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Ofcom set to explore web traffic control

04 марта 2010

Broadband providers’ ability to charge media owners for preferential passage of video and other high-bandwidth services across their networks will come under regulatory scrutiny this year, the head of Ofcom said on Wednesday.

Ed Richards told the FT’s Digital Media and Broadcasting conference that several companies raised concerns about “net neutrality” in recent months.

 “It has been a big issue for historic reasons for many years in the US. It is now beginning to be an issue here,” said Mr Richards.

The net neutrality controversy flared up last year when the BBC and BT clashed over the bandwidth consumed by the broadcaster’s iPlayer catch-up video service.

The BBC accused BT of “throttlingdownload speeds”, degrading viewers’ experience of the iPlayer. BT said that the BBC and other online video providers should not expect a “free ride” over its network.

“The internet has developed successfully over the last decade with light-touch regulation and competition,” BT said on Wednesday. “It is important that Ofcom’s consideration of the net neutrality debate bears this in mind.”

The scale of deployment of next-generation “superfast” broadband networks would depend on greater clarity on the issue, Mr Richards said. Ofcom will publish its initial proposals “later in the spring”, aiming to settle its position by the end of the year.

While the regulator is likely to avoid the “highly interventionist” approach taken in America, due to greater competition in the UK, broadband providers may be required to be more transparent about how they manage their web traffic.

The US telecoms regulator, the Federal Communications Commission, is currently consulting on proposals that would require broadband providers to treat legal online content, applications and services “in a non-discriminatory manner”.

Many internet service providers see charging for guaranteed delivery of some services over their networks as a lucrative new revenue stream. Most already throttle some web traffic at peak times to prevent their networks from becoming overloaded.

Google has lobbied hard in the US for net neutrality, arguing that prioritising traffic from companies that pay for preferential treatment could prevent the growth of newer sites and so impede innovation.

Erik Huggers, the BBC’s director of future media and technology, said he expected the internet would become “the primary outlet for all BBC content and services in the future”.

“It is not a world without gatekeepers and access to content and information can be controlled,” he said.

“It is essential that those who have the means to do this are properly regulated to ensure that consumers continue to benefit from content and services, and innovation on the web.”

A common position across Europe is to be established by national regulators this year under the new European Framework on telecoms.

“We will have the power to consider the case for imposing a minimum quality of service [on broadband operators],” said Mr Richards.

Ofcom had a duty to ensure networks are “as open and neutral as appropriate”, he said, in order to promote consumers’ access to the web.

“Traffic management policies need to be very clearly explained and very transparent.”

Источник: Financial Times

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