Does this fly in the face of network neutrality?
As video delivered over the Internet continues to eat up increasing levels of bandwidth, BT has announced that it will be working with Cisco to provide a dedicated network to deliver high quality video to end users' Internet connected televisions, computers and mobile devices.
BT said it would be using Cisco's Content Delivery System as the 'backbone' for its open online video delivery network dubbed Content Connect. This, it said, was designed to improve the experience of watching and listening to digital content on the web; Cisco itself has predicted that online video will represent some 91% of global consumer traffic by 2014.
BT said that many media groups already use content delivery networks, but in many cases these services only reach the 'edge of the ISP network'. As such the final stage of those services, people actually watching them, are delivered over the top and there are no guarantees on the quality of service.
Alternatively, BT's platform will circumvent ISPs, and 'cache content deep in the broadband network' and so deliver it much closer to the end user avoiding congested areas of the network, BT said. This, in turn, enables broadcasters to provide video content – and in the future live TV - with an assured level of service to the viewer, providing uninterrupted access even at peak times. "This provides broadcasters with the predictable user experience critical to supporting advertising or pay models".
Simon Orme, BT Wholesale's Strategy Director of Content Services, said: "Our industry is witnessing a significant growth in content delivery over broadband – driven by the consumption of video services at home, at work and on the move.
"Working with Cisco enables us to offer an efficient, long-term solution and bringing the power of broadband and content together leads to exciting, innovative end user experiences. It will allow all players – including content service providers – to extract more value from content services in the future while pleasing end users."
Kip Compton, general manager of video & content platforms business unit at Cisco added: "Because of the variety of content available on the Internet, consumers are now accustomed to choice; they want to access entertainment content, anytime, anywhere. The Cisco Content Delivery System will help BT work more closely with content providers to meet the demands from today's savvy consumers."
OK, so it goes without saying that something needs to be done to account for the growth in online video, but is this the right way to go about it? ISPs that want to provide this high level video delivery will obviously have to pay for the pleasure, and therefore charge a premium to end users. Arguably this will create exactly that 'two-tiered Internet' so loathed by net neutrality advocates, right?
This was one of the major areas of contention around the Google/Verizon net neutrality recommendations in America last month – the idea of differentiated, or managed, services. At the time, rights group Public Knowledge's Gigi B. Sohn, said, "While there would be no pay for priority on the best efforts Internet, there are almost no limits on so-called "managed services... If managed services are allowed to cannibalize the best efforts Internet, whatever protections are agreed to for the latter become, for all intents and purposes, meaningless."
Newspaper City AM put the question to BT's managing director of products Cameron Rejali who denied that the service would create a two tier internet, which is not surprising, saying it was simply a more effective way for ISPs to manage traffic.
"We are not saying people can't access content unless it is paid for. You can go out and get the same content from multiple locations. But some ISPs want to pay to ensure a quality service. I disagree that this raises a net neutrality question. It will actually be significantly cheaper for ISPs so we do not think smaller service providers will be hurt by this."
BT expects to introduce the Content Connect service in early 2011, which will fit in with the timing for launch of Project Canvas – which is expected to use the service.
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