Unless you've been offline due to a lack of available bandwidth, you'll probably have noticed that ISPs are kicking up a stink because the BBC's iPlayer is consuming bandwidth on their networks. Imagine that -- people downloading things over the Internet. How very dare they?
The issue here is that broadband has proved incredibly popular in the UK, which is a problem, because it means that capacity is running out. Adding more costs money, and the cheaper ISPs have essentially priced themselves out of the market. This problem has been on the horizon for some time now, and while the ISPs are blaming iPlayer, it's far more likely this is just the straw that broke the camel's back.
At a glance, it does also appear to be the ISPs who offer the lowest price service that are up in arms about iPlayer. Carphone Warehouse has expressed concern, and it offers a variety of low-cost monthly packages. I think the problem here is that ISPs need to price their services a little more realistically. I'm not saying everyone should be paying £50 a month, but services sold as 'free' generally offer exactly the quality of service you would expect.
It's interesting to note that Tiscali -- one of the most vocal ISPs in this scuffle -- has an IPTV offering of its own, since buying TV-down-the-phone provider HomeChoice. Is it faintly possible that it has a little bit more to gain from the iPlayer and similar services disappearing?
To be fair to the ISPs, they do have a point about the iPlayer's Kontiki service, which doesn't make it clear how much the customer will upload. It would be far better if there was a BitTorrent-style indication of how much you've downloaded and how much you've uploaded. The BBC should also limit the amount of data anyone uploads in a given month, and this should probably be set by the customer to avoid going over their bandwidth limit.
One thing is certain -- the amount of rich media we consume online is going to go up, not down. So ISPs had better come up with a plan, because if they think it's bad now, wait until more people discover TV over the Internet from services such as Joost and some of the less legal alternatives. Even YouTube must be having a negative impact on the ISPs' available bandwidth, and I for one am not going to stop watching Fonejacker clips any time soon. -Ian Morris