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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Canada consults the end-user on traffic management

Whether they listen more than Ofcom with its terribly dull blogs, we will see - but its a promising start!

EC compromise jettisons net neutrality

Well, what did you expect? The EC has a quasi-regulator with a quasi-veto (or "binding recommendation", lawyers will enjoy that wording!), quasi-broadband universal service but UK wording on net neutrality, it seems. The Commissioner got most of what she wanted.

I like the Svensson amendment which it seems has failed:

Amendment 135 +++

1. Member States shall ensure that national regulatory authorities are, after taking account of the views of interested parties, able to require undertakings that provide publicly available electronic communications networks and/or services to publish equivalent, adequate and up-todate information for end-users on the quality of their services and measures taken to ensure comparable access for disabled end-users and to disclose traffic management policies. That information shall, on request,be supplied to the national regulatory authority in advance of its publication. 
Member States shall ensure that national regulatory authorities are able to take appropriate measures in cases where operators fail to disclose their traffic management policies or where the traffic management policy does not respect the rights of users to access the content, applications and services of their choice. National regulatory authorities shall additionally ensure that there is a facility in place by which users can monitor and identify any problems created by traffic management policies in cases where disputes may arise.

Abuse of process as MEPs didn't know what they were voting on? Well, yes, but that's not unusual - in any case, the devil is in the detail as we will see in the EP vote on agreed texts on 22 April.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Network Management Guide by George Ou

I have been alerted to a paper on network management written for Washington that is now circulating in Brussels, by journalist Ou, written in his role at the ITIF, from which the excellent Weiser/Atkinson paper emerged in 2006.

This paper trashes net neutrality extremists (what The Register calls "freetards") in a way that I find unhelpful in both tone and substance as they're not the only NN proponents, but nevertheless generally its not a bad document - but be very aware of several items that are much more related to the Washington debate:
[1] the proponents of NN in general DO NOT want to entirely outlaw all network management - at least not in my experience. He is generalising from the lunatic fringe.
[2] for reasons I don't understand, he talks about network management ensuring users always get more than their ISP's minimum promise: "If a network can be built to guarantee 1 megabit per second (Mbps) of performance for each user, for example, it can just as easily offer the customer 1 Mbps of guaranteed performance and up to 20 Mbps of unguaranteed performance."
BUT in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, ISPs advertise misleading claims based on maximum THEORETICAL speeds - so their dishonesty means that they ALWAYS over-promise and under-deliver.
[3] He acknowledges three incumbent-paid technical experts - including the excellent Bob Briscoe from BT.

However, he is calling for significantly MORE regulation of ISPs if you read closely, and this I agree with:
"the FCC should oversee broadband providers and ensure that ISP network management practices are open, transparent and not anti-competitive. And the ISP industry should continue its efforts to develop and abide by industry codes of good conduct regarding network management that include, but are not limited to, fuller and more transparent disclosure to consumers of network management practices."

However, he drops it in at the end of both his executive summary and the paper itself, so I assume this is an after-thought as a result of editing/comments by someone else. That's a pity, as it offers balance and shows just how little information ISPs are willing voluntarily to give their customers.

If I can add some information that is actually useful to make that information regulation actually effective, then I would offer the Norwegian solution here. Now that's effective co-regulation of traffic management to ensure transparency and non-discrimination - not just lip service to consumer demands;-)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sky plays April Fool's Joke

And asks to be allowed to duct-share on Virgin Media's cable network - after all they've done for the last 20 years with their monopoly of satellite TV, and 15 years' exclusive live Premier League football - so it must be a joke, right?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

More on mobile termination rates

On another blog, I've been reporting on the special pleading of mobiles, and the incompetent regulation of their termination rates, to the detriment of consumers with fixed line connections. 

The number 100billion€ keeps coming up - first its the minimm number in what ECTA claims has been the effect of these distorted rates over the past decade; second its what the mobiles lost on the 3G auction (the total cost in Europe was substantially higher but the spectrum was never going to be given away); third, it would make an enormous hole in the cost of getting every European household onto at least 50Mbps broadband lines - even if the backhaul would still be a bottleneck.  Should thes 3 numbers be related? The regulatory purists would say no, the realists would say of course they are!

The European broadbnd environment has been so enormously distorted by these problems for the past decade, and arguably its one reason why competitive broadband has been pachy at best.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Consumers want open Internet and politics joins in...

Surprise surprise, European consumers want an open Internet. (They also want it for free, I guess...and yes, the poll was funded by the big pro-NN US corporates).

Will the US net neutrality debate lead to a redrawing of the political discourse through the blogosphere, typically US news agendas are dominated by right-wing radio and TV (Fox) talk-show hosts and the outright lies of the Bush administration rode that to victory in 2004. Will it change radically?

The importance of these two stories is that they underline the political aspect of the debate - this is not just telecoms economics!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

'The Economist' and rats smelling discrimination

Will the 100million mobile broadband users be allowed to exploit their dongles? Of course not!
"The growth, however, comes with a couple of big drawbacks for the operators. One is loss of control. Subscribers can do what they want: the operator is merely a “dumb pipe” to the internet. Next, rates have been falling quickly. “The pricing is crazy—mobile broadband is becoming a commodity way too fast,” notes Didier Bonnet of Capgemini, a consulting firm. Another problem is overuse. Operators complain that a small group of users eats up most of the available network capacity. Some are users of illegal file-sharing networks who want to be harder to track down. To throttle them, operators are thinking of giving some data packets (such as web traffic) priority over others (such as file-sharing). “Network neutrality”, the principle that operators should not discriminate between different forms of traffic, will not succeed on mobile networks, says Holger Knöpke of T-Mobile, a European operator."

Denmark open cable wholesale access: EC's Reding approves

Following the Netherlands precedent, the EC has formally approved Denmark opening TDC's dominant cable network - so in contrast to US duopoly, the most developed European markets have opened both cable and DSL to competition (a bit!).

Edge caching - is it neutral?

A thought on caches and whether they breach net neutrality - responding to the December controversy in the US with Google's plans to push content to the edge.

Two elements of this are important - if Akamai is now an 'SME solution' , based on the idea that the big boys like Yahoo!, Google, and BBC 'Project Canvas' (if it lives on after dead Kangaroo) install their own servers with ISPs, then does the big boy solution fall foul of net neutrality? 

Well, first, Akamai's network remains the best Content Delivery Network (CDN) out there, in an increasingly competitive market. 

Second, should there be FRAND regulation of these caches? FRAND = Fair Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory Access. The idea is that if Google can build such servers - well, add a rack or two - then so should everyone else, if they wish. Obviously this should be paid for by content providers to ensure equality - Disney can't get BT to pay it for the content OR the server. 

This is a well-known principle in for instance LLU regulation - so use it for caches too. The little guys will continue to rely on the good old WWW and get there at usual speed. Or have I missed something?

Solutions to net neutrality-investment conundrum

Further thoughts on incentives to invest - the reason why nobody believes the ISP claims on broadband speeds, and therefore they won't invest in NGA, is that the ISPs are promising more than they can deliver because of cheapskating backhaul costs - or overexpensive BT Wholesale charges, whichever you prefer. The EC in February 2008 approved Ofcom deregulation of backhaul charges in most urban locations (64.4% of the UK population) incidentally....

The answer to that is to stop deceptive advertising and enforce Quality of Service standards on ISPs, which Ofcom is still trying to avoid, preferring co-regulation and, soon to come - name and shame the worst performers. But if customers get what they pay for, then they might be happier with their ISP.

So, how else can ISPs squeeze out some NGA cash if they continue to over-promise and under-perform? Well, four options present themselves.
1. PHORM - behavioural advertising, screw some of Google's cash out of them. Stephen Carter approves.
2. Discriminate and offer consumers walled gardens of 'approved' (i.e. priorised) content - exclusive offers where possible, such as with Disney or the Premier League. That's what we might call the 'Mobile' option.
3. Stop wasting money on DPI and offer customers what they want, high-class QoS service - that's what we used to call the Demon strategy.
4. And let me throw in a joker - the Fixed strategy.

The UK is unique - we have an incumbent SMP operator, BT, which has no mobile (as opposed to wireless) network, and has the Openreach structural solution, for all its stodgy performance. We also have a reasonably strong tradition of regulating mobile networks, over a twenty-year siege laid by the most expensive lawyers in London. Yet still the Competition Commission slapped Ofcom's wrist for cocking up its latest attempts to regulate mobile termination.

So here's the 'Fixed' plan. Reduce mobile prices to cost - you can check Indian termination rates to see what cost is, yup a lot lower than here. Then the fixed operators stop losing market share and interconnection charges hand-over-fist and they can invest in broadband as their advantage over mobile. Oh, and enforce net neutrality against mobiles, too - if their mobile broadband is 14.4Mbps they can afford to give their customers the whole Internet.

What does this radical option do? It enforces a transparent cost-based technology-neutral settlement on the operators, and thus a transparent and open access solution for consumers. Will ofcom do it? Do oligopolists fly?

Game theory and principal-agent problems in net neutrality

Stephen Carter told Parliament he likes discrimination and behavioural advertising - which for a neo-corporatist communications professional should not shock you. You should also not be surprised to learn he was encouraged to intervene on behalf of the poor struggling dinosaurs, sorry that should read regional newspapers...

An interesting conversation this morning about principal-agent issues in NN. In government, all the principals are pushing for discrimination and/or trafic monitoring - they all want ISPs to invest in DPI and the like. Who are 'they'? Ofcom and BERR/Carter obviously (including on spam), but also DCMS on behalf of rights holders, the secret service and Special Branch (as was) on anti-terrorist issues and data retention as well as RIPA, Home Office and CEOP on child porn, Justice on porn (including manga) more generally, and of course Cleanfeed/CAIC. So they're pushing on an open door with price discrimination in all these ways.

So much for principals, what about agents? The types of actors can be classified as:
ISPs: Openreach; BT Wholesale, BT Retail, the mobiles, the others.
Content providers: BBC, other PSBs, Hollywood (both cable TV actors and content Disneyfiers), Silicon Valley (the 'usual suspects' in favour of some form of NN from Google to Yahoo! to Amazon), and the rest of us from Wikipedia to Joost.
So look at all the principals (for arguments' sake, carriers) and agents (say content providers, though the role can switch). Who has incentives and bargaining power in the relationship, as the BBC asks? Of course it varies, and the game theory is fascinating.

But there is a more profound set of questions - who has incentives to invest and where? We logically assume its about NGA and speed/bandwidth for end-user consumers. But as there is deceptive advertising, lack of enforced regulation and no transparency (posts passim), consumers don't believe current speeds. Why would they believe NGA speeds? They wouldn't. So what's the marketing proposition? It doesn't exist, especially given the BT problems with backhaul in Ebbsfleet. Perhaps Virgin will prove us all wrong with its DOCSIS3.0 roll-out?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Council amendments for compromise text against net neutrality?

La Quadrature has published a 27 February internal Council working document, which it claims contains UK government amendments to support a cable TV type prioritisation of the Internet - and that this is inspired by Ofcom. Whether its true that they take their definition of bandwidth management from the less-than-reliable and very net neutrality-open source Wikipedia, it certainly illustrates a lot of compromise needed with the Parliamentary committees in the next month before the 22 April vote.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

Now I'm not suggesting that Ed Richards is complicit in the appalling delays in getting real broadband to British consumers - in fact he notably 'got it' when the PM's adviser back in the Oftel days - but his answers to consumers on the BBC website appear both over-defensive of Ofcom and far too NuLabour chummy with industry. ASA problem, industry problem, Carter problem, level of complaints coming down, data caps in competitive market yadayadayada...upload speeds? How novel!

Our record on fibre is appalling, just admit it and say you'll try to do something about it! On the bright side, he does rebut the "light touch" that many have aimed at Ofcom, now for actions not words...

US lobbyists: overpaid, overwrought and over here

Good Herald Tribune piece on the various lobbies trying to make the European Parliament vote 22 April into a test case for the US later in the year. 

I'm not sure that its true that this is an unprecedented piece of Beltway lobbying in Brussels, some of us remember the 'Television without frontiers' debates of 1996-7, open warfare by the Mouse on European cultural dirigistes...