A modern internet needs modern rules

Have you ever been trapped in rush hour traffic? Or did you have to crash into someone’s armpit during your morning commute? When too many people are doing something at the same time, it can cause congestion.

It can be the same on the Internet. If there is too much traffic at any given time or in a particular area – and if not properly managed – these routes can slow down or disrupt your experience.

The internet is an incredible resource, but the capacity is not unlimited. As owners of the UK’s most established networks, BT Group values ​​its ability to manage resources to deliver the best customer experience. It does this by ensuring that the right traffic is flowing on the right routes at the right time.

But it’s not as easy as it seems.

Simultaneous live sports broadcasts, a huge new update for an online multiplayer game, a major console software update and the release of a popular new series on a streaming channel box everything happens at the same time. And we will see even greater volumes of data on the web in the future. The idea of ​​a metaverse is growing as traditional television increasingly turns to the internet for delivery.

Huge traffic spikes can impact customers from inconvenient, like a buffered football game or slow download, to significant. A glitchy video interview could cost someone a shot at landing their dream job. Losing a connection disrupts remote learning.

To solve this problem, new models are needed to maintain the levels of quality and experience that all customers should expect.

So what’s going on?

Part of the answer lies in a complex set of regulations called “net neutrality”. The principles behind them, ensuring an open Internet for all customers and treating all information on the Internet equally, were first defined 20 years ago.

Over the past two decades, what we can do online and how we all use the internet has changed dramatically. Just ‘Ask Jeeves’…

BT continues to invest to increase its capacity and expand its networks. But we know that at peak times, just a few companies can be responsible for much of the traffic they carry. If I look at any other industry I can name, the more a resource is used, the greater its contribution. Heavier vehicles are legally required to contribute more to road maintenance. Large packages cost more to post.

But under net neutrality rules, all traffic should be treated equally. This means that a company can send any volume of traffic, any time of the day, in almost any way they want, and cite “net neutrality” to negate any obligation to do differently.

We don’t believe the rules were put in place to protect larger companies, and it certainly shouldn’t be the job of a network or customers to foot the bill for inefficient practices.

That’s why BT Group is among a growing number of companies around the world calling for stronger rights to demand effective use of the modern web.

And that’s why Ofcom has launched a consultation in these rules today.

What must change?

We believe every online journey should be possible. Whatever the destination. And at any time of the day. We will put detailed evidence in Ofcom’s consultation, but there are a few simple principles that need to be addressed to achieve this.

  1. Content must be delivered effectively
    Businesses don’t send a single truck for every unique online order, they consolidate deliveries into a single vehicle because it makes sense, efficiency, and economy to do so. BT is in the business of delivering digital parcels, not physical ones, but we believe the same principles should apply. We have solutions that can help bigger companies be more efficient online and we should be supported to use them.
  2. Not all content is time-sensitive
    We wouldn’t expect a 25 lane motorway to be built to Land’s End to cope with Bank Holiday traffic for just eight days a year. Still, that’s the equivalent of what we have to do digitally under the current rules. By prioritizing content based on when it’s needed, we won’t waste investment creating excess capacity that isn’t needed most of the year and can ensure a better customer experience.
  3. UK businesses should be able to benefit from innovation
    Networks can be configured for specific customer needs, but it remains unclear which services are allowed under net neutrality rules. An obvious example is zero-rating – the removal of costs to access certain content – ​​because under net neutrality rules one website should not be prioritized over another. Yet during the pandemic, this is how we enabled free access to educational resources. Going forward, there will be many new opportunities to provide tailored support to customers, but we don’t want network innovations to be stifled because there’s no certainty they can be brought to market. .

What are we doing about it?

Our investment continues to keep pace with traffic growth so people can continue to rely on our networks. But, challenges are emerging, and with a significant amount and quality of content coming online in the future, capacity requirements are still needed. Without change, our investments will increasingly be consumed by meeting the capacity needs of the biggest players, leaving less for other priorities, such as expanding infrastructure to digitally empower more people.

In changing net neutrality laws, we are not seeking to remove the protections. Far from there. We’re asking for a level playing field to negotiate better efficiency, better content coordination, and the ability to ensure that the heaviest traffic loaders don’t affect everyone’s online experience.

It is not sustainable, resource efficient or economically viable to do otherwise.

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