BT denies creating "two-tier Internet" with Content Connect

A new service from BT offers movie and TV companies relaible, high-quality connections direct to customers, but critics say it threatens the open nature of the Internet.

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A new service from BT that could pave the way for a "two-tier" Internet was defended by the company today, saying that it would not harm UK broadband users. Content Connect is a service for media companies that promises to ensure a high standard of streaming content by cutting out the middleman -- the Internet.

"BT supports the concept of Net neutrality but believes that service providers should also be free to strike commercial deals should content owners want a higher quality or assured service delivery," said a BT spokesperson.

Unless you have cable, it's likely that your broadband connection uses BT's infrastructure. Many ISPs essentially rent bandwidth from BT Wholesale and sell it on to you. That means BT is in a position to pipe its customers' content directly to you without relying on the structure of the Internet, which can result in an unreliable service, especially at peak times.

This means that in the future, ITV, for example, might be able to guarantee a high level of service from its streaming video products for those who pay extra to their ISP.

BT claims this will benefit all Internet users, not just the end users paying for it, because it will reduce congestion overall. But critics say it will create a two-tier Internet -- high quality for those who can afford it and rubbish for everyone else.

"The result could be a fundamental shift away from buying services from the Internet to bundled services from ISPs: which would reduce competition and take investment away from internet companies," Jim Killock, executive director of consumer campaigns organisation Open Rights Group, told the Guardian. "That would be bad for everyone."

BT is planning to pipe BBC iPlayer via the service to its own broadband customers. "It will cache iPlayer content closer to customers on the network, allowing for the content to be delivered to customers in a more efficient and cost-effective way, as well as improving the overall viewing experience," a BT spokesperson told BBC News.

TV and movie companies are likely to welcome the service as a way of selling their content to you in a high-quality format, which could mitigate piracy. If it's much easier to stream a movie than download it, and just as good quality, people are more likely to pay for it.

But it also creates two distinct systems of infrastructure: one that directly makes money and one that only does so indirectly. Which do you think BT will invest more in? The danger is that the open Internet will become slow for UK users, hampering our enjoyment of future services that don't have vast investment from media companies.

What do you think? Would you pay more to your ISP for guaranteed quality from your streaming video?