistic usage. All they need to do is invest in a few extra pipes and normal service levels will return.

    When the BBC sites are not available because a popular story has hit the headlines and too many people are trying to access the site, no one puts the blame on the ISPs for sending too much traffic to the Beeb. It sounds like too many requests is not the problem with the iPlayer. The Beeb has made its investment, time for the ISPs to either invest or drop market share.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    At last ISP's realise.......

    You cant sell Unlimited quantities of stuff if you dont have unlimited quantities to sell, I'm no genius but if you try this then sooner or later it will all fall down!

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Go, Tiscali!

    Push other ISPs out of the market by pricing your services below cost and then complain that people are using what they pay for and you need public money to survive.

    Take business advice from someone, please? I don't care who, even Paris would be better than whoever told you this was a good idea.

    Now seriously for a moment: Budget ISPs bleed money when people use their services. Let them die, it's their own fault. ISPs who provide a decent service, British call centres and products worth paying for, operate on a bigger margin and can afford the hike in bandwidth.

    So Tiscali goes down and their users need to make alternative arrangements. Cry me a river. Pipex would have survived it.

  36. Dave

    The BBC are already paying for it.....

    The BBC have to pay their ISP (well, more like an internet peering - but im sure charges do apply) for transfer of all this data in the first place.

    The ISPs have absolutely no grounds for complaint - can't handle the data rate? deal with it. (ie go bust until you come up with a better business model)

    That said, the BBC should not dictate that the ISP cannot traffic shape etc, let them do that, let ISPs cut off the BBC - you'd soon see it's obviously many fans move to another ISP. (Regardless of your own opinion, the service is obviously popular with the mass market).

    I will be saddened if the BBC have to pay ISPs.

  37. Andrew Storey
    Thumb Up


    So... Dos this mean that Blizzard should pay my ISP for all my World of Warcraft usage? If I can get them to pay the subscription too, I'll be quids in!

  38. Kevin Gurney

    Why ?

    Should I have to pay my ISP extra to cover the costs of other subscribers using the BBC service ?

    Maybe the ISP's could bring out a new package that doesn't have this traffic shaped and charge extra for it so you only pay if you want to use it ?

  39. Darren B

    As long as I don't get charged

    for services (iPlayer, youtube etc) i don't use I couldn't give a stuff what the ISP/BBC do about it.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tosscali more like

    "...There seems to be a lack of understanding about how networks are built. Either we are not explaining it properly or it is falling on deaf ears."

    Err, having had exposure to Tiscali broadband (thankfully not in my own home) I'd say that it was actually Tiscali who don't understand how networks work. Or about good customer services, or fair description of a product, etc. etc.

    The BBC will be paying a hefty wedge for uploading this data onto the internet, that is all they should have to pay. The ISPs then charge their customers for the cost of getting the data across their network.

  41. Adrian Challinor

    So unlimited bandwidth means....

    ... everything except where the bandwidth exceeds the ISP's ability to deliver it. Nice one Tiscali, I think you have just opened a huge can of worms. What next? No streaming media at all? Only email without attachments and web pages?

    I seem to recall a company called Freeserve offering unlimited connection time for free in those heady days when 56K dial-up was fast. And nearly crumbling themselves and Energis (their network provider, sadly no defunct) when they realised that people might just take them at their word.

    If I recall, didn't the Beeb talk about putting content servers closer to the customer, say in trunk exchanges? I thought that was jolly decent of them, even considering this. After all, all the Beeb needs to do is pay for their uplink service and have some decent servers. If they are doing that today (and after some tentative starting problems, they seem to be) then their oblighation is fully discharged.

    How long before Tiscali start traffic shaping the iPlayer traffic?And then how long before someone takes them to task for breach of contract?

  42. Naich

    Who pays?

    "The BBC would like us to pass all those [iPlayer bandwidth] costs on to the end user"

    Instead he'd prefer to charge the BBC, who would find the extra money to pay for it at the end of some magic fucking rainbow, presumably?

  43. Fogcat

    @Nick Palmer

    I'm assuming you're not Nick Palmer my MP because you're not sitting on the fence.

  44. Tim Cook

    You're on the wrong side, Reg

    I'm surprised at the Register's reporting on this whole issue, which appears to be siding with the ridiculous comments of Tiscali and the like.

    Yes, the ISP business is in dissarray and that's partly as a result of the Iplayer, but it's mostly as a result of their business being structured around lies and half truths. If they can't provide the capacity their users demand, and would appear to be paying for, then they need to be honest about that. Tell customers the truth about the service they're being charged for, and introduce a new scale of charges that actually reflects the way their business works. If that's really so impossible, then put pressure on the regulator (Ofcom) to force a system where the smaller ISPs can compete fairly with the infrastructure owners like BT.

    But to direct this bile at the BBC? Actually make a straight-faced argument for them to pay? Utterly ludicrous. It's an impossible argument that flies in the face of every technical (or ethical) principle underlying the internet. The BBC is a content provider putting stuff on the web - no different to the Register, or Google, or Youtube, or any of the other video-on-demand players like Channel 4 or ITV - there is simply no good reason why they should be singled out for some kind of backwards levy on the "broadcast" of content they're not forcing on anybody. The Iplayer is not broadcasting, it's providing content on request to users, using bandwidth that's supposedly been paid for already by the same. If those users are exceeding some limit then just block the connection. That's the ISP's right - under the terms of whatever contract they have with their subscribers. Honest implementation (and charging) of those contracts would avoid this entire problem.

    The license fee is a complete red herring in this. When you compare ITV's VOD content with the Iplayer, does it become any more lighter or less bandwidth intensive because it's funded by ads rather than the public? Does Tiscali get some extra wedge from ITV's advertisers to carry their material? Of course not. The only real difference is that the BBC content is more popular, and that publicly funded bodies are always seen as soft targets when they apparently conflict with the interests of poor, defenceless private companies like Tiscali.

    The funny thing is, I don't remember any of these ISPs complaining all the time that the BBC were using public funds to drive internet and broadband takeup through advertising and educational campaigns, and establishing various internet "killer apps" like the BBC News website, much to the benefit of private companies like Tiscali. These things never work the other way though, do they?

    I look forward to the Register's positive reporting on Tiscali's tax demand to Google - surely carrying that website must be costing the poor ISPs a bob or two as well?

  45. Nipsirc

    Erm, am I missing something?

    The BBC *is* paying for it's usage. It hosts the streams on a server/servers with a connection to the internet. It has to pay for the bandwidth/throughput the servers use. Unless of course it got it's hosting package from someone like Tiscali, who offered them an 'unlimited' allowance for 3.5p a year? I don't have to pay Tiscali if one of their poor uninformed suckers looks at my website, but they use up my allowance on my host. Why should the BBC be any different?

  46. Dave S

    A further comment...

    ...rarely does an El Reg story produce such common comments - apart from Phorm maybe.

  47. Anonymous Coward

    ISPs are all rubbish

    The governemnt should force all ISPs over to public ownership and the shareholders and managers shot for being unable to to provide decent customer service.

  48. Mark

    Re: BBC

    But the internet IS broadcasting. Otherwise RIAA/IFPI/et al could not complain about distributing copies of their songs over the internet just by virtue of having them on their shared drive.

  49. andy gibson

    Misuse of technology

    It's a misuse of technology, plain and simple. Like the roads infrastructure, the UK's data infrastructure just isn't geared to supplying large amounts of video content.

    Stick to letting the users watch TV content where it's supposed to be viewed - on the TV. If they miss a programme, then they should record it on their dedicated boxes (freeview with integrated hard drive, DVD recorder, SKY+, Virgin whatever, or even a good old VHS recorder).

    I'd much rather have a reliable fast internet connection for traditional content, rather than it be slowed down because someone missed Eastenders last night or is downloading dozens of movies from a torrents site or even legitimately from a DVD rental company.

  50. conan
    Paris Hilton


    I find it very reassuring that so many people here consider this to be the ISPs' problem. My consicence is clear paying for a service which is "unlimited" and using as much bandwidth as I can find uses for. Too many of my friends make the argument (the same one people make about insurance companies): that if I'm using up more than my fair share of bandwidth then I'm hurting the service other people receive, which upsets me; if it's a government service that affects society, then I'm happy to reduce my consumption of the service when I don't strictly need it, because I understand that public resources are limited and others could gain more benefit from them than I. When it's a private contract between myself and a corporation, I'll do exactly what they do - try to get as much as I can for as little as possible.

    Paris, because she gets a lot for not very much


This topic is closed for new posts.

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2020