The Big Broadband Bluff

This nonsense keeps coming around:

Broadband companies have indicated they are looking to charge broadcasters for distributing content in order to bolster traditional revenues as growth in the UK market slows.

Virgin Media, launching its new super-fast broadband service on Monday, said that it expected new business models to involve payment from broadcasters for delivering their high-definition content across its fibre-optic network.

BT, the telecoms group, is also looking to charge the BBC and ITV for some content-distribution services for the first time as part of its involvement in “Project Canvas” – a plan to create an internet-connected set-top box that will succeed Freeview.

Let us, for a moment, recall how the Internet works in this case. A content supplier – the BBC or ITV, say - produces content, which it places on its servers. It then connects those servers to the Internet – not, as some people suppose, by magic, or using bits of strings, but by *paying* ISPs for connectivity (and do note the word “paying”). Then, when you or I wish to avail ourselves of that content, we use our IP-enabled device to pull down that content from the content server. And how do we do that? Yes, we use an Internet connection that we *pay* for – and look, there's that “paying” word again.

So, when the BBC or ITV produces content, and we view it, *both* sides pay the ISPs – and that's perfectly fair, they provide a service, we pay for it. If we want to view super-duper, high-quality content, *both* sides will need to upgrade their connections, and *both* sides will pay more, which is also fair.

But: how on earth can ISPs start demanding even more money for something they are already paid to do? What is qualitatively different about these services compared to those that already exist? Nothing at all. Content providers send more data, that is all. If they want to send it faster, and I want to get it faster, we both pay more, end of story.

This is precisely what net neutrality is all about. It doesn't matter what the bits are, you pay purely on the basis of quantity or speed you want. Attempts by BT and Virgin to pretend that high-quality video streaming services are somehow different are just a pathetic attempt to try it on with authorities and users that don't know any better. We do, so we need to call their bluff.

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