In the past week, the BBC has come under fire from internet service providers that want it to share in the estimated £831 million it will cost to upgrade the public network and prevent what might be described as an internet traffic jam.

In just the same way as the M25 has been widened to cope with the extra traffic going to Heathrow, service providers believe massive upgrades to the internet infrastructure are needed in order to keep all the extra traffic flowing that’s being created by the 1 million BBC programmes watched online each week.

What’s this got to do with retail, you may ask.

Well, retailers are reliant on this same web infrastructure to deliver virtual footfall to their online stores. Retailers are also investing more in upgrades and new features and functionality on their sites to attract and retain custom.

Would you spend millions on a refit and extra staff at a store in a shopping centre if shoppers couldn’t get there easily? I doubt it.

And it’s not just the volume of traffic that’s causing problems on the information superhighway. Just like the crumbling tarmac and bridges on many B-roads, the last mile of the telecoms infrastructure that connects each home to the public internet is beginning to show its age.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that many home internet users in urban areas have intermittent problems with their internet connections, whether they are connecting to the net via a normal telephone line or a cable TV connection.

In rural areas, consumers are likely to live further from a phone exchange and so the maximum connection speeds are unachievable for them too.

With the internet straining under the weight of traffic already, something is going to have to give. Either consumers will have to pay for the infrastructure upgrades required, or those with vested interests are going to have to put their hands in their pockets.

Retailers increasingly fall into this vested interests group. Not only do they make money from selling products via the internet, they are starting to deliver products using it too. Think of this week’s news of Tesco’s new download service as an example.

Just like every other infrastructure in this country that is seen to provide public good – from roads to railways to sewers – cost and a degree of pain will have be borne in order to keep the public internet fit for purpose.

Who will pay these costs is not yet clear, but what is obvious is that internet service providers don’t think it should be them alone. Retailers, you have been warned.