BT flags cost of binge-watching to network and climate

BT has been revisiting the thorny issue of net neutrality in recent months as traffic on its network has increased massively during the COVID-19 pandemic — not least because of the rising popularity of armchair-based entertainment services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

In the UK, broadband providers must by law treat all Internet traffic on their networks equally, and not favor certain websites or services.

However, Marc Allera, chief executive of BT Consumer, which includes all consumer offerings under the BT, EE and Plusnet brands, said in March that now is the time to "explore what the future [of net neutrality] should look like" and called on the government to "adjust" net neutrality rules, to enable BT to "ensure content is presented as the creators intended, without disruption to other parts of the net."

In other words, BT wants more flexibility to be able to handle the multiple content providers that use its network, and find ways of reducing the costs generated by often challenging peaks in traffic.

In March, the Sunday Telegraph reported that Ofcom has confirmed that it will look at reworking net neutrality rules this year. Of course, many are still concerned that a softening of rules could create a two-tier Internet, with some services given precedence over others.

Peak practices

The telco is also arguing that increased binge-watching of Netflix et al. is bad for the environment — something that The Telegraph picked up on today.

In its response to UK regulator Ofcom's consultation on the future of public service media (PSM), BT wrote somewhat acerbically that "the key cost drivers for content distribution over IP are peaks in traffic over core networks, which are typically generated by some of the world's largest and wealthiest companies. As well as being cost inefficient, this unregulated content distribution is also energy inefficient, something which is surely unsustainable as the UK considers how to address the climate crisis."

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BT is now proposing that Ofcom address this by developing new regulatory requirements for content providers that generate the highest traffic peaks, "which enable cost and energy efficiencies while ensuring quality of service."

"These requirements could sit alongside the net neutrality regulation, to support UK specific policy ambitions around PSM, universality and inclusion," the UK telco said.

BT noted that it believes a shift to all IP distribution for the PSMs to be inevitable, placing further strain on 5G and fiber networks.

"When most [digital terrestrial television] viewing has moved to IP, peak capacity requirements and investment needs could be enormous due to occasional but very large increases in concurrent viewing, of the Olympic 100m final, or a royal wedding," the telco said.

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— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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