BBWF Day Two: Operators and content providers: How the twain shall meet?

The Net-neutrality debate was, in one form or another, a key theme of today’s Broadband World Forum in Paris. For the majority of operators and telecoms equipment vendors speaking, the thorny issue of content providers in some way paying the owners of the broadband networks which their services travel “over the top” of was definitely a matter of “should”, rather than “if”.

Simply charging consumers flat-rates for near-unlimited Internet access wasn’t sustainable, particularly as over-the-top services increasingly cause congestion and other problems on operator networks, they said. Thierry Bonhomme, an executive vice president of Orange Group, used his keynote to call on regulators to devise a framework that allowed all players to be fairly rewarded for their part in the broadband economy.

But operators and vendors have more to worry about than just regulation. Informa has spoken to a number of major content providers for which the net-neutrality question is just as much about “how” as “if”. They say they are keeping an open mind about the options the operators have put on the table. The fact is that many of them just aren’t that practical – yet. Sure, operators can offer them things the open Internet can’t, but only over their own networks. For many content providers, this would be like banging a square peg through a round hole.

But practical solutions to this problem were being discussed elsewhere in the conference. In the Content Delivery Networks session, several major operators announced their attention to work towards a system that would allow them to interconnect their networks to create a global platform of unrivalled scale for delivering online content. But this being the telecoms industry, there are already a number of initiatives competing to make this happen.

In many ways, this is unavoidable. Getting all the players to agree would take too long, if it could ever be achieved at all. Operators now have to hope that one or more approach wins out. This may come as bad news for those that back the losers, but it would be good news for the telecoms industry. And who knows? It may even sit well with content providers too.

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