There is a lot of talk at the moment about the BBC iPlayer in both the blogosphere and the traditional media, with arguments raging about the suitability of the P2P technology, the fact that it only runs on Windows, and that it is gobbling huge amounts of bandwidth. In my opinion the entry of the iPlayer can only be a good thing for British broadband users: it will increase uptake of high speed internet connections, and force the ISPs to provide better services to meet the increased demand.
Whilst the iPlayer is not the first of the main UK television companies to make their content available online, the BBC’s world renowned brand means that when it makes a move more people pay attention; even within the UK’s vast collection of television channels, and despite its public self-flagellation for minor indiscretions, the BBC is still an important institution that the public feels they have a vested interest in. It is not surprising therefore that the wrath of the ISPs is being vented at the BBC’s entry into the market, an entry that is likely to substantially increase the number of people using the internet for video-on-demand. But does the BBC really deserve to be the focus of their attention? Or should the ISPs really be living up to the promises they make in the packages they offer and stop whinging about it?
The ISPs make a lot of money by offering high broadband speeds and the promise of ‘unlimited’ downloads by relying on the fact that the majority of their customers will never utilise the high speeds or the unlimited downloads. Those that have been getting the best value for money are those who have already been using video-on-demand from less legitimate sources, and their broadband has been subsidised by those of us who have been biding our time for the legitimate sources to appear. The introduction of legitimate video-on-demand was seen to be coming for a long time, especially the BBC’s iPlayer which had to jump through a million hoops to prove that it was in the public interest, and nonetheless the ISPs continued to offer ‘unlimited’ downloads with the caveat of a fair use policy. Well surely downloading from legitimate sources should be considered fair use, after all that is what the average user will expect to be able to use it for.
The iPlayer and other high quality video-on-demand web sites creates a market of users wanting higher broadband rates than before, and they are probably willing to pay a bit more for it. But if an ISP offers ‘unlimited’ it should be unlimited, and if they do include ‘fair use’ policy then it needs to accept that video-on-demand is fair use. The showdown between the ISPs and the BBC will force the ISPs to upgrade their services, and hopefully provide the UK with the best internet infrastructure in the world. Personally, the majority of television I watch is now online, after all they don’t broadcast the likes of “The Sky at Night” at 6.30 in the morning, and if my ISP decides that I am in breach of their ‘fair use’ policy I would move to a new ISP without a second thought.