BBC, Google, Sky and other internet providers will be able to pay for a faster web service to push their content to consumers, under new proposals put forward by communications minister Ed Vaizey.
Currently, ISPs have a 'net neutrality' policy, which means all web traffic is equal and no data is prioritised. But the government believes the UK should have 'fast-lane' access to the web, paid for by content providers and consumers.
Content providers that require large amounts of bandwidth to pass their data to consumer, such as the BBC and Google, should be charged by ISPs to ensure web users accessing the site get the fastest speeds possible, according to Vaizey.
Similarly, UK consumers that use lots of bandwidth should also be charged a premium.
Vaizey said ISPs already implement traffic management "to ensure the smooth running of their networks".
"We have got to continue to encourage the market to innovate and experiment with different business models and ways of providing consumers with what they want," he said. "This could include the evolution of a two-sided market where consumers and content providers could choose to pay for differing levels of quality of service. Content and application providers should be able to know exactly what level of service they are getting especially if they are paying for it."
"In order for the Internet to continue as the open, innovative force for good that it has been over the past 20 years it is essential that all elements continue to prosper. This means ensuring that content providers and applications have open access to consumers and vice versa," he said.
"But it also means allowing ISPs and networks to innovate and experiment with new ways of delivering what consumers want so we can ensure continued investment in the infrastructure that delivers the content and applications we all use."
Erik Huggers, the director of future media and technology at the BBC, believes the move is a "worrying development".
"For companies that can pay for prioritisation, their traffic will go in a special fast lane. But for those who don't pay or can't pay? By implication, their traffic will be de-prioritised and placed in the slow lane," he said in a blog.
"The founding principle of the internet is that everyone – from individuals to global companies – has equal access ... But the emergence of fast and slow lanes allows broadband providers to effectively pick and choose what you see first and fastest."
According to The Financial Times, the BBC is also developing software that will warn BBC iPlayer users if their ISP has slowed the connection, with green, amber or red signals. He also revealed it is "highly unlikely" the BBC will pay the price to guarantee iPlayer users get faster speeds.
The Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) claimed it the move was a good things and would help ensure ISPS are "open and transparent.
"This approach will reassure those who are investing in networks and coming up with new, innovative online business models," the ISPA said.
"ISPs use traffic management techniques so that they are able to effectively and efficiently run and manage their networks for the benefits of all users. This enables ISPs to prioritise time-sensitive applications, such as VoIP and online gaming, at peak times."
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