Experience tells us that when a group of companies ‘volunteer' to undertake measures for the greater good, it's worth taking a closer look to see just how altruistic they're being.
BSkyB, BT, O2, TalkTalk, Three, Virgin Media and Vodafone are signing up to a new ‘voluntary commitment to provide better and more easily comparable information to consumers about traffic management,' today. Together they account for 90 percent of all UK fixed-line broadband customers.
The stated point of this move is to give customers easier access to information about the throttling policies of the various providers.
Something called the Broadband Stakeholder Group, which calls itself ‘the UK government's leading advisory group on broadband', but seems more like a collective lobbying group, is involved in some capacity. "It will not only help to ensure consumers are better informed about the services they buy and use, but will also provide a clearer picture for policy makers of the way in which traffic management is actually used in the UK market," said BSG boss Antony Walker.
But before long the press release on the BSG website explores at length the concept of ‘managed services'. Have a read of the paragraph below and note the wording, apparently designed to imply nothing could be further from the BSG's mind but perhaps we should all be prepared just in case.
"Some industry observers have also speculated that broadband operators may start to offer managed services that could prioritise the delivery of certain types of traffic such as video services. It is not yet clear whether this will in fact happen. But if managed services do emerge, this new code of practice will help to ensure that consumers and policy makers have access to clear and comparable information about the services being offered."
The information will be made available this summer and, if it delivers as promised, will enable consumers to make more informed choices about their broadband package, and may even force the worst offenders when it comes to throttling to raise their game.
What seems more likely, however, is that this move is paving the way for the abandonment of net neutrality and the adoption of prioritised traffic. It's easy to see why an ISP collective would want this to happen. Not only would they potentially be able to charge the likes of YouTube or the BBC extra for serving such data-rich content, they could also charge consumers for levels of access.
So when this information is published, and everyone can see what crappy bandwidth they get in the evenings, we wouldn't be surprised to see the participating ISPs offer a new, less throttled service for a small extra fee.