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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

TPRC: some interesting papers

Its very much worth looking at Katerina Mandiaki's paper on the EU situation from a competition perspective (she willingly agrees that there is more to the issue than just competition law) - bang up-to-date and very well argued. There's also some interesting stuff particularly on Japan (which in summary has a lot of hot air but no visible action on net neutrality) in an otherwise slightly dated comparative paper (e.g. uses 13th Implementation report where she uses the 15th, easily fixed). There is a sprinkling of other panels on net neutrality, including my co-blogger Jasper's excellent paper.
Hopefully he can report back on what else happens in DC!?

European consultations closing - get yours in quick!

Ofcom's 'so-called net neutrality consultation' closed on 9 September - no responses published online so I assume someone else replied. We will no doubt be told later in the year.
The European Commission is finalising its consultation period - 30 September is your deadline. Again, nothing online yet - they normally publish responses well after the final date, its not like the FCC process.
Meanwhile, the club of national regulators, BEREC, is meeting in Amsterdam on Friday week (as OPTA will be chairing BEREC next year, this is part of the handover). Their news page was updated on 4 June, but they are recruiting...they'll discuss their response to the Commission on net neutrality.
And the FCC's comment period on their latest Notice is 1 October, with replies thereafter. No doubt it will be a topic of conversation at TPRC next week - can't go, I'm getting married...

Monday, September 13, 2010

Cisco, Canvas and Economists

BT and Cisco have just announced they'll be streaming UK TV content via Cisco's CDN rather than over BT's wholesale network. It'll be interesting to see TalkTalk's response to that - Canvas is all well and good if you can deliver it to your broadband subscribers. Sky is rather obviously opposed, but that's not news.
On the subject of Cisco, their infamous hockey stick net traffic graph was reproduced in an otherwise excellent Economist piece which is great undergrad primer material on net neutrality. Unsurprisingly The Economist agrees with the Ofcom economists' answer that more local loop competition is the answer, quoting the Berkman study dissed by the network duopoly's lawyers last autumn - to which we might ask why Canvas and CDNs then become so important in apparently 'competitive' UK ISPs? But the clue is in the journal's title. It does quote at length Kevin Werbach and even the excellent Debora Spar - who would tell you to follow the money...

Truth in European advertising: Ofcom study on mobile broadband

Ofcom has commissioned Epitiro to measure mobile broadband speed and latency, with results due in January - if it chooses, it can also publish the results by network to make the research meaningful to the consumers it is tasked to serve. I linked to the comments page so that doubters can see that a subset of ISP customers actually give a damn and have some ability to sort the wheat from the chaff on fixed as well as mobile.
Meanwhile in Spain, Telefonica is planning to offer best-efforts Internet with higher QoS offered as a premium product. This is the harbinger of more QoS-led efforts where transparency will be paramount.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Ray Corrigan on Ofcom net neutrality consult

Inspired (?sic?) by the relentless discussion of consumers/competition/transparency at the POLIS seminar this week, Ray has written his reply to the Ofcom consultation, in which he makes good points about the narrow consumerist economics focus of the Ofcom framing of the issue, and the need for some universal service consideration by government. He also makes vital points about monitoring the networks (against whom, let it be added, Ofcom has not listened to a single complaint) - and that the easier Ofcom makes it, the less transparent:
"Assessment of published documents pertaining to network operators' claimed operating procedures is relatively straightforward. Actually ensuring operators are following the letter and the spirit of their own publicly available procedures is more difficult. Measurement of actual operations and net user harm is complex and the temptation would be for an independent auditor (Ofcom?) to measure metrics which are easy to measure rather than those that provide truly informative indicators of sector practice." Bravo!

What we have here are the usual suspects: LSE seminar 6 Sept

POLIS organised a seminar on the net neutrality issue 6 September - unfortunately I could not speak as I was travelling back from Montreal to the UK. It brought together what we might call "the key stakeholders" which included one group favouring net neutrality, i.e. Skype, but no BBC from what I could gather (please let me know if they spoke up?). Ofcom pursued the transparency furrow that its been ploughing for 3 years with some success, and the EC said - given they are in 'reflection' - more or less nothing.

Friday, September 03, 2010

"What we have here is a failure to communicate": regulatory capture and neutrality

Sometimes nothing is a real cool hand. Its in retrospect amazing that net neutrality got as far as it did in Europe, where regulators are agnostic and politicians notably ambivalent towards Internet entrepreneurs and inclined to follow neo-corporate routes forwards. In the US, with its abandonment of inset competition for ISPs, and its corporate purchasing of policy on Capitol Hill, its far less surprising. It is really down to the inspired design of the non-party political and forward-viewing (at its best moments) European Commission.
The reasons why telecoms regulators such as Ofcom simply fail to appreciate the depth and scale of problems inherent in traffic management are many and I have expounded on them at great length elsewhere, but the key issue is regulatory capture. ISPs are as unlikely as turkeys to vote for Christmas, and so long as they all agree that freetards are a problem, they will have a more or less settled line in favour of throttling bandwidth, underprovisioning backhaul, lying about broadband speeds, and describing as 'unlimited' packages which are anything but, and 'reasonable use' as that which makes them a net profit. When the content players are more concerned to disconnect suspected filesharers than try to achieve an Internet-based business model, they're all pushing on an open door with regulators and politicians.
This is why it is so remarkable that a measure which is only favoured by consumers, the poor bloody infantry, the  voters, has got as far as transparency (which all economists are supposed to favour). Now lets see whether the implementation of the Directives can actually provide a decent deal for those consumers, against the combined weight of the media and telecoms industries.

The wireless conundrum - three Wharton views

Professors Werbach, Faulhaber and Matwyshyn have made very thoughtful contributions via Knowledge@Wharton to the Google-Verizon proposal and the FCC's likely response (after all, as Kevin reminds Harvard Business Review readers, it is its job assigned by Congress to regulate communications), focussing on specialized services and wireless - and the unlikelihood that anything will get done this side of 2011, given the midterm elections in November.  

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Wireless and 'managed services' - what will FCC do?

The FCC has issued a call for yet more evidence on 'specialized' services and wireless as part of the ongoing NPRM process, though with Google conceding the latter this may just be for form's sake. AT&T has made some pretty aggressive rebuttals on DiffServ, and my view remains that managed services need definition but obviously should be permitted so long as they do not degrade the basic unfiltered Internet pipe.
But lets not fool ourselves, investing in specialized (as opposed to managed) services diverts capital from the basic pipe and vice versa, unless you're the genius who knows exactly how to use managed as well as specialized services to continue offering an exact 'Goldilocks' service to regular Internet users - not too hot, not too cold. In this version of the fairytale, too hot is too expensive to deploy efficiently or non-profitable, and too cold is too throttled. Just right would offer the full suite of managed, specialized and plain vanilla services, ensuring maximum consumer transparency and choice, with surplus profits reinvested in maximising the cheapest and best alternative for the majority of traffic, the Internet pipe. That's obviously easier where your main or sole business is as an ISP and your main accounting is wholesale and transparent. Its hardest if you're a cable provider or even more massive communications conglomerate with horizontal-vertical linkages into content and customer services that makes the pipe and ISP consumers the least of your worries.
As with all out-of-copyright fairytales, it comes from Europe and suffers greatly in translation to American corporate capitalism. It may even come true, but probably not in Kansas.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Cisco to buy Skype and end net neutrality corporate lobbying?

If Cisco does what is rumoured - buy Skype and use it for enhanced consumer video calling and wholesale P2P services to mobiles using LTE - then that removes more or less the last major corporate lobbyist (notably Jean-Jacques Sahel) in favour of some net neutrality.
Cisco of course likes Quality of Service and differentiated services as that enables it to sell fancier routers. Its recent work on the future Internet actually designs a scenario of a type of 'net neutrality leads to Paradise Lost' called 'Bursting at the Seams' (this scenario is alongside protectionism, economic stagnation and security threats).
This is the 'Silly Season' of wild rumours, so most likely the Skype share flotation (can it be worth $5b to anyone?) will go ahead...

New report on transparency regulation in broadband

Please forgive me for this shameless self-promotion, and allow me to share with you a report on transparency in broadband that I co-authored, together with Florian Schuett and Bastian Henze, both also researchers at TILEC. Our research project was supported by the Netherlands Ministry of Economic Affairs.

We argue that transparency of broadband works. Increasing transparency about the actual quality of broadband internet is good for consumers and increases quality and efficiency on broadband markets.

We conducted an experimental study in a laboratory, comparing various policy scenarios in which Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are obliged to disclose the actual quality of their service. Nowadays, consumers often only have information about the price and maximum bandwidth of broadband internet, which says little about the actual quality they experience. Results of this research indicate that increased transparency about actual quality leads to stronger competition between ISPs, and increases the quality of broadband.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs supported this TILEC research project as part of its effort to implement the new European directives on electronic communications into Dutch telecommunications law. Our study is part of TILEC’s larger research agenda on innovation, competition policy and regulation, and we will use the data and results of this study for a number of academic publications.