back to article iPlayer Politics: Behind the ISPs vs BBC row

ISPs including Tiscali and Carphone Warehouse reportedly want the BBC to help pay for bandwidth incurred by usage of its iPlayer. But what's the real power play? It is no surprise to find these two at the head of the queue to complain about the iPlayer. They have been the most aggressive participants in the broadband price …


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  1. Daniel Bennett

    It's been said before...

    And i'll say it now.

    If the BBC Want to achieve this, they need to invest in better software for their product and not the crappy stuff they are using now.

    And as for ISP's moaning - Why? If people are paying for 2MB 4 MB whatever speed, they should get that at a resonable price. If the service lags for all your customers you need to invest, not let all your customers suffer when not all your customers will be doing things like this.

  2. Dave Murray Silver badge

    iPlayer Standards - God NO

    "The iPlayer could be the platform around which standards are set for efficient IPTV distribution"

    God I hope not. From what I've read the iPlayer is a disaster. Based on Windows Media, using Bittorrent software that doesn't allow you to set maximum up/download speeds or turn it off without delving into areas most users don't understand, requires client software and an ActiveX control in IE, Windows XP only, won't work with any non-IE browser, poor quality video, etc, etc, etc. If you made a list of everything that could be wrong with such a project it seems the BBC have ticked all the boxes.

    What we need as a standard is a platform developed by a company or companies that understand IP, networks and software. Not a Heath Robinson nightmare from the TV equivalent of civil service bureaucracy.

  3. Scary

    Double Charged?

    So if the BBC have to pay for the bandwidth, would the ISPs give away free subscriptions to end users? Or do they want to charge twice for the same bandwidth (seems a little unfair to say the least).

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ofcom doesn't regulate the iPlayer - the BBC Trust does

    Just a point of fact. Ofcom does not have the power to approve the iPlayer, that is the role of the BBC Trust. Ofcom was involved simply in providing the analysis of the potential impacts on the market, but ultimately, it was up to the Trust to approve the iPlayer

  5. Rich Silver badge


    This assumes that the iPlayer is going to be so massively successful that the whole internet infrastructure will collapse under the volume of traffic that it will generate.

    If this is not the case, (and I rather suspect it won't come close), then I fail to see what the ISPs' arguments are for trying to screw cash out of the BBC. They don't get anything from YouTube for streaming their content. They don't get get cash from BitTorrent sites. They don't get anything from Google, or Yahoo, or (indeed) the "normal" BBC web site. Why? Well, despite these services / sites generating huge amounts of traffic, the ISPs know they wouldn't get anywhere!

    The ISPs clearly see the iPlayer as an easy target (it's publicly funded and it's on their home turf) and so are wanting to hold the BBC to ransom over it. This all sounds entirely without justification.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ISP free market at fault again

    This government has side stepped its responsibilities in the broadband market claiming that competition is the only thing that matters. They have forced companies to compete on unfair terms under an incumbent telco (BT).

    No-one gets a decent service (really) compared to what the marketing said when they signed up. No-one has any incentive to invest in the network and now an app that is on the right side of the DRM laws is bringing this to light.

    BT should invest more in their networks for the price and ofcom / government should intervene before we have worse internet than africa. ...

    Nigeria has a large fibre network for their internet... its a sorry day when scammers in a 3rd world country have been connections than us!

    Thanks BT!!!

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    LLU will be okay?

    Hahahaha, you're funny!

    On Tiscali LLU you're lucky to be able to use http during "peak" hours (defined as 6pm-23:30, but in reality add a few hours on the end). POP3 and SMTP if you're very lucky.

    P2P/Bittorrent, hahahahahahaha, forget it!

  8. Martin Saunders

    Re: Mmmmm....

    "The ISPs clearly see the iPlayer as an easy target"

    Not really, it's more because the iPlayer is p2p based which drastically reduces the content distribution costs for the BBC (same for Joost). In a crude way, from the providers point of view if you have lots of Broadband customers using iPlayer you effectively have double the bandwidth on your network than if they are dragging the content from something like youtube each time. I know it's upstream vs. downstream, but in the land of ipstream you have a total combined upstream/downstream thoughput that services like this tend to skew which is bad news if you're running your network very hot (over capacity).

    As for LLU, the network is cheaper which is good news, but because most LLU providers run their network to almost exactly match the way ipstream works (so migrations are easy) then the network is still pretty inefficient at dealing with this kind of p2p traffic.

  9. Chad H.

    Double Charging

    So, I "Pay" talk talk or their connection.

    But BBC should also pay for my connection.

    I'm sorry, but if CPW cant supply the product they supply me, at the cost we agreed, WTF should they get to charge somoene else, for the bandwith we already agreed a price on.

    Greedy Gits.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Stop advertising the Internet connections as unlimited!

    ISPs should not be blaming the BBC for iPlayer, but should be looking at their own products instead.

    I'm not an ADSL subscriber, but I am perfectly aware that my heavier than average usage is unsuitable for the likes of Tiscali and Talk Talk. These ISPs have been trying to sign up as many light and quite profitable users as possible as they haven't used up that much bandwidth... until now. The average Joe Bloggs will be doing p2p with iPlayer - this is an ISPs worst nightmare come true.

    Instead of offering the famous unlimited connection one size fits all package with the disclaimer of a fair usage policy, they should be realistic and realise that the customer may need a variety of packages to choose from to suit their usage. It's pointless going after the BBC asking them to cough up money.

    Hopefully more customers will eventually move onto LLU based products in the future.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Define "reasonable"

    Daniel wrote: "If people are paying for 2MB 4 MB whatever speed, they should get that at a reasonable price"

    If you use 2 Mbps all day, every day, you're costing your IPstream based ISP about 300 quid a month in BT Central charges. That's not reasonable, and it's not your ISPs fault, it's BTs.

    The ISPs aren't faultless, what with their misleading marketing and so called "unlimited" packages.

    However the iPlayer is a mass market product that any consumer can use that's a real hog for bandwidth. Suddenly every ADSL user has the potential to be downloading many GB of data every month, when previously it was just the people filching masses of copyrighted material over P2P.

    It's disruptive technology that IPstream wasn't designed for and certainly isn't priced to be able to support.

  12. Dom

    Tiscali complaining?

    I don't know why Tiscali are complaining - their LLU service barely runs HTTP! I was on Eclipse (who use Tiscali's LLU). Poor connection speed was an understatement - sometimes taking 2 mins to bring up let alone trying to run P2P! Before giving up (after 12 months of trying) and migrating, the best that the LLU gave me was a very shakey 2M connecton. After migrating to (who use BT Wholesale, incidently), I now get a very stable 3.5M. Better, but far short of the quality of many other countries ADSL - some up to 100M.

    This country's broadband is a joke, there needs to be heavy investment in the whole system - and more regulation of ISP's that get away with anything (a good example is an ISP being able to use the word "Unlimited" when it clearly isn't).

    I think that this iPlayer argument is excellent - let's hope that this will force BT (and others) into upgrading the WHOLE system into something that will be over-engineered and therefore future-proofed.

  13. matt

    predictable and subjective criticism .... <shakes head>

    the first two comments from Dave Murray and Daniel Bennet are just typical of people who read Microsoft, DRM and media player and see that as the basis for criticising the product itself rather than looking at the bigger picture. Im sure both participate in any thread or discussion that involves criticising M$. I Just wish people would think for themselves.... "from what i've read" is never a great way to enforce your position Dave, seriously.

    There are some simple facts that the 2 D's (from this point forwards) seem to ignore when day dreaming about their Open Source paradise where everything is free and sandals are always "in". unfortunately this is the real world. people die, KFC is bad for you and some companies make money out of proprietary software (its ok you can come out from behind your bedroom fitted server rack now and crank the air con units down a notch, i promise not to mention that subject again).

    There are non-functional limitations beyond the control of most broadcasters that have a huge impact on solution architecture for most commercial VOD products e.g. 4oD, ITV on demand, iPlayer; the producers of the content are fiercely protective of their output, and rightly so.

    This leaves the broadcasters at the mercy of production demands for protecting their assets. Open source?, absolutely no way, standards for this kind of security are proprietary and for obvious reasons because people want to know that if they are securing their assets that the technology cant be downloaded from CVS any day of the week and hacked about with by spotty /. types (yes this is naive approach but we are talking about people with little interest in the nitty gritty of technology, they want someone commercial they can pin the law suit on when the product breaks)

    This leaves the broadcasters with little choice when it comes to a pervasive format that can be secured in a proprietary manner. Most people use Windows and Microsoft DRM is proprietary and microsoft are a commercial organisation with pots of cash.... there, what a shock eh?, as for the delivery platform there are reasons for Kontiki as well which is used on most VoD platforms, mainly around certifications from across the water (as far as i know).

    I'm sure lots of people out there love Joost and youtube but apart from sitting down to watch the odd happy slapping vid and semi-interesting snippet from joost the one thing they will never have is the volume and quality of content because the broadcasters still have huge power due to the good old television set.

    Im pretty sure that the platform's will evolve so that sometime in the near future Mac users can do three things with their shiny fashion accessories (on top of composing videos and touching up their pictures they may be able to watch VoD ! they may even brand it a tri-Mac) but i wish people would be a bit more objective when jerking their knees at stories like this. There are very valid (if not good) reasons that media player is being used along with DRM, and Dave, its not bittorrent mate, thats where you go if you like Jazz videos ;)

  14. William Bronze badge

    iPlayer should be pulled...

    I have one MAJOR gripe with the BBC iPlayer, and that is you have to manually use Task Manager to kill KService.exe otherwise your computer is acting as a server for the WHOLE time your PC is switched on despite you having closed KHost.exe and iPlayer in the task bar. Given that iPlayer automatically starts with your computer (including KService) many people will not realise that they are effectively being an unpaid BBC server. I'm sure all it takes is the ISP's to change their T^C to include upstream bandwidth in their customers monthly cap (or fair usage allowance), if they don't already, and suddenly a lot of people are wondering why their Internet has gone off or the have been shunted onto a 256k line for the remainder of the month. When they go to complain to Ofcom, I wonder how Ofcom are going to argue this point with the ISP. As far as I am aware they ISP's are legally entitled to do this.

    I think that customers of iPlayer (I paid my license fee) should be able to choose if they want to continue acting as a server or not once they close iPlayer. This is totally underhand. Especially given the fact you are unable to set the maximum upstream bandwidth on the p2p infrastructure that iPlayer is built. If this goes mainstream, then many people will be blaming their ISP for slow browsing and lag when playing games, when in fact it is the BBC iplayer that is saturating their upstream bandwidth. This is not on at all.

    All in all its a bloody awful situation for everyone, as even if you don't download iPlayer, you can bet other people will and it will end up ruining everyone's download speed because the traffic from all those iPlayer servers on peoples machines running 24/7 will overload the available bandwidth. This is a nightmare just waiting to happen.

  15. Snafu

    @ Dom

    "think that this iPlayer argument is excellent - let's hope that this will force BT (and others) into upgrading the WHOLE system into something that will be over-engineered and therefore future-proofed."

    Hah! If that was going to happen it would have started years ago when the whole LLU/BT monopoly was first posited. BT want to keep their monopoly on 'last mile' cable for very sound financial reasons: it's one of the few things that makes the company profitable. The attempt by OFCOM to regulate this has been a joke - witness all the BT squealing & OFCOM rolling over in the last decade.

    If the government /really/ wanted an end to the LLU debacle they'd have renationalised BT to start with, maybe then sold off its assorted parts to private companies. However, they didn't - partly because of the demon ( to the assorted governments of the time) word (re)nationalisation, but mostly because of a) the debacle that BR turned into when it went through a similar process (nationalised company to parts sold off inappropriately); b) the lobbyists; & c) they didn't have the money then; when they had the money they squandered it on bureaucrats, management, focus groups etc for other problems (NHS, EEC, etc); & now they don't have the money again (except possibly in private pension funds owned by aforementioned bureaucrats etc)!

    It's all very well saying that a market economy has to compete to stay healthy, but when dealing with an entrenched monopoly or nationalised industry the 'market' doesn't apply. Competitors such as the internal market groups have to compete with each other at a reduced budget (because of the restrictions placed on the 'former' 'monopoly'), so they whine. Outside competitors have to deal with an entrenched market position (read 'monopoly', but also 'brand') that frequently owns all the infrastructure, & now won't even talk to /itself/ because 'it's a different company'! Is there any wonder why /they/ whine?

    It's enough to make you want to bang their heads together!

    (another Dom, BTW)

  16. Steven Cooper

    Is Unicast really up to the job?

    It does surprise me that even now, ISPs and content providers still seem reluctant to talk about using multicast (i.e. 1:n rather than 1:1), in conjunction with caching or some "send the part I didn't get because I joined the stream after it had started" technology.

    I admit multicast can have support issues and (potentially) requires network-wide configuration changes for the ISP, but it surely answers some of the bandwidth concerns that ISPs have. Perhaps the IPStream product and business model isn't currently geared up for this, but if the BBC and ISPs are expecting such wide scale take-up of iPlayer, perhaps it's time to introduce something slightly radical.


  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Content caching

    If BT and/or the LLU ISPs were to set up caches in local exchanges - perhaps acting as pseudo P2P nodes - then most of the long-haul bandwidth requirement would disappear immediately, since it could be served directly to ADSL subscribers from the caches without ever leaving the exchange.

    Traffic for which there is a genuine need for additional investment, and where differential pricing may be justified includes VoIP and similar interactive media services. This is because the issue for these services is QoS (e.g. latency) not bandwidth.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    There are standards designed for this kind of content distribution: Multicast. Infact the BBC have even been trailing TV of IP at a few uk unis.

  19. Mo

    Re: Content caching

    That would work for the LLU ISPs, although the P2P nature of the iPlayer (and 4oD, etc, etc) means that you shouldn't need to: users of the same ISP will be nearby peers and—provided the P2P layer is functioning correctly—should be leeched from as appropriate.

    For non-LLU ISPs, it doesn't help much. As others have pointed out, the problem really lies with BT Wholesale's pricing for the link between the exchanges and the ISP's own networks. Well, it doesn't; it lies with the fact that the ISPs are unwilling to pay BT Wholesale the sort of costs involved in letting people download as much as the ISPs are claiming people are able to.

    There's not a massive amount hugely wrong with BT Wholesale's pricing in conceptual terms: you buy a pipe. The bigger the pipe, the more it costs. If you buy a huge pipe and only send 1Mbit/sec down it, that's a waste of resources that you're paying for, but it's the same as any other transit. The ISPs can't really have it both ways; if they want the kind of flexibility they need to be able to offer “unlimited broadband” and not be paying BT month-on-month for a bigger IPstream pipe than they need, they need to stop renting BT's kit and put their own equipment in exchanges. If the barriers to doing that are significant, then there's a problem that needs to be looked at.

  20. Roz Sermons

    IPlayer as industry standard - God I hope not

    I am very scared at the concept of the iPlayer becoming an industry standard. It has so many gaping flaws.

    First of all there are no controls so I can't tell it how much bandwidth it can use. It just uses all of it, which means that no one else on my home network can access the internet while it is running. For some reason this annoys my husband.

    Secondly, it doesn't tell me how much bandwidth it is using or how much data transfer there has been or is going to be. I get a file size so I know how much I have downloaded but it doesn't say how much it has uploaded or even that it is uploading.

    In a half way decent bit torrent client both of those issues have already been addressed but when this question was addressed to the BBC on their forums they only said that it was unfair to other users if we could stop the iPlayer from uploading. The fact that we were discussing both up and downloading and only wanted to be able to control when and at what speed it happened appeared to slip their notice.

    The final flaw is perhaps the most dangerous: I can't turn the damn thing off without killing the process. And despite all my efforts it still starts at boot time without showing any sign that it has done so. The only way that I can check if it is there is by going to the task manager. What gave the BBC the right to hijack my PC? I wouldn't mind quite so much if it told me it was running or if I could stop it is necessary. Since it doesn't and I can't how is it different to any other trojan?

    The concept of a whole industry taking this as a standard scares me. We are going to have enough trouble as consumers persuading the BBC to correct the flaws in iPlayer without having an entire industry convinced that this is the only way of doing things.

    Don't get me wrong, I like having the ability to watch TV like this, I just don't understand how the BBC could believe that this piece of software was ready for a general release when there are so many obvious architectural flaws in it.

  21. Allan Rutland

    Easy Target

    I personally see this more of the BBC being a big enough, and much softer target for the ISPs to go for than Google, and the others. In the whines in which they target the beebs iPlayer, they also target the other channels also come hard down on YouTube. This isn't about the system they use, or DRM, or open source anything. It's simply the ISPs avoiding spending money on the network.

    We all know how competitive the ISP market has become. Heck, remember back to ten years when we used to pay £300-£400 a quarter for 56k access...or slower. Things have improved. Yet some of the big pushes the ISPs are chasing are bundled services. Many smaller ISPs are sadly vanishing now, and the behemoths are pushing for bundled services with VOiP and TV. With that iPlayer is competition, and worst of all its free competition which they have to provide (if they don't block it) to people who pay the extra or not. It makes there own services look very silly. Why pay BT for ipTV when all I want is available from a smaller, cheaper, more reliable ISP and I can get the Beeb or Sky? You don't. And that must be really pissing them off.

    Given half a chance, they will screw the Beeb for cash, then try Sky ( if that will get them anything) and even no doubt Google. But lets face it, we all know they haven't a hope in hells chance of getting that, but the Beeb? hmm, dunno. Seems a much softer target really.

  22. Alex Lane

    Why are the ISPs so surprised?

    What really boggles me about this row is that the ISPs are complaining about it publicly NOW. iPlayer's been in development for four years, so there's been plenty of time for the ISPs and BT to start upgrading their networks to cope (what they should be doing) or complain very loudly and publicly that they can't cope.

    They didn't complain during Ofcom's MIA or the BBC Trust's PVT. They didn't complain when the Trust approved iPlayer. They've waited until now to do it, in a cynical, politically-motivated attempt to screw our Licence Fee cash out of the BBC. Why aren't they targeting Sky's Anytime service, 4oD or anyone else who uses Kontiki for P2P? All these services, and iPlayer, are driving broadband take-up and making the ISPs (and BT Wholesale) richer. It's time to put some of that profit back into the infrastructure.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's a great new vuln

    Hmm I wonder if Kontiki and all these pathetic

    ISP broadband cheapsters could conspire to shut

    down the internet there Google Activex if you don't

    believe me it's a perfect vector for a huge denial of

    service attack looking at how overstretched these

    providers are it wouldn't take much to topple the whole

    thing for a long time I will be watching this for a while

    with some interest.

  24. Daniel Snowden

    iPlayer - Not A Big Deal

    I installed the iPlayer on my laptop a while ago (a 2-3 year old laptop) and I'm not too impressed. It's very sluggish (4oD runs fine on the same machine) and to be honest, it only got used a few times before being uninstalled.

    Furthermore, the P2P service could go over peoples monthly usage limits without them realising. This is a piece of software that operates in a very underhand way. Shame on you Beeb!

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