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ISPs threaten new fees over BBC video service

Arguments across the pond about the bandwidth-heavy iPlayer service hearken to the States-side Net neutrality skirmish.

The BBC's recently launched iPlayer, which allows eligible U.K. residents to download episodes of shows they missed on the telly, seems to be a magnet for complaints lately.

The BBC launched its iPlayer service in beta mode last month. BBC

The Windows-XP only online service has already peeved Mac, Linux and Windows Vista users who can't, at least for the moment, get direct access (BBC has promised an upgrade this fall) and drawn protests over its use of Microsoft-produced digital-rights management technology.

The latest brouhaha is reminiscent of the Net neutrality debate that has raged here in the States. That controversy surrounds whether broadband operators ought to be able to charge content and application makers extra fees to deliver their content, particularly when it has the potential to consume loads of bandwidth.

In this case, major Internet service providers like Tiscali UK and Carphone Warehouse are reportedly threatening to restrict their users' downloading practices unless BBC foots part of the bill for shuttling the large files, the Financial Times reports.

A Tiscali representative told the newspaper that the new BBC service will undoubtedly clog its networks because it operates on a peer-to-peer network. Unless the ISP and BBC can come up with a "cost-sharing" arrangement, Tiscali will be forced to manage its networks by degrading the service of users who attempt to download large files at peak hours, FT reported. Tiscali is also reportedly considering creating a "two-tiered" system in which it would charge more to customers with higher-bandwidth appetites.

BT, another leading provider has been named in the reports as a "concerned" ISP, too. But a spokesman later denied being part of the extra-fee-seeking gang. In an interview with The Register that ran Monday afternoon, the company's chief press officer was quoted as saying, "We're not up in arms about iPlayer, we're not complaining to the BBC or discussing it with them."

A BBC spokesperson quoted in the service's own story was mum about the conflict, except to say, "We are in regular discussions with the ISP's and together are monitoring the costs associated with video on-demand."

But if the other concerned ISPs get their way, one has to wonder if the BBC's U.K. viewers will see a rise in the price of the license they already must pay to access the network on their traditional TV sets.