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Monday, January 31, 2011

News from the Middle East, not for US

Americans looking for expert inside views on the Egyptian crisis have a problem - their cable networks do not carry Al Jazeera, which is so influential and critical that Mubarak's thugs have done everything they can to remove it from broadcasting. If they are very lucky, they might find BBC America instead, but it is a very poor second best. The most watched US news channel Fox News has focussed on Israel's perilous ally Mubarak, the risk of 'Al Qaeda' taking over Egypt (the Muslim Brotherhood is a sworn opponent of Al Qaeda methods), and Christians and their churches being attacked (as if Mubarak was kindly to the Coptic minority).
That is why it has been so important that Americans could access the live stream of Al-Jazeera on the web - their website traffic has increased 2500% in the last week, 60% of that from the US. Hopefully no US cable providers are throttling that back in regions with large Muslim populations who might overload the network trying to see the revolution unfold.
Its called access to knowledge. Its why corporations can't be trusted to carry out their democratic functions without some oversight.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Paxman summarises Foreign Office discussion of BBC World Service's 241m users

How many millions listen to the World Service in some form? A mere 241 million people, they say – the figures are so vast as not to mean very much. But it must be many more than will ever clap eyes on William Hague, listen to an ambassadorial speech or attend a Foreign Office leadership conference. The World Service's misfortune was to be controlled by the Foreign Office. I can imagine the scene when the menacing note comes across from the Treasury. "Good Heavens!" says the Permanent Secretary, "they want us to save money. Anyone got any ideas?" No one suggests abandoning the pile on the Faubourg Saint-Honoré or recognising that perhaps the whole diplomatic service belongs to the days before email and the internet – the telephone even. Then a voice pipes up, "I know, why don't we hand the BBC World Service over to the BBC and make it their problem?" "Excellent," says the PS. "Shall we have a cup of tea?"

World's most viewed news website BBC Online garotted with World Service

Very interesting article by the excellent John Naughton - Erik Huggers' departure marks a downgrading of BBC Online in favour of the apparatchiks in television.
Of course, there may be millions of foreign users of BBC Online (arguably more than BBC World Service, which is also losing 27% of its workforce, mainly the poor bloody infantry as the funding cuts were only 19%) but this ConLib coalition shows no sign of realizing that soft power is cheaper than the Afghan morass. His own Tories are very upset at World Service cuts, as the Foreign Secretary cuts it adrift of ringfenced funding.
Why do I protest about BBC Online and World Service cuts? Well, there may be 1 in 4 people not needed anymore - look at any bureaucracy or university - but they are cutting the lowest paid and presumably most motivated staff. What would be a better answer? There is none so long as the BBC is funded by a poll tax on UK television viewers (its free to use a radio as they abolished the radio-only licence fee). World Service should have continued to be paid by the Foreign Office, and frankly most of the BBC website is accessed overseas as it is 45th most popular site on the entire web (and top amongst real news sites as opposed to search portals and SNS)- and has 27m UK users a month. How to do that - well, overseas aid is increasing 37% and the ludicrous FCO still has enormous 19th century grandeur embassies in all the other European capitals -  as if the EU didn't exist...wishful thinking?
As for the howls of protest at Egypt cutting off Internet access and Vodafone's cowering - well, what do you expect of a brutal dictatorship? Its just not cricket. They are now threatening protestors with fighter jets, not just live ammunition and US-made tear gas. William Hague is an intelligent man with no clue how the Arab street works - as he beautifully demonstrated by returning from talks with Syria's hereditary dictator to call for restraint by the people being battered by Mubarak's thugs. Still, he's reacted better than Mubarak's family friend Hillary.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Akamai report on state of the Internet

Its slow in Europe by international comparison and we're finally using mobile data (via James Enck, whose ramblings are vignettes of analytical excellence that put me to shame).
P.S. BBC Online is making 360 staff redundant by 2013 - and meeting commercial competitors to promise not to be an 800-lb gorilla (amongst those competitors are Sky and ESPN-Disney, 600-lb gorillas...).

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Is it "the end of the Internet as we know it" in the UK?

Slashdot has posted a summary of a doomsday for the British Internet, which may even understate the current problems. This is based largely on a shock-horror PCPro story in which the two biggest ISPs said that - as Ofcom is at least agnostic to a differential pricing business model and appears internally very sympathetic, that is antithetic to net neutrality - they will go ahead and charge content providers if they can get away with it (note that public service broadcasters don't much fancy paying, but no surprise there).

“We absolutely could see situations in which some content or application providers might want to pay BT for a quality of service above best efforts,” admitted BT’s Simon Milner at a recent Westminster eForum. “That is the kind of thing that we’d have to explain in our traffic management policies, and indeed we’d do so, and then if somebody decided, ‘well, actually I don’t want to have that kind of service’, they would be free to go elsewhere.” It gets worse. Asked directly at the same forum whether TalkTalk would be willing to cut off access completely to BBC iPlayer in favour of YouTube if the latter was prepared to sign a big enough cheque, TalkTalk’s Andrew Heaney replied: “We’d do a deal, and we’d look at YouTube and we’d look at BBC and we should have freedom to sign whatever deal works.”
My issue with this is [a] transparency, which BT acknowledges; [b] FRAND and discrimination concerns, see Heaney's comments, and [c] what minimum speed will the slow lane enjoy - which neither is addressing as that's the $64b question.
NOTE: this is 'hammer of the DEAct' BT and TalkTalk, not the much more aggressively anti-neutrality Virgin and Sky, let alone the charming mobiles!

Friday, January 21, 2011

French activity, British stonewalling

I hear that Ofcom (to be radically reformed in a Communications Act by 2015) is exercised by Mark Thompson's perfectly reasonable suggestion that paying for fast-lanes on the Internet should be allowed as the exception rather than the norm. Now that super-free marketeers Vaizey and Hunt have their hands on all Internet policy, I suspect the BBC is a voice in the wilderness, and that Murdochs Senior and Junior are making policy.
By contrast, the French are likely to be very early movers (love how all commercial lawyers and economists smell the cash and decide to oppose net neutrality!) in coming up with a workable set of net neutrality principles under Dir.2009/136/EC and 2009/140/EC.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A.T.Kearney astroturf for Euro-monopolies

All you need to know about this flannel is that it is paid for by Telecom Italia, Telefonica, France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom - guess what it thinks of net neutrality? Guess how much it claims it costs for bog-standard 35% CAGR in traffic? Yes, its rubbish.
Can we please have realistic debates instead of this?

Friday, January 14, 2011

The limits of transparency: Canada and Rogers

Michael Geist points out that Rogers is failing to explain transparently how they breach net neutrality - and the CRTC is asking them to do so - in 2011. Yes, see how they quake, see how they fear...

Monday, January 10, 2011

No news is good news?

OK, so the FCC demonstrated Larry Lessig's opinion that they don't do anything useful any more, the TeaBaggers took over the US Congress and allegedly helped reload and retarget to fill the ICU at the University of Phoenix Medical Centre and BT offered their first net neutrality-busting FRAND product. Nothing to see here in Brussels?