BT was yesterday accused of undermining one of the founding principles of the internet – that of "net neutrality" – by creating a two-tier system which would allow content providers on its network to charge for a faster video delivery service.
Under BT's new Content Connect feature, internet service providers (ISPs) will be given the opportunity to charge content owners for a premium service of enhanced delivery. Jim Killock, of the net freedom campaign organisation Open Rights Group, warned that the development could result in less choice for consumers. He said that it would be easier for ISPs to "lock" users into arrangements that would make it harder for new and smaller internet companies to get a foothold in the market.
"The question here is that if ISPs are competing with companies on the internet and are locking their users into content delivery, they are going to damage competition and limit the development of the internet – that's a danger here," he said. "Some of the services – particularly bundled services that might get offered – could be very damaging to competition and customer value." Mr Killock predicted that "small efficient internet companies" delivering film and television content might face particular competition difficulties. "It could quickly stop being a level playing field," he said. "Given that BSkyB are already part of the ISP market, it does not take a lot of imagination to see how that might happen."
BT denied that it was opposed to the concept of net neutrality and rejected the idea that Content Connect would create a two-tier internet. "There will be different mechanisms to enable ISPs and content owners to get content out to end consumers in a way that allows them to enjoy the viewing experience in a better way," it said. "We are an enabler – we are not dictating anything. It will be up to broadcasters, ISPs and content owners to work together to decide on the charging model for a service."
Content Connect is designed to ensure that bandwidth-hungry video can be streamed without interruption even at times when the internet is at peak usage. The strain placed on the internet infrastructure by the explosion in demand for video content has provoked debate on the notion of net neutrality, which is a founding principle of the internet and means that ISPs treat all web traffic equally. The Government has said it is prepared to countenance a two-speed internet.