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Friday, October 29, 2010

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

People won't pay a premium for faster broadband

Virgin Media, the UK cable operator, reported results today - and they are fascinating, leaving aside the announcements of 100Mb/s product and trials of 200Mb/s product with Prime Minister puffery.
NOTE: these are real speeds, not the DSL or HSDPA phantom lab speeds.
Hidden amidst this hype is the following: only 90k customers have taken up the 50Mb/s product so far. 610k are happy with 20Mb/s. 3.5m are happy with lower speeds.
So that's >3% who choose faster speeds at higher prices. Hmmm....

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hutchison 3: 100TB a day, 6% Windows Updates

Its difficult to get accurate data reporting on 3's traffic, but its important because 3 has 40% of the UK broadband mobile market (over a million dongle users), not the tiny smartphone browsing usage. It also now has 12,000 base stations, with a lot of HSDPA to improve the previously patchy experience.
In July, they reported 250TB of data - trivial by fixed network standards though its mainly used by laptop users -  and the 6% Windows Update figure matches my own usage - the laptop decides to download about 60MB in every GB I have (which is monthly use for normal users, I have a 3GB cap).
The Guardian's reporting is 'exclusive' (12 days after WhatMobile's!), and their data suggests 1% of data was iTunes, 3% Facebook, 2% Farmville and other Zygna games. From Whatmobile, it seems about 1% is Skype and MSN - which is high as its hard to make good Skype calls on 3's network. Google and YouTube together make up less than 1%. Notably, voice calls use up only 3% of total capacity - that's what the cashcow really sucks out of backhaul - next to nothing.
Add up all those numbers, and that's 17%. Yup, 83% of mobile broadband is other stuff - and I'm guessing BBC iPlayer might be quite a lot (though its only really good for radio on 3), but also other peer-to-peer uses, and email. After all, 250TB between a million  people doesn't go far, in fact that's 250MB each.
So (despite shock-horror Guardian claims that they may soon throttle and otherwise breach net neutrality) it may be a while before the network ever needed to consider traffic management - after all, they charge per MB if users exceed their cap. Sit back and enjoy the money flowing...

Hearings in French Senate and European Parliament on neutrality

26 October, today, my old friend Bernard Benhamou is on a panel debating at the French Senate - with ARCEP, Bouygues and Orange - could be pretty feisty!
11 November - I understand there will be a big event at the European Parliament - more details soon.
Incidentally, BEREC and Ofcom's attempts to douse the EC law on net neutrality appear to have been lit as a bonfire by Tea Party wingnuts in the US - who incidentally seem to have no idea that the European Directives were passed last year. Be careful who your friends are - do you want Grover as your pal?

Excellent 'Scientific American' article on Korean transparency and US fog of war

This is the best summary I have read of the CITI-IDATE summit at Columbia - and it reveals that Ethernet speed broadband in Korea is $28/month for all you can eat. If that was the clear offer in your country, wouldn't you subscribe? That would end net neutrality debates at a stroke.
Meanwhile, Americans are told to pay through the nose for duopoly and low speed (and even pay twice for cellphone/fixed backhaul on femtocells, which are the best short-term fix), and much the same applies elsewhere in the developed world outside East Asia.

POLIS/CCP seminar video from LSE net neutrality seminar 6 September

Consumer Panel Net Neutrality event from Communications Consumer Panel on Vimeo.

Monday, October 25, 2010

LTE puffery in Germany by Vodafone?

A DSL Prime story that Vodafone is using 800MHz LTE to connect over 1000 German villages by Christmas in a doughnut (outside to in) rural build that will overcome the digital divide. 30Mb/s for 40euros - sounds too good to be true? I did some digging.
First, note that its about 3Mb/s - and that you only get to use that subject to tight data caps. You pay a huge 70euro/month to get a landline equivalent 30GB cap, for instance. And its only in a few places, and its HSDPA so far, and no-one knows what real data rates will really be - clearly much lower if they are successful and there's no fixed access. I checked the beautiful little village of Konigstein in Saxony - no answers there except GSM, blank space, and some EDGE. No 3G even.
Conclusion: show me the data that says it really gives more than 2Mb/s in villages before all this puffery.
Huawei have helpful real information by Voda's CEO: 'We will be commencing network extension into regions which don't currently have any coverage in the near future, providing actual transmission speeds of around 3 mbit per second right from day one," said Friedrich Joussen, CEO of Vodafone Germany. 
Vodafone will start work on the LTE upgrade at the end of September, and by next year 1,500 base stations will incorporate LTE technology. The communication company has been implementing field trials with HSDPA technology in rural regions over recent months, providing residents there with wireless access to the Internet. The infrastructure for Internet access is now in place in the Uckermark region of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, plus Thuringia and Saxony.
UPDATE: DSL Prime was much more balanced than I suggested initially - here's my edit of their caveats: "The caps are low if you regularly watch video, plausible if your net use is light. That's probably the long run expectation of LTE and LTE advanced: moderate but not terrible speeds, not enough capacity for many to watch quality video, (30 gig is less than 90 minutes a day.) This is a reasonable but not great offering for the last few percent that are expensive to reach with landlines...wireless is shared and limited in total throughput...Most of us are optimistic results like this will be common in rural areas and prices come down. But no one is sure until we see results on networks with many subscribers."
UPDATE 2: DSL Prime has also explained that vectoring claims are theory not reality.

UK broadband: BBC to pay for rural areas

This agreement between government and BBC gets very complicated, but basically after digital TV switchover is complete in 2013, the BBC will pay £150m a year towards rural broadband - that's just more than one Cornwall each year. Its a drop in the ocean but a start.
Incidentally, BBC's licence fee freeze at £145.50/annum to 2016 is accompanied by responsibility for funding the World Service from 2014 (to be folded into BBC News), and part of Welsh language TV from 2013. It also has to provide £25m capital and only £5m ongoing funding for local TV - good luck with that!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Transparency is necessary, but its not regulation - The Economist is furious!

Regulators have decided to avoid confronting net neutrality violations by focusing on transparency rather than consumer redress - and the FCC is following Ofcom's lead on this (note that UK misleading ads are self-regulated [89 complaints upheld, generally long after the campaigns ran]).
But in The Economist : "Babbage is ranting about protecting consumers. Internet service providers love to hide what they offer behind words that suggest speed but evade responsibility for it. In America Comcast, a cable provider, is advertising a system upgrade called "Xfinity". It sounds fast, like something they'd test on a salt flat. But it's a technology with a boring acronym that offers about 30 megabits per second".
Mind you, they are finally investigating two blatant smoking guns that the European Commission acted on years ago: bill shock and mobile stealth data charging. There must be an election coming up...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Informal discussion in European Parliament on net neutrality

From the magnificent EDRi [Note: EDRi response to Commission consultation on net neutrality 30Sept10   (Contribution by Joe McNamee - EDRi)]
"For possibly the first time since the adoption of the "telecoms package", an informal discussion on the issue of "net neutrality" took place at a breakfast meeting hosted by Catherine Trautmann MEP. This happened ahead of upcoming the net neutrality "summit" planned to take place in the European Parliament [11 November].
None of the positions defended by the industry or consumer representatives were particularly surprising, with Telefonica arguing that the "nightmare" of increased demands of their services had to be responded to by increased "management". In the same way as roads are not built to cope with maximum possible demands, it would be wasteful to build networks to have enough capacity to cope with maximum demand. Skype argued that the virtuous circle created by the open Internet, whereby openness fosters innovation which attracts more users, which increases the incentives to innovate, must be protected. Skype and the European Consumers Bureau (BEUC) argued that research shows clearly that transparency is insufficient to protect consumers from non-neutral access providers because of the difficulties involved in changing broadband providers.
"The Commission said that there were over 300 responses to the recently closed net neutrality consultation and that the priority was to ensure a level playing field and to avoid fragmentation. The issue of deep packet inspection, which BEUC said should be banned, was avoided by the Commission, which argued that other technologies "must be possible". During the debate, both Ivailo Kalfin (S+D, Bulgaria) and Edit Herczog (S+D, Hungary) briefly raised the thorny issue of content regulation, presumably because increased interference with citizens' communications for business purposes will make it harder for access providers to avoid caving in to demands to restrict or monitor access to data on the basis of government requests or media pressure. Telefonica (whose subsidiary O2 accidentally blocked the entirely innocent Imgur website because the "technology behind the service is more far reaching than anticipated and on occasion a site which should not be blocked may be") said that it was not interested in censoring online material."

Friday, October 15, 2010

Universal service and net neutrality: EC publishes consultation responses

I linked net neutrality to universal service in my reply to the EC universal service consultation, all of which have now been published.

Accidental data usage on your mobile - $90m and counting?

Well, that's just what Verizon makes - you know, when you take your phone out of your pocket and find out its tried to connect to a web page. 0.02MB appears on your bill at maybe 30cents/20pence or so for that first MB. You can't be bothered to argue (actually I can, but then this is my research area).
So all those 50c add up to $90m for Verizon Wireless apparently - add AT&T, Sprint, every European country and everywhere else and its a conservative estimate that this is a billion-dollar design feature for mobiles. How about if you had to press 2 buttons to access the web so that accidents don't happen?
Rob Frieden highlights the actions the FCC - and all other regulators - could but don't take, on behalf of consumers.
European Commission action time perhaps?

Council of Europe has its very own Declaration on net neutrality

So in addition to the EC (see below), the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, representing 47 European countries - all the EC, all the little ones, plus Russia and a few other freedom-lovers in the European Convention on Human Rights - has adopted on 29 September its own Declaration - here it is in full:

1. The member states of the Council of Europe have repeatedly expressed their commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights on the Internet. This applies in particular to the fundamental rights to freedom of expression and information regardless of frontiers, the right to respect for private life and correspondence, the right to freedom of thought and religion, the right to freedom of association, the right to education and the right to the protection of property, as well as to related procedural rights guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights (ETS No. 5).
2. Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)16 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on measures to promote the public service value of the Internet underlines people’s significant reliance on the Internet as an essential tool for their everyday activities (communication, information, knowledge, commercial transactions) and the resulting legitimate expectation that Internet services be accessible and affordable, secure, reliable and ongoing.
3. Electronic communication networks have become basic tools for the free exchange of ideas and information. They help to ensure freedom of expression and access to information, pluralism and diversity and contribute to the enjoyment of a range of fundamental rights. A competitive and dynamic environment may encourage innovation, increasing network availability and performance and lowering costs, and can promote the free circulation of a wide range of content and services on the Internet. However, users’ right to access and distribute information online and the development of new tools and services might be adversely affected by non-transparent traffic management, content and services’ discrimination or impeding connectivity of devices.
4. Users should have the greatest possible access to Internet-based content, applications and services of their choice, whether or not they are offered free of charge, using suitable devices of their choice. Such a general principle, commonly referred to as network neutrality, should apply irrespective of the infrastructure or the network used for Internet connectivity. Access to infrastructure is a prerequisite for the realisation of this objective.
5. There is an exponential increase in Internet traffic due to the growing number of users and new applications, content and services that take up more bandwidth than ever before. The connectivity of existing types of devices is broadened as regards networks and infrastructure, and new types of devices are connected. In this context, operators of electronic communication networks may have to manage Internet traffic. This management may relate to quality of service, the development of new services, network stability and resilience or combating cybercrime.
6. In so far as it is necessary in the context described above, traffic management should not be seen as a departure from the principle of network neutrality. However, exceptions to this principle should be considered with great circumspection and need to be justified by overriding public interests. In this context, member states should pay due attention to the provisions of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the related case law of the European Court of Human Rights. Member states may also find it useful to refer to the guidelines of Recommendation CM/Rec(2008)6 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on measures to promote the respect for freedom of expression and information with regard to Internet filters.
7. Reference might also be made in this context to the European Union regulatory framework on electronic communications whereby national regulatory authorities are tasked with promoting users' ability to access and distribute information and to run applications and services of their choice.
8. Users and service, application or content providers should be able to gauge the impact of network management measures on the enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms, in particular the rights to freedom of expression and to impart or receive information regardless of frontiers, as well as the right to respect for private life. Those measures should be proportionate, appropriate and avoid unjustified discrimination; they should be subject to periodic review and not be maintained longer than strictly necessary. Users and service providers should be adequately informed about any network management measures that affect in a significant way access to content, applications or services. As regards procedural safeguards, there should be adequate avenues, respectful of rule of law requirements, to challenge network management decisions and, where appropriate, there should be adequate avenues to seek redress.
9. The Committee of Ministers declares its commitment to the principle of network neutrality and underlines that any exceptions to this principle should comply with the requirements set out above. This subject should be explored further within a Council of Europe framework with a view to providing guidance to member states and/or to facilitating the elaboration of guidelines with and for private sector actors in order to define more precisely acceptable management measures and minimum quality-of-service requirements.

When Sir Tim went to Brussels...

To commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the WWW, Sir Tim Berners-Lee addressed a group of European parliamentarians in Brussels last December on the need for openness and interoperability. This December, they will hear from the European Commissioner on what the 'Declaration on Network Neutrality' means in practice. Will it be a happy 21st birthday?

Friday, October 08, 2010

McGarty critiques Vaishnav paper: MIT healthy discussion on telecoms reform?

Very interesting (or controversial, or sour, delete as appropriate) discussion of Chintan Vaishnav's TPRC paper - which appears to have attracted internal criticism both for its prominent plugging by the public relations folks at MIT and for its use of mathematical modelling for what are (claims the critic) ultimately judgment calls. The latter may be legitimately argued (questioned/lampooned), especially as the main beef appears to be reliance on regulation for regulated industries (sic), the former is an internal argument that I would like someone to cast light on - is this unusual publicity for an MIT paper?
The paper itself is to a European non-controversial in its conclusions (use SMP to prevent abuse of dominance, encourage interoperability/modularity and encourage co-regulatory type consensus building), though clearly I don't follow the modelling, and I rather like the allusion to herding an elephant (Ma Bell) which transmogrify into sheep (BabyBells and CLECs) and then multiply into cats (current landscape - though Verizon, Comcast and AT&T are more like tigers stalking deer?).
Oh, and it looks like Dr Vaishnav is a very proper engineer, so that particular criticism seems inappropriate. One does not have to make billions to be an analyst of telecoms....

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

TPRC 2010

Just got back from the three-day telecoms policy wonks extravaganza that is TPRC. What I love about this conference is that all the big shots (at least on the American side) are present, while the conference itself is rather small-scaled and accessible.

Together with one of my co-authors I presented our experimental study on transparency regulation to mitigate network neutrality concerns, which resulted in some interesting discussion. Many thanks to moderator-extraordinair Sascha Meinrath, and fellow panelists Christiaan Hogendorn and Adam Candeub.

As can be expected, there were many more net neutrality related panels. Katerina Maniadaki did an excellent job explaining the Americans how EU competition law works in relation to net neutrality issues. Nicholas Economides presented no less than two new models in by far the most dense presentation of the weekend. The final panel of the conference to me was the most interesting one, in which Barbara van Schewick made her case for an application agnostic non-discrimination rule. This resulted in a good discussion between BvS, Christopher Yoo and Jonathan Cave.

All in all a great weekend. Looking forward to next year!

Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group approach announced

Dale Hatfield has published his outline of what BITAG will be, an expert self-regulatory organisation with an open membership and technical transparency: "BITAG will be an independent non-profit organization, with membership open to any person or entity interested in furthering its mission and able to bring the requisite technical expertise.  The BITAG’s primary purpose will be to support a balanced and diverse technical working group (TWG) of volunteer engineers and other experts tasked with analyzing and developing consensus on network management practices and other related technical issues that can affect the experience of Internet users.  As the BITAG’s Executive Director, I am strongly committed to shepherding an open, transparent, and collaborative expert technical forum that will enable engineers to do what they do best: solve problems."

Monday, October 04, 2010

Ofcom finally posts responses on net neutrality

It seems to be Ofcom policy to publish responses after the consultation closes - which is a shame - but they finally have published the 97 responses on net neutrality. I am hoping a keen PhD student out there somewhere will go through them in depth but I recommend reading the special pleading of the GSMA on mobile neutrality, which includes this beautiful couplet on p12: "Operators want to apply open principles to deliver choice, innovation and differentiation. Operators don't want the potential of the internet to be stifled by an indeterminate openness concept." Translate: get out of the way, we'll choose who can use our network.
Elsewhere Damian Tambini has written for The Guardian on why Ofcom's position is untenable as regards this issue - it timidly claims all wider remit questions are for government, while government has told the EC that it should be up to NRAs how they respond! I think they mean they don't want to do anything much?