This is one way of fighting back against throttling of Internet applications such as the BBC’s loved-and-in-some-quarters-hated iPlayer - let consumers see that it is happening.

According to BBC director of future media and technology, Erik Huggers, the corporation is developing a simple traffic-light system which will let iPlayer users see the service level being used to deliver watch-again content. Red for poor, amber for OK, and green for acceptable.

It’s not clear from Huggers’ remarks how the iPlayer would be able to tell that a ‘red’ connection is down to throttling and not some other broadband problem but it does make clear that there should be clear lines in the sand for TV and ISP CDNs, (content delivery networks).

These are being built and it stands to reason that any customer of that company (Talk Talk or Sky, say) will have a green connection. Does that mean, therefore, that someone outside that cosy network will get an amber or even red light most of the time? 

It’s hard to see how without net neutrality, this won’t become so, but it will be tricky to define what that means. What displays well today in iPlayer today might not in HD tomorrow if the ISP fails to invest beyond its CDN. Worse, ISPs might start prioritising some apps over others on their networks for arbitrary business reasons that have nothing to do with innovation.  

This is the problem net neutrality seeks to avoid, the concerning possibility that what users will be buying into with faster connections that are nothing of the sort. What ‘faster’ turns out to me is a prioritised connection to the companies and applications that the ISP approves of and stuff everything else.

Beyond the contentious net neutrality debate, the BBC’s traffic light is an idea could be useful in many applications in order to grasp what is happening, and not happening, to an app. Such tools already exist in rudimentary forms for gaming users, who have had to put up with time-throttled connections since the advent of the online multi-player world.

In the case of the iPlayer, it could create pressure to guarantee minimum standards. Or it could give some consumers a visual reminder of why they need to sign up to a company with a prioritised service.