BT denies breach of net neutrality principles

15 February 2011 |


UK incumbent BT has rejected claims that it is in breach of net neutrality protocols after launching a two-tier internet service that charges content companies for streaming video content at high speeds.

UK incumbent BT has rejected claims that it is in breach of net neutrality protocols after launching a two-tier internet service that charges content companies for streaming video content at high speeds.

Called Content Connect, the service was launched in January this year, and allows ISPs such as Sky and Virgin Media to provide access to sites such as YouTube and BBC iPlayer at faster than normal speeds.

BT said the service is consistent with its commitment to provide open access to the internet, and it is simply allowing a better service for video content so other internet content is not disrupted. It said the move does not contravene net neutrality, the principle by which all traffic on the internet is treated equally at network level (see page 16 for Comcast/ Level 3 net neutrality analysis).

"There is no agreed definition of net neutrality, so it is difficult to talk about net neutrality rules," said Cameron Rejali, MD for products at BT Wholesale. "It is a blanket term that covers a range of issues which relate to how traffic is managed on the internet. The internet has always been a complex interaction of networks, with various types of traffic delivered differently."

BT handled 141 million requests for TV and radio programme downloads in November 2010, and has pointed to the ongoing surge of bandwidth requirements that is challenging all broadband networks. Content Connect is "a sustainable solution designed to ensure content providers and internet users get the best service possible," added Rejali.

"There is no two-tier system at play here," said Jan Dawson, chief telecoms analyst at Ovum. "It wouldn’t make sense from a regulatory point of view to prevent BT from launching Content Connect, because it doesn’t cause neutrality problems. End users want the best experience with the content they consume, and they do not want someone making decisions about how this content is delivered."

Pro-net neutrality pressure groups, as well as some BT customers, have complained however that the UK operator is acting at the borderline of neutrality principles for the sake of profit.

"We are talking about ISPs competing with the internet for content delivery," said Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group. "The idea is that ISPs will deliver content better and more reliably than the internet. That says a lot about the state of investment in our internet. The result could be a fundamental shift away from buying services from the internet to bundled services from ISPs, which would reduce competition and take investment away from internet companies. That would be bad for everyone."

In the US, Google has faced criticism over alleged collusion with network operators over dual tiers of internet access.