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Friday, January 30, 2009

One cheer for Carter - no 3 strikes

OK, for balance, except for the preposterous Rights Agency, this was a good compromise.

New study tells German regulator not to worry about net neutrality

WIK have delivered a study which pursues the rather old-fashioned 'American problem, only an SMP issue here' line - written by former FCC staffers, which is disappointing in that the problem analysis is sound but obviously a client committed to regulatory holidays and masterly inaction is not interested in being told that the issue will grow rather than go away. After all, it "is a subset of competition problems" according to them. The rather cursory analysis of two-sided markets might have benefited from closer inspection of Nick Economides' work. They add to the bibliography both that and my work with Jonathan Cave but don't actually deal with the challenges that the analysis presents. 

Come on, Kenn and Scott, you can do WAAY better than this!

Press reaction to Carter on net neutrality

In addition to the El Reg piece cited below, a couple of trade press journalists picked up on the decision to substitute net discrimination for any actual government support for roll-out - on the yes, we have no bananas spun it as 'BBC must pay ISPs for iPlayer traffic' which is at least to my mind politically unfeasible...the overall quality of coverage was lamentable, focussed inevitably on the bogus broadband promise and the decision to try an alternative to '3 strikes' (which the EuroParliament has ruled out).

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Rationing and the British political psyche

So if we react to hardship with rationing instead of pump-priming (except for the public sector payroll in 2001-2 under Brown's stimulus), should we be surprised? Bread rationed in the UK until October 1948, for you can't have net neutrality, there's a war (or Depression) on...

Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 2

The Congress passed its net neutrality provisions in the fiscal stimulus Bill last night!

Meanwhile, over here we're reacting to austerity with rationing. Yes, we have no broadband bananas?

But on the bright side....

Labour will lose the General Election next year so who cares what they think?

I suspect broadband (sic) Britain will be bottom of the agenda for Lib Dems and Tories as they squabble over a coalition in 2010-11, so this report, though nasty, is only really notable for its do-nothing attitude - and that just confirms Ciao.

All the action remains in Brussels - on universal service, on network subsidy, on Universal Service, on net neutrality.

"UK net neutrality was stillborn as an issue, but Carter was happy today to give its corpse a kick"

"In the UK, net neutrality was stillborn as an issue, but Carter was happy today to give its corpse a kick. As well as advocating tiered content delivery, he backed "traffic management"; the somewhat euphemistic industry term for BitTorrent throttling."
I write this on a free public WiFi at 5Mbps in Philadelphia, where municipal open broadband and open access wireless broadband are on the agenda...its also the home of Comcast but the City of Brotherly Love never said it was perfect...

Particularly disappointing - net neutrality lite and mobile capture

Carter overall makes some interesting points on both network deployment and universal service, but I want to highlight two areas where he's deliberately chosen to come down on the side of industry, not consumers.
1. Net neutrality - not only is there no mention of mobiles in connection with "so-called" NN, a vital consideration for a growing number of people using sub-dial-up-speed 3G broadband, but the proposals do not discuss preventing ISPs from throttling customers to below current levels, or measures to prevent them targetting specific apps - in contrast with the FCC or CRTC.
2. Universal service - as is well-known the mobile companies have held fixed-line customers to ransom with their termination prices for decades, but now it seems that they will also get a slice of the universal service pie, and a chance to muddy that particular debate for the next decade. I like mobile broadband - I have it myself - but a consistent 2Mbps (or evening peak 20Kbps) connection in central London is impossible, let alone in currently broadband-less areas. 
To make a huge bet on LTE adding to the mix rather than encouraging BT's continued investment with WiMAX/whatever boffins can come up with in smart wireless broadband, seems to me to be blindsiding the real issues in the short-run. LTE is a long-term bet - decade or more for under-served areas. WiMAX and BT lines are the present. Mobile lobbyists must have done a lot of behind-the-scenes work on this one (and note the spectrum reforms, more their central mission).
And the claim that BT has low market shares in telephony (60% lines, 25% broadband) - well BT Retail yes, but the lines in under-served areas are all BT lines connected to BT exchanges, whatever the badge says!!!!!!!

Green light for UK ISPs to discriminate

Sitting in Philadelphia, reading with interest though no great surprise that ISPs are given carte blanche to breach net neutrality under Action 2 in Carter's interim report:
"Internet Service Providers can take action to manage the flow of data – the traffic – on their networks to retain levels of service to users or for other reasons. The concept of so-called ‘net neutrality’, requires those managing a network to refrain from taking action to manage traffic on that network. It also prevents giving to the delivery of any one service preference over the delivery of others. Net neutrality is sometimes cited by various parties in defence of internet freedom, innovation and consumer choice. The debate over possible legislation in pursuit of this goal has been stronger in the US than in the UK. Ofcom has in the past acknowledged the claims in the debate but have also acknowledged that ISPs might in future wish to offer guaranteed service levels to content providers in exchange for increased fees. In turn this could lead to differentiation of offers and promote investment in higher-speed access networks. Net neutrality regulation might prevent this sort of innovation.
"Ofcom has stated that provided consumers are properly informed, such new business models could be an important part of the investment case for Next Generation Access, provided consumers are properly informed.
"On the same basis, the Government has yet to see a case for legislation in favour of net neutrality. In consequence, unless Ofcom find network operators or ISPs to have Significant Market Power and justify intervention on competition grounds, traffic management will not be prevented."

In particular, note the continuing obsession with it only being BT who might be regulated as the dominant operator - when throttling goes on all over the ISPs. I am rather impressed that the report chooses the expression 'so-called net neutrality' - as in 'so-called fiscal stimulus'. The debate is about net neutrality, it exists, deal with it better than this.

But wait - is it a bird, is it a plane? Its the Digital Inclusion Champion!

Good grief, as Charlie Brown might add...who is this Champion? Wasn't there meant to be a minister promised last January, a Mr Murphy who looks 107 years old? What's he championed in the last year? Where's Ofcom's Consumer Panel to poke these guys in the ribs?

More New Labour spin:
We will encourage the development of public service champions of universal take-up. The Digital Inclusion Action Plan recommended the appointment of a Digital Inclusion Champion and expert taskforce to drive the Government’s work on digital inclusion. Clearly, the work of the Champion will be important in encouraging take-up.

We are inviting the BBC to play a leading role, just as it has in digital broadcast, through marketing, cross-promotion and provision of content to drive interest in taking up broadband. With other public service organisations, the BBC can drive the development of platforms with open standards available to all content providers and device manufacturers alike.

Network Universal Connectivity on Digital Networks:
We will develop plans for a digital Universal Service Commitment to be effective by 2012, delivered by a mixture of fixed and mobile, wired and wireless means. Subject to further study of the costs and benefits, we will set out our plans for the level of service which we believe should be universal. We anticipate this consideration will include options up to 2Mb/s.
We will develop detailed proposals for the design and operation of a new, more broadly-based scheme to fund the Universal Service Commitment for the fully digital age – including who should contribute and its governance and accountability structures.

Digital Britain - throttle, persecute, don't invest

The UK government put a noose around its neck in the early part of this decade by declaring its aims for leading the G7 in broadband - bullshit as everyone knew, but the LLU farce made it much worse than anyone anticipated. So what would arch-realist Stephen Cater come up with as his interim report? Well , not much - but at least its not designed to fail. If you read the list of his advisors, you'd know its a reheated Ciao Review response, at least on network deployment.

Here's the network stuff (TV and radio transition details are in the main report):
We will establish a Government-led strategy group to assess the necessary demand-side, supply-side and regulatory measures to underpin existing market-led investment plans, and to remove barriers to the timely rollout, beyond those declared plans, to maximise market-led coverage of Next Generation broadband. This Strategy Group will, by the time of the final Digital Britain Report, assess the case for how far market-led investment by Virgin Media, BT Group plc and new network enterprises will take the UK in terms of roll-out and likely take-up; and whether any contingency measures, as recommended by the Caio review, are necessary.
Between now and the final Digital Britain Report, the Government will, while recognising existing investments in infrastructure, work with the main operators and others to remove barriers to the development of a wider wholesale market in access to ducts and other primary infrastructure.
The Valuation Office Agency has provided new, clear guidance which addresses the problem of clarity over business rates identified by Francesco Caio in his report, and will ensure that they respond to any queries from existing and new investors and maintain clear, helpful guidance. For its part, the Government will ensure that the guidance is widely understood by potential investors.
We will, by the time of the final Digital Britain Report, have considered the value for money case for whether public incentives have a part to play in enabling further next generation broadband deployment, beyond current market-led initiatives.
The Government will help implement the Community Broadband Network’s proposals for an umbrella body to bring together all the local and community networks and provide them with technical and advisory support.

Well, not exactly $9billion Obama fiscal stimulus is it? Elsewhere the Public Accounts Committee reported last week that the 12billion spent on the Programme for IT in Health is a continuing disaster - a small fraction of that pump-priming broadband to areas still waiting for DSL would make such a difference!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Details on Comcast's DPI monitoring

As this stuff gets technical, its useful to have a decent overview and this excellent article provides it - in particular, note that Comcast has much more functionality in the Sandvine box than they are currently using (coutesy of the first FCC decision last year).

Monday, January 26, 2009

Canadian ISPs report on Deep Packet Inspection

As an early submission to the CRTC inquiry due for July, Canadian ISPs have responded on the extent of their DPI deployment - and its all the big boys - i.e. for consumers, almost the lot!

Not surprisingly given the various billing, cybercrime and anti-terrorist legislation requirements already imposed on ISPs, the big incumbents have made the investment decision - just how much that reflects a business case based on charging priority traffic or deflecting Skype and other VOIP services, we will presumably discover in July.

Canada is of course particularly interesting because its the oldest deployer of broadband of any scale, even more so than Korea.

The tables are complied by grad student Chris Parsons - excellent work!

Euro Parliament and AT&T: fixing the net neutrality debate

The lobbyists on behalf of the incumbents are out in force, commissioning studies and building coalitions such as "Net Confidence" (sic). The invaluable Monica Horten (whose PhD may be a blockbuster for policy wonks) reports that AT&T is its guiding light, that Globecon's study is being spotlit, and that the rejected amendments are back as 'compromises' (sic again), placing responsibility on ISPs only to report (self-regulated) restrictions on service:

Recital 14 […] Given the increasing importance of electronic communications for consumers and businesses, users should be fully informed of […] the traffic management policies […] of any relevant restrictions and/or limitations imposed on the use of the electronic communications services by the service and/or network provider with which they conclude the contract. […]. Where there is a lack of effective competition, the relevant national […] authorities should use the remedies available to them in Directive 2002/19/EC to ensure that users' access to particular types of content or applications is not unreasonably restricted.

Article 21( 3).

Member States shall ensure that national regulatory authorities are able to oblige undertakings providing connection to a public electronic communications network and/or electronic communications services to inter alia:

(b) inform subscribers of any change to the provider's traffic management policies […]; restrictions imposed by the undertaking on their ability to access content or run applications and services of their choice.

Friday, January 23, 2009

US Congress passes broadband open access stimulus

$2.88b will be spent on extending broadband into under-served areas, with open access and net neutrality provisions built into the grants. Republican objections were voted down with the obvious response that "this is public money so the whole public should get to use it".
(C) operate basic and advanced broadband service networks on an open access basis; 
(D) operate advanced wireless broadband service on a wireless open access basis; and
(E) adhere to the principles contained in the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband policy statement (FCC 05-151, adopted August 5, 2005).

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Comcast falls foul of FCC on VoIP

Comcast is in trouble again, this time for peak-time congestion throttling on rival VOIP products. It was Martin's last substantive act in charge of the FCC.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Digital Britain according to Stephen Carter

According to the FT, he appears to be recognising that we'll be innovation-takers not givers:

Draft report’s main points

● A new broadcasting “entity” to replace Channel 4 using public and private assets as well as those of the existing broadcaster

● Long-term solution for provision of national, regional and local news

● Expanded role for BBC’s commercial arm, Worldwide, to act as UK rights marketing company for other broadcasters

● Legislation and formation of a rights agency to combat internet piracy

● Restructuring of digital radio networks and greater flexibility on mergers

● An OFT review of possible relaxation in competition law for regional press and radio

● A review of terms of trade between broadcasters and independent television producers

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Jamie Boyle on net neutrality for the incoming US administration

Excellent article by Jamie Boyle taken from his new book - if WWW hadn't appeared under the radar in 1991, government would never have permitted it - or P2P - or open source - or encryption - or, or, or...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What the nomination of Julius Genachowski means

Obama's new FCC chair is a former senior legal advisor to FCC chairs under the Clinton administration (as well as Notes Editor on Harvard Law Review in 1991-  yup, Obama's notes editor). He also chaired Obama's tech panel in 2007.

So what does his nomination bring, beyond his commitment to telecoms regulation and net neutrality? It means a serious regulator is once more in charge of the FCC and it can get rapidly back on track - but not necessarily in convergence with European policy. First, the Obama plan involves far more detailed and extensive universal service for broadband to reach all Americans - imagine that in Europe? Nope. Second, the US does have 2 wires to each home, and promising use of the digital dividend from the 700MHz auction and elsewhere. So don't expect a return to UNE - the equivalent of European Unbundled Local Loop.

Do expect radical action on media pluralism, net neutrality and wireless. Change has come, and the FCC is no longer (soon) broken - its back in business.

Principles for Internet content censorship

El Reg celebrates the work of Derek Bambauer and our very own Pangloss, with principles for governments such as Oz and the UK on how to censor:
"any filtering or blocking ought to be transparent, open, democratically determined, judicially backed, and accountable."
Well, quite!

Monday, January 05, 2009

A New Year's message from Internet researchers

The widely respected Pew Internet Center on Obama's online fiscal stimulus:

"Researchers in the United States invented the Internet and have done the most to shape its architecture and principles of open access that have empowered so many Internet users. But in recent years, American has fallen behind in providing easy, inexpensive online access. Our nation ranks 15th in the world for high-speed Internet connections needed to make the best use of many Internet features.
"Beyond education, other potential benefits of high-speed Internet are apparent. Wider access would lead to more efficient and effective health care, spur entrepreneurial efforts, particularly in rural areas, and promote the arts, science and social interaction. Mr. Obama himself has shown how the Internet can be an effective tool in promoting a political agenda and spurring wider participation in the democratic process. 

"The president-elect also has energetically advocated "network neutrality," the idea that Internet service providers should not be able to discriminate against any of the information carried on the Net. We believe Net neutrality laws are needed to require that big Internet service providers do not block content they disagree with or provide more favorable access to corporate allies than to their smaller competitors."