Thursday, August 20, 2009

Everyone else is doing it...so why can't we?


Further interesting developments in Australia; Network World report on WiMAX implementation in Adelaide:
"Metropolitan Adelaide will get a WiMax wireless broadband network to cover the city's blackspot areas that cannot get ADSL2+ in a joint state and federal government project with ISP Adam Internet. The $3 million network will be deployed over 15 months with the first WiMax service area coming online in October this year. Funding will come from South Australia's Broadband Development Fund and contributions from the federal Australian Broadband Guarantee."
The Australian Government's Department of Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) has today called for proposals to deliver innovative digital services for regional, rural and remote Australia, as part of its Digital Regions initiative:
"The Digital Regions Initiative is a key element of the Australian Government's initial response to the Regional Telecommunications Review in conjunction with the Rural and Regional National Broadband Network Initiative. The four year $60 million Australian Government initiative will co-fund innovative digital enablement projects with state, territory and local governments. It is a collaborative approach to improve the delivery of education, health and/or emergency services in regional, rural and remote communities."
Interesting that education is at the forefront of this initiative, rather than just alluded to in passing, to "extend digital education services to enable more regional, rural and remote communities to access improved educational opportunities".

Related developments too in America: today is the deadline to apply for $4.7 billion in broadband grants. However, some commentators predict many large players will not be applying, despite the deadline having been extended. This from Network World:
"Representatives of AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner Cable all said late this week that their companies will not apply for broadband deployment funding approved in a huge economic stimulus package passed early this year. In addition, representatives of Verizon Communications and Verizon Wireless said it was unlikely that they would apply for stimulus funding. The US$7.2 billion in broadband stimulus funding was pushed by U.S. President Barack Obama and several consumer groups in an effort to provide universal access to broadband across the country. The first round of funding, in which the application deadline has been extended from Friday to Aug. 20, will distribute about $4 billion in deployment grants and loans, with awards scheduled for November."
Further opinion in the Washington Post. A number of reasons are suggested as to why major players aren't getting on board, including:
  • they're sufficiently cash rich to upgrade and expand their broadband networks on their own;
  • being in receipt of government funding could bring unwanted scrutiny of business practices and compensation, as seen elsewhere with car manufacturers and banks that have taken government bailouts;
  • they're likely to partner with or be contracted by organisations winning grants, so will get the money anyway without having to apply;
  • allegations that conditions attached to the funding, specifically net-neutrality provisons, would prevent them from managing traffic on their networks in the way they want.
This last one is particularly interesting: is the issue here an issue over network management itself, or the perceived need to provide greater transparency about network management? These provisions reference the FCC's August 2005 Internet Policy Statement which set out the following four principles:
  • To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice.
  • To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement.
  • To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network.
  • To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.
Specific nondiscrimination and interconnection requirements are set out on pages 33110-33111 of the Broadband Initiatives Program & Broadband Technology Opportunities Program official notice. My guess this is the problem one: "applicants must...not favor any any lawful Internet applications and content over others".

Confusingly, the same document immediately goes on to mandate transparency in network management: "applicants must...display any network management policies in a prominent location on the service provider’s web page and provide notice to customers of changes to these policies (awardees must describe any business practices or technical mechanisms they employ, other than standard best efforts Internet delivery, to allocate capacity; differentiate among applications, providers, or sources; limit usage; and manage illegal or harmful content)." But hasn't the same document said applicants can't employ any such techniques?

The same notice goes on to say:
"All these requirements shall be subject to the needs of law enforcement and reasonable network management. Thus, awardees may employ generally accepted technical measures to provide acceptable service levels to all customers, such as caching and application-neutral bandwidth allocation, as well as measures to address spam, denial of service attacks, illegal content, and other harmful activities."
Surely this too is contradictory? Cock up or conspiracy? I know where my money is.

Anyway, back to the UK: DCMS have published an implementation plan for Digital Britain. In comparison to US and Australian developments, this document seems pretty thin, lacking both detail and firm commitment. One area of potential interest is the intention to "ask community broadband groups for evidence of where access to existing infrastructure or shared digs could speed up deployments"

Some scope here to cast the net wider than community broadband groups in terms of existing infrastructure, picking up on previous suggestions about the possibility of consolidating and extending education and other public sector infrastructure to address rural access issues?

Media speculation in the Times and Guardian has focused on whether the 50p landline tax will go ahead or not. Stephen Timms has suggested its future is in doubt, as protocol dictates such legislative change requires opposition support to go before Parliament in the run up to an election, and this has not been forthcoming.

All in all, we seem to be dropping further and further behind in terms of developing coherent public policy on broadand. But at least Openreach have published a useful brochure explaining what next generation access is all about.

So that's all right then.

Monday, August 03, 2009

More broadband policy developments...but not in the UK


Estonia is the latest country to green light national NGA infrastructure, according to TeleGeography:
"The Estonian government has approved plans to construct a nationwide superfast broadband network, according to local news source Postimees Online. Under the proposals the state expects 90% of the country to have access to the 100Mbps network by 2012, with the remainder of the population to be connected by 2015. Juhan Parts, Estonia’s minister of economic affairs and communications, also revealed that the government would create an autonomous foundation comprising all major telecommunication providers in the country to oversee the network’s development. ‘The state plans to provide significant support for developing the infrastructure; as of now, the state’s contribution that is required is approximately EEK1 billion (USD91.45 million)’, the minister noted. It is expected that the government will fund the deployment of infrastructure in those areas, mostly rural and sparsely populated, that are not considered financially feasible by commercial operators."
In the US, the FCC's national broadband plan notice of inquiry (=consultation) has provoked interesting responses from both the ITIF and EDUCAUSE. This from EDUCAUSE:
"...rather than investing in short-term, transitional technologies, emphasis should be on technologies that can spur innovation and be scalable for decades. Within a 5-10 year timeframe, for the general purpose Internet, we suggest an initial goal of 100Mbps to every home and business; for smaller anchor institutions such as schools, community colleges, libraries and health clinics, an initial goal of 100Mbps to 1 Gbps; and for larger anchor institutions such as colleges, universities, and hospitals, and to facilitate the essential research applications in use today and in the near future, networks and equipment must provide multi-Gigabit speeds.”
“…work more closely with state and regional networks to extend their backbone networks deeper into the community to provide middle mile/backhaul capabilities. Over 30 states have some form of a non-profit research and education backbone network that currently carries the telecommunications traffic of state and local governments, schools, libraries, hospitals and other anchor institutions.”
“…many countries that are more rural than the U.S. (Sweden, Canada, Finland, and Norway) have a higher rate of broadband subscribership than the U.S. because their governments have taken the necessary steps to encourage it. These governments have not looked at their rural geography as an excuse for inaction; rather they have looked at it as a challenge that can be overcome with the right policies…”
Attachment B of EDUCAUSE's response argues that US broadband policy should be lead by education, given the historical development of the Internet and world wide web. It also re-states the need to support concurrent access:
“Students’ experiences with high bandwidth connectivity on their campuses are driving their expectations and the domestic demand for new high-bandwidth applications that will advance America and be exportable to the rest of the advanced world.”
And some measured words in response to the FCC from the ITIF:
“So what should the United States do to improve its broadband performance? There are a number of specific policy recommendations that we propose. But perhaps the most important step we can take as a nation is to move beyond the divisive and unproductive debate over broadband policy that we are now caught up in. The current debate over broadband revolves around arguments about whether we are behind or ahead; whether our relative position is due to policy or other factors; whether unbundling is a magic bullet or an investment killer; and of course, whether net neutrality is the solution to the greatest threat to the Internet since its inception or merely an anachronistic concept. Indeed, the U.S. broadband policy environment is characterized on the one hand by market fundamentalists who see little or no role for government, and indeed see government as the problem; and on the other by digital populists who favor a vastly expanded role for government (including government ownership of networks and strict and comprehensive regulation, including mandatory unbundling of incumbent networks and strict net neutrality regulations) and who see big corporations providing broadband as a problem. It’s time to move beyond free market fundamentalism on the right and digital populism on the left and begin to craft pragmatic, realistic policies that focus on the primary goal: getting as many American households using high-speed broadband networks to engage in all sorts of online activities, including education, health care, work, commerce, and interacting with their government.”
And an interesting take on the"broadband as utility" argument:
“Broadband networks have certain characteristics that distinguish them from utility networks for services such as water and sewage: we expect broadband to get faster and cheaper year after year, but we don’t have similar expectations for our water, sewer, and garbage collection systems. We believe it’s reasonable to ask consumers to moderate their use of utilities in light their societal costs by conserving water and electricity and recycling, but we have no such expectation where broadband is concerned. In fact, we have quite the opposite attitude, considering ever-higher consumption of broadband capacity indicative of virtue: people who consume lots of broadband bandwidth are deemed “innovators,” not profligate wasters. This is as it should be, of course, because innovative new network applications often do consume more bandwidth than old, established ones (but not always, Twitter is a narrowband innovative service.) So if broadband networks are utilities, they’re utilities of an entirely different kind than water and sewer systems, ones in which we don’t ask consumers to conserve and which we expect will constantly increase in capacity and decrease in cost to the user. So the “utility” formulation is not helpful and doesn’t serve to drive the debate in a constructive direction, with a few exceptions.”