Thursday, April 24, 2008

UK Broadband Stakeholder Group proposed policy

Walker, Antony Malcolm Taylor and Vicky Read (2007, undated) Pipe Dreams? Prospects for next generation broadband deployment in the UK, Broadband Stakeholder Group

Recommendation 1– Define the public value of broadband networksIt will take years for a complete evidence base to emerge to assess the full economicand social value of broadband. However, it should be possible now to define a frameworkto assess the potential public value of broadband, i.e., to identify the factors that should be taken into account when assessing broadband’s impact on society and the economy. Once such an approach is agreed, evidence can be added in as it emerges and a more accurate model developed for assessing the public value of broadband. This should be a collaborative initiative involving industry, academics, the DTI and Treasury.

Recommendation 2– Monitor demand for bandwidthAs a new wave of bandwidth intensive services come online over the next 12-24 months, close attention should be paid to the actual growth in demand for bandwidth by households and businesses both in the UK and internationally. Various approaches could be used to develop data in this area. However, this information should be made publicly available to help inform decision making by stakeholders across the value chain. This should be coordinated by Ofcom.

Recommendation 3– Set a benchmarked target for 2012The UK must have a communications infrastructure that enables it to compete andprosper in the global knowledge economy. The government and Ofcom should, therefore,benchmark the UK’s communications infrastructure with our global competitors.Government should establish a target to ensure that by 2012 the UK remains in theupper quartile of OECD nations in terms of the range of broadband delivered services towhich its people have ready access (Quality) and the proportion of the population served by broadband (Reach). These two aspects of quality and reach should be defined through a basket of metrics, similar to the approach used to define the competitiveness and extensiveness targets in 2001. This work should be undertaken by government, in collaboration with stakeholders, and updates should be published bi-annually.

Recommendation 4– Explore alternative commercial models to support network investmentFurther work should be undertaken by stakeholders to debate and explore alternativecommercial models to support network investment. Good solutions need to be foundthat align the interests of operators with upstream content and service providers andend consumers whilst mitigating concerns about blocking or degrading third partyapplications and services.

Recommendation 5– Develop a regulatory framework for next generation broadband
Discussion on the regulatory challenges posed by next generation access (NGA) networks has only just begun in the UK. Ofcom opened up the debate with its discussion document published in November 2006. This document raised a broad range of complex issues, which need to be explored in more detail. Further informal discussions should be undertaken in advance of a full public consultation by Ofcom. However, Ofcom needs to set out the principles of its regulatory approach to NGA within a 12 month time period, if the inhibiting effects of regulatory uncertainty on investment are to be avoided.

Recommendation 6– Explore options for access to passive infrastructure
As an input into Ofcom’s NGA preconsultation, a more detailed review should be undertaken into the options for access to alternative passive infrastructure in the UK. This work should be taken forward by stakeholders.

Recommendation 7– Identify models for efficient public sector intervention
While the BSG recommends that the public sector should forbear from intervening topromote NGA deployment at this stage, it is highly likely that public sector support will be required in areas where persistent market failure is most likely. Building on the BestPractice Guide published by the DTI and Ofcom in February 2007, further work shouldbe undertaken to identify and experiment in the development of efficient and effectivemodels for public sector interventions in collaboration with commercial stakeholders,government and the regulator.

Recommendation 8– Remove non-sector specific regulatory barriers
The deployment of next generation access infrastructure will inevitably require new civilinfrastructure and will involve significant new street works across the country. DTI should work together with relevant departments and public sector bodies and the industry to develop streamlined approaches to NGA related street works and planning issues tominimise both the disruption caused and the cost to operators of these works. Thegovernment should also review the nondomestic rating applied to optical fibre. Thecurrent approach provides a strong financial disincentive to the use of deployed fibre.

Recommendation 9– Review universal service/universal access
The current universal service directive refers only to functional internet access. However, as the adoption of broadband continues to accelerate, this definition is starting to lookoutdated. Ofcom’s consultation on universal services should address both the definition of universal service and future approaches to funding universal service/ universal access.

Thoughts on the 22 April convergence thinktank

Ashley Highfield – BBC and soon Project Kangaroo: Is net neutrality only for PSBs or for all commercial users? Content creators? Citizens? “How can we move away from price towards value-added services?” Suggests that solution is that ISPs charge for better QoS – but not by charging BBC or other content providers. 2004 – MORI research that BBC websites had “brought around 2million people online – recommended that one of our goals should be the drive take-up of the Internet” “We are about creating demand for broadband in Britain” “I don’t think its our role to invest in the infrastructure … but to drive demand”

Both he and Steve Robertson (CEO: Openreach) want “redefinition of universality” – to “reasonable speeds” – say 2Mbps. “The consumer will be confused if different content comes through a different speeds” – basis “all content on that ISP should be treated equally”

Mike Short (O2) refers to Korean IT 8-3-9 plan and international competitiveness. Broad discussion of ICT-RTD – much more i2010. Discusses “applications think-tank” – and Financial Services Authority role.

Dave Happy support “Pipe Dreams” 9 recommendations

Background paper by Foster, Robin (2007)
“digital and broadband open up the prospect of many new entrants into the media market, and remove the need for intermediation between producers and consumers” – but with 4 caveats:
“Some powerful bottlenecks will remain (even with broadband, there are still only a few alternative distribution platforms to use, and consumers face costs in switching between them);
The rationale for vertical integration that exists today will remain – securing access to content, ensuring that content can get to the consumer, reducing transaction costs, effective planning etc;
Costs of marketing and packaging content (and the risks involved) are likely to rise, putting a premium on scale and access to funding;
Synergies from exploiting content and resources across media will drive companies to operate in related horizontal markets.”
(7.4.23 at p82) Foster, Robin (2007) Future Broadcasting Regulation - An independent report by Robin Foster commissioned by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, January, at www.culture.gov.uk
It contains some assumptions: “Broadband might only be used where the extra functionality is sufficiently valued by consumers to cover the extra delivery costs involved;” (at 7.2. 21).
Van der Berg states: “From a regulatory perspective a point-to-point network offers more possibilities for regulatory measures such as Local Loop Unbundling and Wholesale Broadband Access.” OECD (2008) Developments In Fibre Technologies And Investment DSTI/ICCP/CISP(2007)4/FINAL, 3 April at p28

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Public service Deathstar for UK ISPs? Project Kangaroo

Ashley Highfield, in charge of BBC iPlayer and consquently the Empire's Darth Vader against ISP traffic management, is off to the super-PSB Project Kangaroo. Will a CDN be set up to save ISPs' bacon?

Phorm - friend or foe of Privacy

I attended a very strange event last night - corporate heckling of Richard Clayton for expressing his and FIPR's opinions on the legality of Phorm, at SOAS London. These guys need to learn how to debate properly if they want to engage the English NGO audience - US corporate rent-a-mob stuff just makes enemies. Now I'm a lot more worried than I was before the meeting - not enough to stay beyond 8pm but very worried nonetheless...

Link to the film of the event to follow....

Monday, April 14, 2008

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE TAKEN BEFORE CULTURE, MEDIA AND SPORT COMMITTEE

House of COMMONS HC 353-iii 18 March 2008
HARMFUL CONTENT ON THE INTERNET AND IN VIDEO GAMES
Q210 Helen Southworth: Perhaps I may ask BT how much of its annual budget is spent on online child protection.
Mr Galvin: I do not have the answer to that off the top of my head. There is a considerable investment in online child protection with the facilities we provide within the browser.
Q211 Helen Southworth: If it is considerable what is the approximate figure?
Mr Galvin: You are asking me to make a quick mental calculation. One would be talking of something in the region of six figures. It would include systems like Clean Feed.
Q212 Helen Southworth: What would be the six-figure amount?
Mr Galvin: It is about £1 million, possibly more. You would have to take into account the fact that where we have logos on the home pages, for example, it displaces advertising revenue. It depends on whether or not you take into account that type of cost.
Q213 Helen Southworth: I am focusing on your research and the people who are working directly on the issue of child online protection?
Mr Galvin: We have an abuse desk which deals with issues that come from our customers.
Q214 Helen Southworth: How is that staffed?
Mr Galvin: It has permanent BT staff and is based in the UK. The staff vary but typically it would be in the range of 12 to 15 people.
Q215 Helen Southworth: Is that seven days a week 24 hours a day?
Mr Galvin: It is online and on mail and it is an office hours service. We also have frontline staff providing a service 24 hours a day seven days a week who are trained help desk people, if they are not trained abuse desk people. They would deal with issues that came to them and would take that to the abuse desk.
Q216 Helen Southworth: It would be very helpful if you could let us have the annual budget for specific work on online child protection. What is the position with AOL?
Ms de Stempel: We do not have a figure because it is integrated in any of our products. When we develop a product we look at lots of different functionalities including child protection. For example, we have a reporting mechanism for all our products.
Q217 Helen Southworth: But you do not allocate anything specifically for child online protection; you do not have anything ring-fenced for that specific purpose?
Ms de Stempel: For example, the equivalent to BT's Clean Feed would be part of the cost. We have law enforcement support which would be another part of the cost, but they do other things as well. If we apportion a particular cost to AOL staff, some of their work would concentrate on child protection and some on consumer protection.
Q218 Helen Southworth: I am thinking in terms of what gets measured gets done.
Ms de Stempel: It gets done because it is in the DNA of what we do.
Q219 Helen Southworth: But you cannot quantify it at all?
Ms de Stempel: No. I can ask but we look at this issue globally. For example, like other ISPs we contribute to the IWF and that would be one of the costs.
Q220 Helen Southworth: Does ISPA have a specific budget for child online protection?
Mr Lansman: We do. It is perhaps unfair to judge big corporate companies for failing to split up budget lines into the minutiae of detail. However, I do take your point which is very important.
Q221 Helen Southworth: I do not think child protection online is "minutiae of detail".
Mr Lansman: The big corporates will have multi-billion pound budgets. I think that splitting up--------
Q222 Helen Southworth: I do not know whether their customers would think the same.
Mr Lansman: I volunteer to go back to the membership and suggest that we try to provide the Committee with some information on that. I can see where you are coming from. As to ISPA itself, it is a not for profit trade association and every year it allocates £20,000 out of a sum of between £200,000 and £300,000 which is the turnover from membership fees in the main, so somewhere between 10% of the revenue of ISPA goes to the Internet Watch Foundation as a fee. In addition, a great deal of the time of ISPA staff and members is spent on secondment to various charities, CEOP and work with the Home Office. The problem is one of trying to allocate an enormous amount of time and resource from people whose jobs are to deal with lots of things where child abuse images and child protection are just one of the issues. It is more a problem of unpicking the financials than a lack of willingness to do it.
Q223 Helen Southworth: I want to ask about notice and take down policies for potentially illegal content. Once something has been reported as potentially illegal how long does it take before it is removed?
Ms de Stempel: It is a matter of 24 hours. We have a system similar to that of CEOP and an escalation process, for example, for child abuse images if it is flagged as such. Unless people flag us as to exactly what it is, all abuse might end up in the same box, but that would be removed from our service, so it will no longer be available to anyone else who has not opened an email where it is attached and law enforcement then picks it up for us.
Mr Galvin: It is done in 24 hours. Often to speed up the process when something is reported to us rather than have a debate about whether or not it is illegal it is a lot quicker to say that under our taste and decency policy we have the power to remove it immediately and not get into a debate about the legalities of it. Quite a lot of the notice and take down occurs under our taste and decency policy rather than a debate about whether or not it is illegal.


So BT takes down content and tries to avoid having a discussion! It'll be interesting to see if ISPA does produce a budget!

Families are a 38% minority of households

A reality check for the Byron team who would introduce compulsory filtering of web content: children in households are a minority of all UK households.

See the latest stats here: http://www.detini.gov.uk/cgi-bin/downdoc?id=3290

So before they start censoring everyone, consider that only just over 1 in 3 homes has kids in it. Even removing the pensioner households, families are an absolute minority of UK households.

Censorship: Thinking of the Children

The Guardian reports that Dr Byron has not confirmed her intention of checking on government implementation of her reforms by 2011. This may be wise – her ministerial sponsor, Ed Balls, will soon be in the Treasury to sort out the mess he allowed to develop in the last decade (“goodbye, Darling”), and her Prime Ministerial simperer will be out of Downing Street as soon as he calls an election, by 2010 at latest. There will perhaps be a Communications Bill as early as 2011, and the agenda will have moved beyond her ‘enforced self-regulation’ (sic) or co-regulation, to full-blown regulation and its outer limits. Reviews of a barely living media literacy strategy and a grand Council for Child Internet Safety will by then have somewhat faded from the political agenda.

Its worth examining the proposal in full. In her Impact Assessment in the Table (unnumbered) at paragraph 3.121, the civil servants have persuaded the project to adopt six options, including ‘do nothing’, the holy trinity (regulate/co-regulate /self-regulate), and two agency options: a new agency or Ofcom. It dismisses agencies as too independent of government and therefore unable to exercise political influence to engage disparate departments in ‘joined up government’. This also prevents self-regulation, while of course regulation is too inflexible (until 2011?). Therefore, “on balance” – though no formal method is ever revealed for this impact assessment outcome – the decision is to transfer the Home Office Internet Safety Taskforce (“HSTF”) into the “multi-stakeholder council”, the Council for Child Internet Safety. She states at Paragraph 3.122:
“this, broadly speaking, is a self-regulatory approach with industry and government working in partnership”
Crucially, she states that “the Council would need to think carefully about who was best-placed to monitor compliance with industry standards.”

Quite right – and who sets these industry standards? The report considers these in Chapter 4 and it is here that we arrive at the crux of the matter: enforced self-regulation – which Byron admits means that non-UK actors cannot join in the full work of the strategy. Given the preponderance of US-based actors in this sector, including all the major social networks and the large ISPs (excepting French Wanadoo, Italian Tiscali and UK-based BT), one might have thought this is a pretty powerful argument, but the need to link political to regulatory to parental strategy (what a camel this will be with this Council!) overcomes considerations of international political economy.

So what censorship and codification is envisaged? Well, not censorship by ISPs, yet. “I do not recommend that the UK pursue a policy of blocking non-illegal material at a network level at present. However, this may need to be reviewed if the other measures in this report fail to have an impact” on children viewing inappropriate content. It would have helped to have had rather more quantifiable goals, but she leaves it to a measure of opacity that allows for political judgments (Para 4.60).

So what other measures are proposed? Well, in a blithe over-riding of the E-Commerce Directive, she suggests that companies “should not hide behind the law” (P4.18) when they could monitor content beyond the Article 14 protections: “It seems fair for companies to balance the benefits of making their sites safer for children, and the added value this brings to their brand, against the risk of liability”. Yes, but what has it to do with better regulation? Its companies’ own decision until and unless she recommends government drops the guillotine threat in P4.60.

So what else if companies do decide to take advantage of protections against liability offered by a settled decade-old European policy? Well “Having filters set on by default would not make parents engage” – phew! No censorship by default. But all computer buyers must receive the software pre-installed, as in France: “since 2004, the French government has required all ISPs to provide their customers with filtering software”. Note that no French evidence appears to have been presented to the Byron Review, so this is second-hand, it seems (I am happy to be corrected if this is not so).

There is a stick to this voluntary system in P.4.75:

"if these approaches, which seek to engage parents with the issues and available tools fail to have an impact on the number and frequency of children coming across harmful or inappropriate content online within a three year timeframe, I suggest that Government consider pursuing a policy of requiring content filters on new home computers to be switched on by default."

In Search, the review appears to go against the Information Commissioner and Article 29 Working Party attempts to prevent too much tracking by search providers – specifically their recent recommendation that data be deleted or irrevocably anonymised after 6 months. By contrast, Byron wants ‘safe search’ settings applied BY DEFAULT which would require a permanent record by the search provider for that IP address, or by maintaining a permanent cookie. In particular she recommends (P4.81) industry work towards systems that “give users the option of ‘locking on’ safe search on to a particular computer; and develop ways for parental control software to automatically communicate with search engines so that safe search is always on when the child uses the computer”.


Whatever the technical complexity for providers, the complexity for users is likely to increase, and the danger that this is abused broadly is high (its very easy to imagine the child locking the computer so that he can access uncensored results but the parent cannot, to “handcuff” the censor into false information – boy hackers will be boy hackers).

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Least Worst Outcome – Assessing the Byron Review of Child Safety on the Internet and Computer Games

Dr Tanya Byron, a television personality and child psychologist, was appointed in September 20007 by the Prime Minister to lead a review into ‘Child Safety on the Internet and Computer Games’, reporting after a six month investigation in March 2008. Note that this article and the review itself do not consider illegal material within their remit: the content at issue is legal content. The review was created in response to increasing calls by Ministers for tighter regulation of these technologies to "think of the children", notably by Patricia Hewitt, when Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and Home Secretary Jackie Smith in a series of calls for involuntary (sic) self-regulation of the Internet, to protect against various perceived threats. This use of the precautionary principle to attack the previous speech freedoms on the Internet culminated in policy terms with the Byron review and its conclusions.

The review was feared by the industry and dubbed the ‘Supernanny review’, after an infamous television programme. It was feared that the review would lead to greater regulation being imposed upon the industry, under the ‘Nanny State’ tendency, as Margaret Thatcher described the propensity towards state-directed parenting in the absence of proper individual parenting skills. This fear was heightened by the decision to base the review under the Department of Education (renamed for propaganda purposes), with a remit to increase the responsibilities placed on teachers as substitutes for parents who neglect their role. In the review period, the discussion centred around the vacuous United States term “empowerment”. Notably, no serious discussion about freedom of speech and the basic principles of the Internet was heard, and the ministries responsible for Internet content and regulation, Industry and Culture & Media, played a secondary role.

The conclusions produced by Byron were stark:

  • enforced self-regulation by the industry – an oxymoron elevated into a policy principle;
  • a beefed-up version of the already existing multi-stakeholder body which instead of having a community policing function inside the Home Office would now report to the Prime Minister in a cross-government fashion;
  • far greater resources for media literacy expended by the sponsoring ministry, the aforementioned Department for Education, instead of the function falling mainly to the independent regulator Ofcom; and
  • finally and most bizarrely, a system whereby the existing rating systems for games would be supplemented by the statutory regime for films, such that any games package would contain both ratings, one on the front and the other on the back of the game.

The results of the review were actually greeted by industry with some relief, as they had feared a much more interventionist approach. In fact, the outcome is effectively state regulation under the rubric of self-regulation, and with it significant erosion of speech freedoms for adults, in addition to the target of children. It mixes elements of the Australian, French and Francophone European approaches. In effect, state oversight of Internet and computer industries is foreseen.

The review takes little account of economic arguments, unsurprisingly. The Internet and computer games served functions which favoured free market capitalism as well as freedom of speech, a fortuitous and designed outcome. By interfering quite radically in the speech and market freedoms of UK service providers in this globalising industry, the review deliberately erodes British competitiveness in as much as it considers this possibility. A spurious claim that Britain can lead in introducing child-safety software blithely ignores the fact that the approach proposed follows the earlier interventionist approaches, rather than in any way leading. It is a further erosion of the already massively-declining British computer games design industry, which had in the early 1990s been pre-eminent.

So in what way is it least bad? First, it wrestles this co-regulation away from the Home Office and therefore the police function, though there is reference to the need to deal with suicide sites, suggesting further intervention. The institutional change is to be welcomed, as the police attempts to censor the Internet were beyond anything dreamt of in electoral politics. Second, such an initiative reporting to the Prime Minister will inevitably be politically irrelevant as weightier matters of economic recession and General Election loom in the next 2-3 years. Third, it will become deeply unpopular and then insignificant as it is realised that – as with so many educational and co-regulatory initiatives- it is largely an expensive waste of time. Finally, its very personal identification as the result of a policy alliance between a simpering and deeply unpopular Prime Minister attempting to demonstrate his human touch, and a careerist media figure, means its half-life is even shorter than that of the French design on which it is clearly based: the Forum des Droits sur l’Internet and its formidable chair, Isabelle Falque-Perrotin. The Byron review is dead, long live the Byron review!