P2P TV Net Neutrality – Are We Heading For War?

Some industry types are starting to use military lexicon to describe what they see as the looming possibility internet service providers will force broadcasters to cough up cash for online TV bandwidth, or ban the traffic altogether. A few weeks after the BBC launched its iPlayer beta in July, Carphone Warehouse and Tiscali told newspapers the app’s peer-to-peer distribution method, in which programme downloading is shared amongst viewers themselves, could swamp their networks, requiring further infrastructure investment (see previous post).

Alexander Cameron, MD of IPTV consultancy Digital TX, told Web TV Takeover, a Chinwag panel in Soho, London, tonight: “There’s a war on the way and the BBC is going to kick it off. If you try and do the maths of sending video down a national network, it just does not work. Ultimately, the strain’s going to be too hard, the ISPs are going to kick in and … say to peer-to-peer guys like the BBC, 4OD and Lovefilm ‘no more video’.” Cameron estimated it would cost an ISP between £500,000 and £800,000 a year to cope with the additional demand of P2P-based online TV distribution. “It’s at risk, it’s going to die if they carry on.”

Alan Patrick, founder of broadband media consultancy Broadsight: “It’s very difficult to imagine that the owners of the distribution sector are not going to want some amount of revenues from this game.”

Cosmo Lush, head of development for Channel 4’s 4OD player, which works using the same Kontiki P2P technology: “It’s going to be a long, drawn-out battle. I think every side in the argument has a very strong argument, a very good one. They can try to shut off our (content) if they like, but I think I would say: ‘Why don’t you look at all the illegal pirate P2P content first rather than the legal stuff?’ … It’s going to be a long fight.”

It’s perhaps slightly unfair of Cameron to say the BBC has fired the opening shots. iPlayer’s proposal may have first been drawn up in 2003, but 4OD beat it to the legal P2P TV game in December 2006 and Sky Anytime, too, uses the same underlying technology.

In an in-depth interview with paidContent:UK this month, BBC director of Future Media & Technology Ashley Highfield said customers should not expect their ISP to discriminate between the types of content they can download. He said ISPs that did were being “disingeuous”.