Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Spectrum developments down under and across the pond

Last week TeleGeography reported that the Australian government is to sell off 126MHz of UHF spectrum to be used for wireless communications services. This spectrum will become available as a result of the switch to digital-only television broadcasting (the so-called "digital dividend"), which will be completed in Australia by 31 December 2013. From the official press release:
"UHF spectrum currently used for broadcasting services is highly valued for delivering wireless communications services, including super-fast mobile broadband. It is able to carry signals over long distances, penetrate buildings and carry large amounts of its submission to the Digital Dividend green paper, the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) indicated that Australia’s economy could be boosted by up to $10 billion if at least 120 megahertz of usable spectrum is unlocked from the digital dividend."
The digital dividend green paper and copies of submissions received are available here. In the US earlier this week, Barack Obama pledged to speed up the availability of high-speed internet across the US by nearly doubling the availability of airwaves during the next 10 years. From the FT (Obama pledges to increase internet capacity):
"A memorandum signed by the US president would free up 500 megahertz of spectrum held by both the US government and US corporations to fulfil an ever-growing demand for broadband services."
However the announcement has not been universally welcomed. This from the Financial Post:
"There are some potential roadblocks. Some broadcasters ranging from small independent stations to affiliates of major networks have resisted offering up the rights to their spectrum. However, the White House has recently given assurances that if they voluntarily hand spectrum over for auction, they will share in the proceeds."
And this from Business Week:
"The proposals may face resistance from television station owners such as CBS Corp. and News Corp.’s Fox Broadcasting that gave up airwaves as part of their switch to digital signals last year, and have sought to keep their remaining allocation. Wireless carriers led by AT&T Inc. are seeking more spectrum."
The official announcement is available here.

More folks online, but broadband dissatisfaction surges too

A couple of interesting recent UK broadband surveys: the first, from the UK Online Measurement Company (UKOM), reveals that nearly two million more Britons have come online during the last year, over half of which are over 50:
"The size of the UK Internet audience grew by five percent from 36.9 million people in May 2009 to 38.8 million people in May 2010. Of these 1.9 million new Britons using the Internet, 1.0 million (53 percent) were at least 50 years old. Men over 50 were responsible for most of this growth, accounting for 722,000 (38 percent) new British Internet users followed by women over 50 who accounted for 284,000 (15 percent) new users."
The second survey is from BroadbandChoices, which reported that "speed dissatisfaction has increased by a massive 10% since 2009, despite ever faster broadband speeds of up to 20Mb and 24Mb broadband being advertised...a disappointing 39% of people said that their broadband provider hadn’t lived up to expectations".

Rural broadband developments in Devon and the South West

This post is a bit late, as Devon County Council issued their press release over a month ago on 19th May, but worth reporting all the same. The release sets out the results from a study into broadband access across the county. The results confirm that poor access to ICT and broadband inhibits many rural businesses, affecting their growth and turnover:
"A high-speed and reliable broadband service is now considered as essential as utilities such as phones, electricity and gas but the survey shows hundreds of businesses have no broadband service, let alone Next Generation access. 75 per cent of firms in the business survey said that faster broadband would help them achieve greater profits and growth...Devon County Council's analysis calculates that 30,548 households (9.03% of total) and 1,018 business premises (7.58% of total) receive slow broadband (less than 2Mbps), and 15,159 households/497 business premises receive no broadband (less than 0.5 Mbps)."
ISPReview offer further analysis, reporting that "22% of the UK county suffered from slow broadband ISP connections." In response, the council is looking at which areas would benefit most from targeted investment using strict economic criteria, based on a balance between demand and turnover and aimed at those areas suffering from very slow connectivity. The council's broadband ambitions were set out last year in its Digital Devon strategy, which sets objectives of 100% broadband coverage by 2013, with "average bandwidth speed[s]" being 20Mbps (10Mbps minimum). The Council also hopes to be in the top quarter for affordable quality broadband.

Staying in the same neck of the woods, the South West Regional Development Agency (RDA) announced around the same time that £730,000  has been secured for the region under the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE):
"The Devon and Somerset Rural Broadband Project is to get £550,000 for four ‘cluster’ communities. It will involve deploying a community-owned broadband structure in the Blackdown Hills and Exmoor areas so that local businesses and communities can test different solutions and approaches to broadband. They will then be able to operate systems which will deliver the connectivity and systems they need before producing a blue print for other areas to follow...The second grant is for £180,000 and has been given to help upgrade existing infrastructure and provide new lines to help boost the availability and speed of broadband in the Forest of Dean...The project aims to reach communities which would not normally be targeted by the commercial market. It wants to install 5,000 lines to open up better broadband access to people and businesses considered ‘hard to reach’. Such improvements will create and retain jobs and make businesses more competitive in national and international markets."
RDPE funds are part of the European Economic Recovery Plan (EERP) to help mitigate against the current impacts of the economic downturn across Member States. RDAs are to be replaced with Local Economic Partnerships as part of the continuing round of spending cuts. Let's hope that this doesn't prejudice future similar funding opportunities for rural broadband.

The price of influencing US broadband policy

An editorial in the New York Times reports that industry opponents to the FCC's broadband reclassification proposals are spending significant sums on lobbying against the plans, in the form of political contributions:
"Political contributions from AT&T in the current election cycle reached $2.6 million by May 16, on the way to exceeding the total in each of the last three elections. The company has contributed to the campaigns of every Republican and all but three Democrats on the subcommittee that deals with the Internet in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. It has given money to more than half the members of the equivalent Senate panel. Comcast has spent more than $2 million on campaign donations; Verizon has given $1.2 million. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association - the industry’s collective lobbying group - has spent about $1 million more. And just in case that isn’t persuasive enough of the ills of government regulation, telephone and cable companies spent $20.6 million lobbying the government in the first quarter of the year."
ReadWriteWeb report, based on the same study by the Sunlight Foundation (which "uses cutting-edge technology and ideas to make government transparent and accountable"), that companies opposing the proposals spent more than four time as much money on lobbying in the last quarter than organisations in favour of the proposals. The Sunlight Foundation's claims were made on the basis of data supplied by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Monday, June 28, 2010

FCC and universal service - US Commerce Committee hearing

On June 24 FCC commissioners Copps, Clyburn and Baker spoke at a US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing titled Universal Service: Transforming the High-Cost Fund for the Broadband Era.

The hearing focused on the FCC's net neutrality proposals and shifting the focus of the Universal Service Fund (USF) from subsidizing phone service to funding new broadband network investments. All three commissioners were in agreement that the comprehensive universal service reform is long overdue, targeted to broadband investment.

Commissioner Copps delved deep into the detail of the USF in his speech:
"The existing Universal Service Fund is comprised of four programs, created by the FCC pursuant to section 254 of the 1996 Act. The high-cost program - our focus today - provides direct support to ensure that consumers across the country have access to and pay rates for telecommunications services that are reasonably comparable to those in urban areas. This has been largely a success, with telephone penetration at about 98.2% - although it should be noted that there are areas like Indian Country that remain embarrassingly behind in even the most basic connectivity. But, unlike the E-rate and Rural Health Care programs, which provide support directly for broadband access pursuant to statute, the high cost program, as well as the low income program, is not designed to support broadband directly. I strongly believe that if we are going to ensure that no community, no citizen, is left behind by lack of access to basic or advanced telecommunications in this new digital age, we must bring broadband fully into the Universal Service system. No doubt this is a tall order. The Fund includes many moving parts, and we must consider them all when bringing our Universal Service system into the broadband age. This will require something more than merely an adaptation of current USF programs - we must consider the broadband ecosystem and make fundamental changes, and this applies particularly to the high cost program." 

Australia's National Broadband Network - no hanging about down under

Further to a deal being struck with Telstra (see this previous post), two recent announcements underline the Australian National Broadband Network's continued forward motion:
  • On 23 June, NBN Co Limited ("NBN Co’s role is to realise the Australian Government’s vision for the development of a next generation NBN") announced that it will ask 21 key Australian companies including six utility companies to tender for the progressive roll-out of the Fibre Access Network. These companies will be issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for Design and Construction – Fibre Access Network. This follows the previous Request for Capability Statement (RCS) issued in March which received 45 responses. More details here; the tendering process for design and construction is expected to be complete by the end of 2010.
  • On 24 June, NBN Co announced that "it has selected the initial strategic supplier for the Gigabit Passive Optical Network (GPON) and Ethernet Aggregation equipment needed to operate the fibre access network. The initial supplier is Alcatel-Lucent". More details here and a diagram showing the scope of NBN Co equipment contracts is available here. NBN Co has committed to an initial $70 million fixed price purchase with the option to buy as much equipment as requried as the project grows in scale. Once NBN Co achieves full rollout scale, NBN Co intends to engage other GPON equipment suppliers who will interoperate with Alcatel-Lucent’s GPON equipment.

Viacom vs Google: Google's the winner

A US judge has ruled in Google's favour in relation to the case brought against it by Viacom (reported in this previous post) for alleged copyright infringements on YouTube (full ruling here). From the BBC's coverage:
"...the Manhattan judge said Google and YouTube could not be held liable merely for having a "general awareness" that videos might be posted illegally...Viacom had claimed that "tens of thousands of videos" based on its copyrighted works had been posted on YouTube, and that both YouTube and its owner Google had known about it but had done nothing about it. But District Judge Louis Stanton said in his ruling: "Mere knowledge of prevalence of such activity in general is not enough. The provider need not monitor or seek out facts indicating such activity." Google and YouTube had argued that they were entitled to "safe harbour" protection under digital copyright law because they had insufficient notice of particular alleged offences. Judge Stanton agreed, saying that when "YouTube was given notices, it removed the material... it is thus protected from liability" under a provision in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act."
A slightly different take from FierceCable:
"Judge Stanton...agreed that Google knew that copyrighted material had been uploaded to its site but did not know which clips had permission and which did not. Viacom filed suit in 2007 claiming copyright infringement after videos it owned were uploaded to the site. The case, which got really nasty as each side revealed disparaging information about the other, has greater implications for Internet sites that build viewership with uploaded content. According to the judge, companies are shielded from copyright claims by "safe harbor" provisions in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act."
And from the FT (Viacom loses $1bn copyright case to YouTube):
"Unless internet services such as YouTube have “specific” knowledge of infringement and do nothing to remove the clips, they are protected by the safe harbour clauses of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act."
Viacom are appealing the decision; their statement is here.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ofcom launches net neutrality consultation

Following recent developments in the US, Ofcom has today launched a consultation on internet traffic management (the full discussion document is available here). Some commentary from the BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones on his blog.

The paper includes this traffic management continuum, echoing the thinking I set out in this recent post:
The main focus here seems to be (quite rightly) on ways to ensure transparency for consumers, touching on the commercial/competition issues I mentioned. The architectural issues (the so-called "flattening of the Internet") I also referred to are addressed later in the document:
"Many online service providers now use what is known as a Content Distribution Network (CDN) to move their content closer to the edge of the internet to prevent the quality of their services being impacted by traffic congestion in the internet core. These networks are best suited to distributing non-real time content services such as video-on-demand and web browsing. The content for these services is distributed and stored by the CDN operator on internet servers situated close to the end-user ISPs’ networks. When consumers request content, it can then be delivered from a local server operated by the CDN provider, rather than a more remote internet server which would require the content to be delivered over the internet core. There are a number of third party CDN providers such as Akamai and EdgeCast. A recent trend has been for larger service providers including Google and Yahoo! to build their own CDNs to deliver their content. In practice most CDNs circumvent only the effects of congestion in the internet core and not in the ISP’s backhaul or access network. Another recent trend has been for some ISPs to provide their own CDN solutions to service providers wanting to avoid congestion in these parts of the internet delivery chain as well as the internet core. These CDN solutions are of particular interest to video-on-demand service providers whose high capacity services are highly vulnerable to network congestion. The investment in and development of CDNs is a major change in the architecture of the internet which is already seeking to deliver service quality by offsetting some of the problems of the ‘best efforts’ approach. To some degree, content distributors will face a choice in the future of whether to invest in CDNs or guaranteed quality of service delivery over ‘edge’ networks. These are starting to become complementary parts of the same process to guarantee quality of service, with the likes of Akamai and EdgeCast now peering directly with some large ISPs to provide a better end-to-end quality of service experience."
According to the exec summary, the debate raises two key questions for Ofcom:
  1. What stance should Ofcom take on any potential discrimination?
  2. What is the best way to deliver consumer transparency?
In relation to no.1, the main concern is to avoid anti-competitive practices. No.2 "may already be an issue for consumers" and the document references Neelie Kroes' view that transparency is "non-negotiable" (see this previous post):
"The European Commissioner, Neelie Kroes, has recently stated that consumer transparency of traffic management is ‘non-negotiable’. We agree and consider that it is critical that consumers are appropriately informed of traffic prioritisation, degradation or blocking policies being applied by their ISP and that they are able to factor these in when making purchasing decisions. Effective consumer transparency requires information to be meaningful to consumers. Simply providing information will not enable consumers to make informed purchasing and switching choices if it is not the right type of information, and is not presented in a way that is useful. We think that it is important that industry works together to find creative and effective solutions for delivering consumer transparency. We recognise that it would be important to track and evaluate the impact of these consumer transparency approaches. However, a failure to provide the transparency required for consumers to make informed choices is likely to increase pressure for introducing potentially more prescriptive policy options provided for by the Revised Framework, such as a minimum quality of service."
...which puts the onus on providers to manage themselves appropriately or face more intrusive regulation which can only be unwelcome? What's particularly insightful in Neelie Kroes' statement is her recognition of the importance of providers being able to innovate, and that differentiation between packages (for example, bronze, silver, gold) is fundamental to this. At the same time this must be balanced by appropriate levels of transparency in service delivery. This is the line in Neelie Kroes' speech that best summed up the quandary facing regulators:
"...over time, we should continue to monitor whether traffic management is a spur to future network investment, and not a means of exploiting current network constraints."
Also a clear recognition that this shouldn't be seen as a problem that can be fixed, but rather an evolving dynamic where the interests of all parties need to be regularly reviewed and protected in as transparent a way as possible.

Update 28 June 2010: EDUCAUSE have published  a useful primer on net neutrality as part of their "7 things you should know about..." series. The scenario on the first page is particularly worth a look. Some commentary from the FT (ISPs face scrutiny on traffic management) on Ofcom's consultation here.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

England v Slovenia - a good test for UK broadband?

An interesting article on ThinkBroadband on whether the UK's broadband architecture is able to cope with the likely online demand for today's England World Cup match:
"We are currently in the midst of an excellent test for how the UK's broadband network can hold up in the face of huge demand for video content with the World Cup, Wimbledon and the Budget announcement all streamed live online. Yesterday, business ISP Timico saw the budget set a new record high for video usage online, up 309% over their average, and this afternoon could top that still with the nation tuning in to watch England take on Slovenia in our final group game of the World Cup...The average latency has quadrupled from around 28ms to approximately 120ms at peak World Cup time...Users affected may see streamed video occasionally breaking up or freezing from packet loss and websites would be slower to load due to the higher latency."
Bandwidth statistics from LONAP (London Access Point, a Layer-2 Internet Exchange Point) showed traffic peaking at close to 32Gbps after the match kicked off at 1500. From where I'm sitting, the performance of the BBC's online coverage is quite impressive, with a few fits and starts but watchable, albeit behind the TV broadcast. The gap is increasing as I type; for example, the clock on the online stream now shows 38:55 while the one on the TV broadcast shows 39:44, so the lag has increased significantly from when I started watching. It would be interesting to see all the links in the delivery chain to understand where and how this lag occurs.

But the connectivity I'm enjoying while I'm typing this is hardly typical; I wonder how well it's working for others?

Update 24 June 2010: the BBC have published this article on the impact of the game, reporting that "UK internet traffic rose by almost a third during England's crucial World Cup match against Slovenia". An extract:
"Figures released by internet service provider KC suggest that the game triggered a 31% jump in web traffic, as users watched the game via the BBC's live online stream. Early figures suggest the total number of 'concurrent streams' peaked at 800,000 although the total number of viewers will be many times higher. The BBC said this was a viewing record. Concurrent streams is the peak number of people who were watching or listening at any given point during the game. It is not the same at the total number of unique users, which is considerably higher. A spokesman for the BBC said the figure was a very early estimate, a more accurate figure would be released in the next 24 hours."
The BBC also reference this analysis from Akamai, who report that "the 2010 World Cup is shaping up to be a major Internet milestone event", and there's further commentary from the BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones on his blog. And here's the current bandwidth graph from LONAP illustrating yesterday's traffic:

FCC in closed door session with telecoms lobbyists

Some minor controversy here...Broadband Breakfast and Fierce Telecom report that the FCC's chief of staff Edward Lazarus has met privately with telecoms lobbyists in relation to its reclassification proposals. Public interest groups have complained about such a meeting being held behind closed doors. In the FCC's defence Lazarus posted the following on the FCC's blog:
"Since the D.C. Circuit’s decision in the Comcast Internet-discrimination case more than two months ago, there has been a vibrant debate among stakeholders from all parts of the broadband community on the best path forward. Some stakeholders have shared their ideas with staff at the Commission, including ideas for legislative options. Senior Commission staff are making themselves available to meet with all interested parties on these issues. To the extent stakeholders discuss proposals with Commission staff regarding other approaches outside of the open proceedings at the Commission, the agency’s ex partedisclosure requirements are not applicable. But to promote transparency and keep the public informed, we will post notices of these meetings here at As always, our door is open to all ideas and all stakeholders."
The posting also includes a copy of the meeting notice, which lists the attendees as Verizon, AT&T, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), Google and Skype, who met to discuss "details relating to prospective legislation relating to open Internet principles". Given Lazarus' statement above, a storm in a teacup methinks?

Budget: broadband tax is no more, but other plans are afoot

In yesterday's budget, the government confirmed that the 50p Landline Levy set out in the previous administration's Digital Britain report last year is no more. From Chancellor George Osborne's speech:
"...we also need investment in our digital infrastructure. But the previous Government’s landline duty is an archaic way of achieving this, hitting 30 million households who happen to have a fixed telephone line. I am happy to be able to abolish this new duty before it is even introduced. Instead, we will support private broadband investment, including to rural areas, in part with funding from the Digital Switchover under-spend within the TV Licence Fee."
And from the full budget report:
"The Government will not introduce a tax on landlines. Instead, it will drive private sector investment in superfast broadband by making regulatory changes to reduce the cost of roll-out. The Government will also fund three pilots to bring superfast broadband to hard-to-reach areas while working towards a universal broadband service at two Megabits per second. These will be funded by a portion of the Digital Switchover underspend within the TV licence fee."
Old news really (see the final paragraphs of this previous post), but some of the surrounding commentary is interesting nevertheless. This from the FT (BBC fee to pay for superfast broadband):
"...about £800m is coming from the licence fee over five years to help elderly and vulnerable people buy digital TVs or set-top boxes before the analogue broadcast signal is turned off in 2012, and not all of the money is expected to be spent. The anticipated digital switchover underspend of £350m by the end of 2012 has been earmarked by the government for two broadband projects. Some money will help finance the government’s commitment that all homes should get broadband download speeds of two megabits per second. Other digital underspend funds will be used for three pilot schemes that will look at how best to extend superfast broadband networks to rural areas. Ministers are holding out the possibility that, after 2012, a portion of the BBC licence fee could still be used to help pay for high-speed broadband infrastructure in the countryside."
And this from the BBC, picking up on ways to reduce the cost of broadband roll-out announced previously by Jeremy Hunt (see this previous post):
"Labour plans to create a rural broadband fund via the new tax were supported by the Liberal Democrats but were heavily criticised by the Tories. It was dropped from the Finance Bill as a compromise to get the rest of the legislation through before parliament was dissolved. Despite the lack of new funding, the coalition government has said it is committed to providing broadband improvements. In a speech at the beginning of June, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt said that it was his goal to provide Britain with the "best superfast broadband network in Europe". To achieve this, he is considering forcing water, gas and electricity companies to open up their ducts to allow fibre to be laid inside them. Experts estimate that a large chunk of the cost of offering fibre networks is associated with the expense of digging up roads to create new ducts."
Similar coverage in the Guardian too. Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), a team within BIS is the delivery vehicle for the government's next generation access (NGA) and universal service commitment (USC) objectives. Created by the previous administration, its Chief Executive is Adrian Kamellard, on secondment from Infrastructure UK which sits within the Treasury. More info on BDUK on the BIS website here.

This is the line I found of most interest on BDUK's page - "Investigate the detail of reuse of public sector networks and assets, identify the challenges and develop solutions". See this previous post for examples of where this is already happening and this post for the reasons why this is so important.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Australasian broadband policy developments

Further developments of interest in both Australia and New Zealand.

The FT (Telstra in A$11bn broadband deal) report that Telstra and the Australian government have broken their impasse to come to a deal in relation to their involvement with the National Broadband Network (see previous posts here and also here, third bullet point). Telstra have provisionally agreed to give access to its infrastructure in return for A$9bn. An additional A$2bn will be spent on "structural separation issues, including the establishment of a universal service obligations entity to oversee Telstra’s delivery of standard telephone services, payphones and emergency call handling." Further commentary from Fierce Telecom: "As the government builds out the NBN, Telstra will shut down its copper-based wireline networks in stages over eight years. In addition, the NBN will get access to Telstra's ducts and trenches to build out its network."

Similarly, the incumbent Telecom New Zealand is thinking about how it could structurally separate the company so as to be able to participate in the country's proposed national broadband network. The New Zealand government has said that "service providers that run networks won't be allowed to participate in the planned Ultra Fast Broadband Initiative, a national public-private national fiber network", according to Fierce Telecom. Telecom New Zealand's own network could serve as a foundation for the government's plan. The New Zealand government will announce its final candidates to build the regional network in the next few weeks followed by final awards in Q3. The New Zealand government also recently released a discussion document seeking feedback and Expressions of Interest on a proposed Deployment Standards Initiative to develop nationwide standards for broadband infrastructure deployment techniques. More details here, with the discussion document available here.

Friday, June 18, 2010

FCC launches Notice of Inquiry on broadband reclassification

The FCC yesterday published a Notice of Inquiry on "the best legal framework for broadband Internet access". The BBC have coverage here. This builds on a previous statement by Chairman Julius Genachowski, details in this post. From the accompanying FCC press release:
"Today’s action begins the process of identifying the best way forward to ensure a solid and narrowly tailored legal foundation for implementing key recommendations of the National Broadband Plan - such as refocusing the federal universal service program on promoting broadband deployment and adoption, ensuring consumers have access to relevant information about their broadband services, customer privacy, and access for people with disabilities - as well as for preserving the open Internet."
The consultation runs until July 15 2010, and reply comments are due on August 12 2010. The accompanying statements of the FCC Commissioners make for interesting reading. This from Commissioner Copps (Democrat), on the importance of reclassification:
"Some believe that, to achieve one or more of our goals, the Commission could try - on a case-by-case basis - to make better-articulated Title I arguments that may persuade some court somewhere. Maybe. But case-by-case inevitably becomes court case-by-court case. Down this path would be years and years of dead-end delays, years without the most elemental public interest safeguards for broadband, and years of agency paralysis. It would be death by a thousand cuts. Why rest our case on the weakest part of the law when relying on the directly applicable stronger part of the statute is quicker, easier and, most importantly, consumer-friendlier? More years fighting back a costly and seemingly endless stream of court challenges to every action the Commission takes can only consign the United States to the digital dust as other countries focus on actually building out consumer-friendly advanced telecommunications (i.e., broadband)."
And on the potential risks of relying on the industry to regulate itself:
"I, for one, am worried about relying only on the good will of a few powerful companies to achieve this country’s broadband hopes and dreams. We see what price can be paid when critical industries operate with unfettered control and without reasonable and meaningful oversight. Look no further than the banking industry’s role in precipitating the recent financial meltdown or turn on your TV and watch what is taking place right now in the Gulf of Mexico."
...or even what Comcast got up to under the guise of managing its network, see this previous post. Commissioner Clyburn (Democrat) asserted in her statement that a great deal of misinformation is being disseminated, clouding the debate:
" of the current narratives being put forth is that proceeding with this inquiry – let alone a change in classification – would freeze investment in the networks. This argument, however, is specious. First, notable telecommunications analysts at firms such as Bank of America Merrill Lynch, UBS, and Goldman Sachs have each asserted that the public reaction by industry to the Chairman’s proposal is overblown. In fact, they believe the current landscape presents a tremendous buying opportunity."
She also noted that the wireless sector has flourished under a similar regulatory approach:
"...wireless voice communications are currently subject to a nearly identical regulatory regime, and that sector, as you know, has flourished. In fact, as some of my colleagues shared at the agenda meeting last month, the level of investment in the wireless sector has been mind-boggling. Investors and companies have poured billions and billions of dollars into an industry subject to Titles II and III. Massive investment has taken place - and continues to take place - under a parallel paradigm."
However, Commissioner McDowell (Republican) offered a rather different view, particularly in relation to the Comcast ruling:
"...the Comcast decision was quite limited in its scope. The court merely held that Title I does not grant us authority to regulate Internet network management. It reasoned that the Commission could not do so because its ancillary authority over Internet service providers was not tethered to a specific Congressional mandate. In short, if the Commission would like to regulate that activity, it must wait for Congress to change the law. We are not Congress."
He also proposed an alternative approach - perhaps a "fourth way":
"In the absence of new rules, which already have started to create uncertainty and will be litigated in court for years, let us create a new role for the FCC to spotlight allegations of anticompetitive conduct while working with non-governmental Internet governance groups and consumer protection and antitrust agencies. In each of the small number of cases cited by proponents of network management rules, all were rectified quickly, without new rules. The recently announced technical advisory group could serve as a component of such an endeavor."
The advisory group in question is the Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group (BITAG), described in more detail in this previous post. An interesting idea, but would this approach have sufficient teeth to mitigate the risks Commissioner Copps outlined in his speech? This is going to be a long and complicated debate.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Broadband reclassification: for and against

The debate around the reclassification of broadband in the US continues, as more organisations and companies add their voices to the discussion. In the "for" camp:
  • Connected Planet and TelecomPaper both report that a group of alternative telecom service providers have issued a joint statement in support of the FCC's "third way" proposals. The statement from competitive local exchange carriers and independent ISPs claims that "investment and innovation result when the rules of the game are consistent and transparent and the playing field is level" and that "consumers benefit when there is more broadband competition offering more choices". It praises the FCC's proposal to use "tightly targeted forbearance and a light regulatory touch pursuant to Title II to ensure it can stop anti-competitive behavior that could harm consumers or the competitive broadband market", and asserts that the "third way" is "the necessary step to promote continued innovation, creativity, and investment in the technology sector that will result in economic growth and job creation."
  • Also mentioned in my previous postFree Press ("a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to reform the media") have published The Truth about the Third Way ("separating fact from fiction in the FCC reclassification debate"), which, according to this blog post, is intended to address "a string of misinformation campaigns (that) has muddied the discussion on reclassification - and can be traced back to incumbent phone and cable companies, their intense lobbying efforts, and their Astroturf groups". According to the report, "The essence of the FCC’s proposal - re-establishing the FCC’s authority over broadband networks - is a necessary first step in achieving the goals of the National Broadband Plan." Free Press' related Save the Internet coalition is "more than a million everyday people who have banded together with thousands of non-profit organizations, businesses and bloggers to protect Internet freedom".
  • The Open Internet Coalition have issued a statement in support of the FCC's "third way" approach: “Tomorrow, the FCC will begin a critical process to clarify the legal authority that was put into question by the decision in Comcast v FCC. The companies of the OIC praise Chairman Genachowski for putting forward a common-sense, narrowly drawn ‘third-way’ approach that if adopted, will allow the Commission to help extend high-speed broadband Internet access to all Americans, and make sure consumer choice over broadband Internet service is protected. Our Coalition continues to believe that action at the FCC is the fastest and most precise way to promote innovation and investment moving forward. Without fast, available, and open broadband, full participation in the global economy will remain unattainable. Tomorrow’s vote will ultimately help ensure broadband Internet is accessible for everyone, giving every person the ability to participate in the most important platform for economic growth and innovation in our nation’s history.” A list of OIC supporters is available here.
  • EDUCAUSE have published a useful primer on net neutrality as part of their "7 things you should know about..." series. An extract: " As an institution that was instrumental in developing the Internet, and as one of the largest producers and consumers of Internet content, higher education has a special interest in guaranteeing that the network remains as open as possible. Activities including research, collaboration, distance education, and provision of online services to campus constituents increasingly depend on equal and open access to online content. Moreover, many institutions of higher education are charged to serve the public interest. An Internet in which access to content is prioritized according to its economic benefit to the network operator would considerably limit an institution’s ability to fulfill this goal of public interest, as well as undermine their educational mission overall." The scenario on the first page is also worth a look.
  • National Journal's Tech Daily Dose reports that a "broad coalition of nonprofit groups have written FCC Chairman Julius Genachowskireiterating their support for his efforts...The letter, sent Tuesday, was signed by representatives from 150 groups including Color of Change, Common Cause, Free Press, the National Organization for Women, NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network, and others, many of which are local groups scattered throughout the country." A quote from the letter sent to the FCC: "By enabling an open, diverse and free-flowing Web, Net Neutrality has unleashed a tidal wave of civic participation. Our organizations rely upon an open Internet to spread the word about our work, engage more people in our issues, and build support at the grassroots level."
    And those against:
    • The Phoenix Center ("a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that studies broad public-policy issues related to governance, social and economic conditions, with a particular emphasis on the law and economics of telecommunications and high-tech industries") has published The Broadband Credibility Gap, a report arguing that the FCC's proposed light touch approach will not be credible and weakens investment incentives. In addition, the report suggests that the FCC "lacks the necessary self-discipline or mindset for “light touch” regulation." From the accompanying press release: "the cost of legal certainty is increased financial uncertainty in that reclassification greases the wheels of the regulatory machine...reduced private investment is the inevitable and natural consequence of reclassification."
    • A former FCC commissioner has accused the FCC of creating a "casino environment" with its proposals, again according to Connected Planet. Harold Furchtgott-Roth, an economist who served on the FCC in the late 1990s, argues that "what America needs is a commission that writes rules that with absolute certainty will withstand court scrutiny". In his opinion, the FCC has a "a history of creating rules that don’t fall within the law that puts all of the commission’s decisions at risk because no one knows how the courts will view those decisions". He also questions whether the FCC can in fact legally forbear from imposing certain Title II requirements on broadband as its proposals recommend.
    • The Advanced Communications Law & Policy Institute (ACLP) has published Net Neutrality, Investment & Jobs ("assessing the potential impacts of the FCC's proposed net neutrality rules on the broadband ecosystem"). The executive summary states that "the nation’s robust broadband ecosystem stems directly from the stable, light-touch regulatory approach that the FCC carefully developed and consistently implemented over the last several years. The innovative vibrancy evident throughout the broadband ecosystem is in danger of being undermined by FCC proposals, including the impending application of common carrier regulations to some elements of the Internet, that would both overturn decades of precedent and fundamentally alter existing and future business models of broadband service providers." Interestingly, one of the report's authors is Bret Swanson of exaflood fame, as described in a Wall Street Journal article published in January 2007.
    • Similarly, the Brattle Group ("provides consulting and expert testimony in economics, finance, and regulation to corporations, law firms, and governments around the world") have published The Employment and Economic Impacts of Network Neutrality Regulation: An Empirical Analysis. From the accompanying press release: "The study found that the net neutrality regulations currently under consideration by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would negatively impact the broadband sector and job growth in the US...Revenue growth in the broadband sector could slow by about one-sixth over the next decade...broadband sector jobs lost could be expected to total 14,217 in 2011, growing to 342,065 jobs by 2020...Economy-wide, 65,404 jobs could be put in jeopardy in 2011, with the total economy-wide impact growing to 1,452,943 jobs affected by 2020."
    • Verizon's CEO Ivan Seidenberg argued that the FCC's proposals are "overbearing" and will inhibit service providers' ability to invest in their networks in a recent speech to the Economic Club of Washington reported by FierceTelecom. A video of the speech is available here.
    Many more to follow I'm sure.

    Update, 18 June 2010: ACLP and Brattle Group reports added to the "against" list above.
    Update, 23 June 2010: Open Internet Coalition added to "for" list above.
    Update, 28 June 2010: Verizon speech added to "against" list and EDUCAUSE Net Neutrality Primer added to "for" list above.
    Update, 30 June 2010: Free Press, NTEN et al. letter added to "for" list.

    Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group (BITAG) - "a cooling of hostilities over Net neutrality rules"?

    FierceCable report on the launch of the US Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group (BITAG), as do Cnet:
    "Longtime political rivals including AT&T, Google, Comcast, Verizon, and Microsoft, announced Tuesday they had joined together to form a technical advisory group to "develop consensus on broadband network management practices or other related technical issues that can affect users' Internet experience," including applications and devices. The formal name of the effort is the Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group (BITAG), which will be chaired by Dale Hatfield of the University of Colorado at Boulder, a former chief technologist of the Federal Communications Commission."
    I flagged BITAG in this previous post, some interesting comments on the BitTorrent blog:
    "BitTorrent has always believed that innovation and collaboration with ISPs where all parties participated in some self-regulation was a more ideal approach than heavy-handed policy. Even in the early days of the net neutrality debate we worked hard to find common ground with Comcast, and to address issues associated with rich media content and network capacity management. For us, the path has lead to the development of uTP, which is a protocol designed to be sensitive to bottlenecks and yield capacity to other applications when it senses network congestion. It is through innovation like this that we can hope to improve our users’ experience, as well as yield benefits to ISPs by putting less strain on the network. Challenges are best met with cooperation, and the formation of this group signals that everyone is ready to put down their swords and work together and look for solutions that are in the best of interest of all parties involved."
    FierceCable suggest that while this development could be seen as "a ploy to forestall federal oversight of the Internet", this appears unlikely, as "there seems to be little chance of any kind of regulation during this election year."  Here's why: last month Congress reacted very unfavourably to the FCC's proposals to reclassify broadband as a Title II service (but with only a handful of Title II provisions applying - their "third way"). From an additional article on Cnet:
    "A bipartisan group of politicians on Monday told FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, in no uncertain terms, to abandon his plans to impose controversial new rules on broadband providers until the U.S. Congress changes the law. Seventy-four House Democrats sent Genachowski, an Obama appointee and fellow Democrat, a letter saying his ideas will "jeopardize jobs" and "should not be done without additional direction from Congress." A separate letter from 37 Senate Republicans, also sent Monday, was more pointed. It accused Genachowski of pushing "heavy-handed 19th century regulations" that are "inconceivable" as well as illegal."
    More on this letter here, with details of an additional letter sent to the FCC by House Republicans here. Free Press ("a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to reform the media") have a very interesting commentary on this second letter on their Save the Internet site. According to Cnet," in an election year dominated by discussions of jobs, the economy, and health care, regulating broadband providers is hardly a congressional priority". So it looks like BITAG is the way forward in the short term in the wake of the FCC/Comcast decision. But what might happen in future isn't yet clear:
    "If Congress does return to the topic in 2011, it's difficult to predict what might happen, and whether the axis would prevail over broadband providers. Which is why both sides appear to have decided that having a series of informal discussions - far away from the halls of the FCC and Capitol Hill - might be more productive."
    Here's hoping common sense applies, the press release announcing BITAG's launch suggests that it might?

    Monday, June 14, 2010

    ITIF - "A digital world leads to less energy use, not more"

    A new report from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) on global warming and the green economy addresses the accusation that IT is a significant contributor to climate change:
    “Sure, electronic devices and the infrastructure that support them consume a growing share of electricity and most of that electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels. But this energy consumption is dwarfed by IT’s current and growing capacity to reduce energy consumption and develop low-carbon alternatives. Think about how working from home and teleconferencing has cut down on carbon-intensive auto travel as more and more businesses and government agencies adopt these practices. Tens of millions of people are making fewer trips by car and plane every year. Or consider how our ability to condense vast amounts of information into compact forms is actually helping the environment. Let’s face it, it is much less carbon intensive to download a collection of songs onto your home computer than it is to drive to the mall and purchase a CD enclosed in that impossible plastic safe. In addition, as more of us become comfortable with digital formats and new formats like the Ipad emerge, we are consuming less paper. And as a result, less energy since paper manufacturing requires about 3,405 kilowatt-hours of energy to produce 100 tons of paper.”
    Clearly, an effective broadband infrastructure is crucial to delivery of these benefits. There are other benefits too:
    “Just as significant is the reduction in energy consumption that would come from adopting smart-grid technology and intelligent transportation systems. Globally, smart-grid technology would reduce $124.6 billion worth of emissions. In the transportation arena, the widespread adoption of an array of IT tools to reduce traffic congestion and maximize efficiency would also reduce emissions. For example, applying real-time traffic data to signal lights could reduce stops by 40 percent. This could cut gas consumption by 10 percent and cut emissions by 22 percent - a decrease in carbon dioxide emissions by 9,600 tons. Overall, for every unit of energy used by IT, six to 14 units of energy are saved in the overall economy.”
    Whilst it's arguable that the bandwidth requirements needed for this kind of functionality are minimal, these examples nevertheless underline the importance of broadband as a pervasive, reliable and resilient utility. And if you're putting such infrastructure in place as widely as you can, necessitating a very significant investment, it's just plain common sense to do so in a way that provides as much headroom for growth as possible?

    The report includes references to a number of other interesting reports:
    • Improving Quality of Life Through Telecommuting - also by the ITIF and available here - "....only a small minority of Americans with annual incomes of $30,000 or less have broadband service in their homes...This is the same group that loses out on job opportunities because of mobility issues and that could benefit significantly from jobs that would be open through telecommuting....opportunities and resulting benefits would be realized much sooner if public policy was used to accelerate the spread of broadband."
    • Digital Quality of Life - ITIF again, available here - "...policymakers must remain vigilant in ensuring that the components of our digital infrastructure, from global positioning system (GPS) signals to high-speed broadband Internet access, continue to be upgraded and improved."
    • Information and Communication Technologies: The Power of Productivity - American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), summary here (full report requires registration) - "Information and communications technologies have played a critical role in reducing energy waste and increasing energy efficiency throughout the economy.  From sensors and microprocessors to smart grid and virtualization technologies, a strong correlation is found among efficiency, productivity, and energy savings.  And while discrete technologies have successfully enabled significant energy savings, system-wide energy savings have also emerged from the growing ubiquity of ICT systems and technologies."
    • SMART 2020: Enabling the low carbon economy in the information age - Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), available here - “In total, ICTs could deliver approximately 7.8 GtCO2e of emissions savings in 2020. This represents 15% of emissions in 2020 based on a BAU estimation. It represents a significant proportion of the reductions below 1990 levels that scientists and economists recommend by 2020 to avoid dangerous climate change. In economic terms, the ICT-enabled energy efficiency translates into approximately €600 billion ($946.5 billion) of cost savings. It is an opportunity that cannot be overlooked.”

    EDUCAUSE top 10 IT issues 2010: "insatiable demand for bandwidth"

    In the eleventh annual EDUCAUSE Current Issues Survey (based on responses from CIOs of EDUCAUSE member institutions in December 2009), "infrastructure/cyberinfrastructure" was ranked as issue number 10:
    “Fast, reliable access to the Internet continues to be essential due both to the proliferation of external services being used for learning management and other communications and to the insatiable demand for bandwidth-intensive applications (e.g., streaming video), which are becoming essential for many campus needs. As a result, routine bandwidth increases are clearly the norm, requiring more sources of funding.”
    Going forward, a critical question to be considered is:
    "Does the institution’s membership in regional and advanced network consortia ensure the proper level of access to support the high-performance networking needed by constituents?"
    Interesting that continued participation in a managed, aggregated, consortia-based approach to broadband provision is taken as read in this context. Some interesting recommended reading and further resources are available here.

    Friday, June 11, 2010

    US broadband debate hots up

    The BBC report on FCC Commissioner Michael J.Copps' speech yesterday, as discussed previously on this blog. But the article glosses over some important details that are at the heart of the current debate:
    "Plans for the future of the internet in the US are "under seige" by powerful interests, warns the Federal Communications Commission. The warning was given by Commissioner Michael Copps as the agency prepares for a vote on its plans for the development of broadband in the US. The plan followed a court decision that the FCC had no authority to stop ISPs slowing traffic to some users The ruling was a blow to a central tenet of the agency's broadband plan. That plan aims to to provide every American in the country with high speed internet access by 2020. Enshrined in the FCC plan is strong backing for so-called "net neutrality" principles. This means that all web data is treated equally and stops ISPs favouring some traffic in preference to others."
    The FCC's intentions are rather more involved than simply stopping ISPs from favouring traffic. Their National Broadband Plan included details of the FCC's notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on preserving the open Internet. The six principles at the heart of the FCC's proposals are set out on page 58 of the plan:
    1. Content. Subject to reasonable network management, a provider of broadband Internet access service may not prevent any of its users from sending or receiving the lawful content of the user’s choice over the Internet.
    2. Applications and services. Subject to reasonable network management, a provider of broadband Internet access service may not prevent any of its users from running the lawful applications or using the lawful services of the user’s choice.
    3. Devices. Subject to reasonable network management, a provider of broadband Internet access service may not prevent any of its users from connecting to and using on its network the user’s choice of lawful devices that do not harm the network.
    4. Competitive Options. Subject to reasonable network management, a provider of broadband Internet access service may not deprive any of its users of the user’s entitlement to competition among network providers, application providers, service providers and content providers.
    5. Nondiscrimination. Subject to reasonable network management, a provider of broadband Internet access service must treat lawful content, applications and services in a nondiscriminatory manner.
    6. Transparency. Subject to reasonable network management, a provider of broadband Internet access service must disclose such information concerning network management and other practices as is reasonably required for users and content, application and service providers to enjoy the protections specified in this part.
    ...all of which is rather more involved and complex than simply stopping ISPs "favouring some traffic in preference to others". The phrase "subject to reasonable network management" features in all six principles and was defined by the FCC in the same NPRM as follows:
    "Reasonable network management consists of: (a) reasonable practices employed by a provider of broadband Internet access service to (i) reduce or mitigate the effects of congestion on its network or to address quality-of-service concerns; (ii) address traffic that is unwanted by users or harmful; (iii) prevent the transfer of unlawful content; or (iv) prevent the unlawful transfer of content; and (b) other reasonable network management practices."
    It's also timely to revisit the detail of the FCC's original dispute with Comcast here, as described in this previous post. In a nutshell, the approach taken by Comcast was much more significant and detrimental to users than simply slowing traffic: the company was blocking BitTorrent traffic completely in a number of instances, without disclosing the practice to customers. The FCC understandably did not consider this to be "reasonable network management" and I agree. The subsequent court ruling was made on the basis of the FCC's status and its ensuing ability (or, rather lack of it) to enforce its rulings so didn't take Comcast's actions into account.

    Which provides an interesting counterpoint to this speech yesterday by another FCC Commissioner, Meredith Attwell Baker, setting out a very different view to her colleague Michael Copps. Baker argues strongly that broadband should not be reclassified and that current classification has served consumers well:
    "We must recognize the basic teachings of economics and financial markets, the core tenants of engineering, the time-tested proposition that competitive markets protect consumers better than prescriptive government regulation, and some plain old common sense: if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. And, our Title I regime for broadband is certainly not broken."
    ...but competitive markets only protect consumers better if companies play fair, and I don't think anyone could argue that what Comcast did was in the best interests of its customers. However, whether the actions of a single (albeit large) broadband provider are sufficient cause to significantly amend the regulatory framework also needs to be considered. Baker welcomed the launch this week of the Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group, also discussed on the Google Public Policy Blog, and closed with these remarks:
    "In the end, it would be a disservice to consumers and the entire Internet ecosystem for us to allow this Title II debate to devolve into a take-it-or-leave-it reclassification fight. The stakes are too high, and the opportunity too great to lose years in Title II litigation limbo. I urge all parties in this debate to disagree without being disagreeable, and maintain the ability to work together on issues of true consensus. I hope that a future regulatory approach based on Title I gets a fair hearing, and I ask all of you in this room to flesh out how we can proceed after Comcast without reclassification."
    May you live in interesting times, as the saying goes.

    O2's decision to scrap unlimited data underscores mobile broadband limitations

    The reports on BBC News and in the FT (O2 scraps unlimited data for smartphones) hardly come as a surprise, but they do further underline the limitations of current mobile broadband services - they're now a significant constraint on smartphone functionality.

    The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones made a similar point in his blog earlier this week, that mobile broadband providers and smartphone manufacturers are increasingly out of step with each other, with the mobile broadband providers trailing behind: "the technology on the phones is still moving ahead faster than the networks on which they run". He also made an important related point about providers' lack of transparency and honesty about their coverage:
    "What makes it even worse is that the networks still give very patchy information about their coverage. I have just checked a place near my home where I know that one network's coverage is extremely poor - and its map tells me that it's of a high quality, good enough for video calls."
    It may well currently be the case that "the majority of users will be comfortably served by 500MB of data per month", that "O2 expects only 3% of its 21.4m customers to have to pay additional charges because they breach the data usage caps" and that "3% (of users) are using something like 36% of the data capacity of O2's network". This is what O2's press release had to say:
    "Based on current usage patterns, 97% of O2 customers would not need to buy additional data allowances, as the lowest bundle (500MB) provides at least 2.5 times the average O2 customer's current use."
    But how long will it be before more and more users start to consume the same amount of mobile data as that 3%? Not that long would be my guess.

    Update 18 June 2010: an interesting article in the FT (Mobile networks: The race is on to keep the data flowing) includes some useful commentary from Ed Marsden, partner in the tele­communications practice at Deloitte:
    “There are three main problems. The first is the volume of devices using the network. There are now 600m mobile broadband connections, and smartphones have overtaken PCs. The second factor is how consumers are using these devices. With ‘all you can eat’ data plans, we’ve gone from under-utilisation to congestion. One large US operator has identified a 5,000 per cent increase in data growth in the past three years. The third is our level of understanding of, and the optimisation of, networks. Some smartphones strain the network: they generate eight times the signal load of a mobile broadband [dongle] connection. It’s about understanding how the network is being used and where the pinch-points are.”
    The same article suggests the future looks bleak:
    "At the network level, some operators are pinning their hopes on a move to a fourth-generation technology known as Long Term Evolution, or LTE, which promises more efficient use of the radio spectrum, especially for data traffic. The greater spectrum range should allow more users to connect at maximum bandwidth at the same time. Even vendors of fourth-generation equipment, however, acknowledge that LTE might be too little and too late to solve the network capacity problem."

    Thursday, June 10, 2010

    "America’s future town square will be paved with broadband bricks"

    speech yesterday by FCC Commissioner Michael J.Copps to the Silicon Valley tech community provides an interesting and timely counterpoint to new Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt's first major speech on broadband issues earlier this week (more details here).

    Copps was particularly eloquent on the civic importance of broadband and the role public policy should play in spurring its development:
    “Getting broadband infrastructure deployed ubiquitously is the great infrastructure challenge of our time - and one upon which the innovation and creativity of Silicon Valley will ride. For openers, speaking of things that we can do together, Washington and the tech community have an urgent educational challenge to meet. We need to ensure that people understand how broadband is not technology for technology’s sake - it is important because it really can be our “Great Enabler.” This is technology that intersects with every great challenge confronting our nation - improving energy efficiency, halting climate degradation, improving healthcare for all our citizens, educating our young (and our old, too), helping the disabled realize their full potential, creating new public safety tools for first responders, and opening the doors of economic and social opportunity for all. But broadband connectivity is about even more than that. Increasingly our national conversation, news and information, our knowledge of one another, will depend upon the Internet. That is why I worked so hard for the inclusion of a strong Civic Engagement chapter in the Commission’s recent National Broadband Plan, and it is why the Commission is looking so closely at the future of journalism in our society. Each of these challenges that I just mentioned has a broadband component as an important part of its solution. None has a solution without that broadband component. None has a solution without broad public understanding of how important this is. And none has a solution without Washington policy-makers understanding how great the nation’s stake is in all this.
    He went on to draw a parallel with previous infrastructure-building developments, but highlighted some very significant differences in the approach being taken in broadband development today:
    "If you course back through the annals of America’s past - all the way back to the very beginnings - you will find that earlier generations met and mastered their own great infrastructure imperatives - things that had to be built if the country was to continue its forward march. So those generations built roads and bridges, turnpikes and canals, regional and then transcontinental railroads, an interstate highway system, nationwide electricity grids and nearly universal plain old telephone service. They did this, more often than not, by working together - private enterprise in the lead, to be sure, but encouraged by visionary public policy. That’s how we built the place! But somehow, when it came to the roads and bridges and highways of the Twenty-first century - broadband - we forgot those lessons and fell victim to a strange and totally unhistorical assumption that broadband would get built without any special effort, absent any enlightened public policy encouragement, and that business would build it out even in places where business had no incentive to go. That cost us a lot. We lost precious time. We lost golden opportunities. We fell behind other countries. We paid the price in jobs, education, health, energy - you name it."
    No punches pulled there! Commissioner Copps' argument above reminds me of Malcolm Matson of the Open Public Local Access Network (OPLAN) Foundation's suggestion that if the  national policy approach currently being followed in the UK (in relation to the step change from copper to fibre) had been applied previously when we progressed from canals to railways, we would have simply laid railway tracks alongside canals so as to pull barges faster, completely negating the huge potential the railways went on to deliver. For more on the OPLAN Foundation and its work have a look at the “Open Access – Impacting Telecoms” presentation available here.

    Returning to Commissioner Copps' speech, he was similarly direct in relation to the fall-out from the previous Comcast Decision and the ongoing Title I/Title II reclassification debate that has ensued as a result:
    “We must now reflect these changed market realities in our policies and get back on course by treating Internet access services - the gateways to the Internet - as the telecommunications service they are, subject to the most basic of nondiscrimination and transparency safeguards. Chairman Genachowski has announced his intention to launch a proceeding next week to examine the options - continuing down our failed Title I path; applying the full range of Title II requirements and safeguards; or a proposed “third way” of applying a limited number of fundamental provisions of Title II to Internet access service. Frankly, I would have preferred plain and simple Title II reclassification through an immediate declaratory ruling, accompanied by limited, targeted forbearance from certain provisions - wiping the slate clean of all question marks. The quicker we can bring some sense of surety and stability to the present confusion emanating from the Comcast Decision, the better off consumers - and industry, too - will be.”
    He was quick to refute claims that the FCC's wish to reclassify broadband as a Title II service amounts to a "government takeover of the Internet":
    “Think about the alternative. If the FCC does not assert its authority to exercise basic Title II oversight, consumers could be denied access to your service, you would be denied access to them, and there won’t be anybody who can do anything about it. This isn’t about government regulating the Internet - it’s about making sure that consumers and innovators, rather than a handful of entrenched incumbents, each control their own online experiences. Allowing a powerful duopoly - in many places a monopoly - to exercise unfettered control over high-speed Internet access does more than just create technology and economic risks; it poses a real threat to the future of our democracy. We are late in understanding the profound civic implications of broadband as we begin to migrate so much of our national conversation to the Internet. America’s future town square will be paved with broadband bricks. It must be accessible to all - not the province of powerful gatekeepers, tollbooths and walled gardens. It must reflect the diverse voices of this diverse land."
    Finally, in closing, he highlighted the importance of preserving openness, competition and public interest value in the media landscape, and the risk that current market developments pose to "ensuring that all citizens have access to worthy media, to the news and information our democratic dialogue requires". In doing so he drew another very interesting historical parallel:
    "Washington, Jefferson and Madison understood that a democracy depended on an informed citizenry, and established postal subsidies to ensure the widest possible production and dissemination of newspapers - the broadband of their day. They did this, by the way, at huge expense to the federal government. Technology changes, but our democratic challenge remains the same."
    If that isn't a clear recognition of the importance of broadband and a clarion call for public investment in infrastructure, I don't know what is. Over to you, Culture Secretary?

    Wednesday, June 09, 2010

    Europe lags behind in broadband...but UK lags further still

    In a recent interview with the BBC, Neelie Kroes, European Commissioner for Competition, stated that Europe is is lagging dangerously behind its economic rivals in the US and East Asia in terms of broadband provision. Kroes' comments were in relation to the Commission's new Digital Agenda for Europe, described in more detail here, with some interesting positive commentary from the BBC's Bill Thompson here. The agenda guarantees all 500 million people who live in the EU broadband access by 2013.

    Fibre to the Home (FTTH) Council Europe President Chris Holden welcomed the agenda as "a first step in the right direction", but also highlighted a number of challenges:
    “The (digital agenda) document requests 30Mbps bandwidth for each European household and at least 100Mbps for 50% of households by 2020. We have to ensure that these numbers will be guaranteed speeds and not just "up to" offerings. It will also be necessary for high speeds to be available in both directions: download and upload. The digital economy will be based on an active information exchange that not only consists of downloading data and content from the Internet."
    Holden went further in an interview with V3, also reported by ThinkBroadband, to highlight just how far the UK lags behind:
    "In the UK there are just 5,000 homes with FTTH connections, and only around 2.5 million in Europe. In the Far East, where government regulation is much more proactive, some 38 million people are connected directly via fibre... UK businesses could fall behind their European counterparts if networks are not suitably upgraded to handle new technologies that could improve their market position, such as videoconferencing.”
    In the same interview, FTTH Council Europe Director General Hartwig Tauber outlined the importance of fibre over alternative access technologies:
    "The operational expense of fibre is much lower than that of VDSL, and once fibre is in the ground it is much easier to boost its capabilities as you only need to improve the infrastructure from the back end, rather than digging up the streets...The applications that people will want in the future, such as being able to download HD movies, will need faster speeds. An HD video of 20GB would take five hours to download on VDSL speeds of 10Mbit/s, but just 30 minutes on fibre of 100Mbit/s."
    He also predicted that Internet-connected TVs will play an important role in driving developments:
    "People are very comfortable using their televisions for accessing content. HD TVs, perhaps with connected cameras, could open up a whole new era of communication that only fibre would be able to handle.”
    Speaking to ITPro on the same topic, Tauber added:
    “Summer last year South Korea announced it wanted to become a 1Gb country…and there was a clear push from Government. At the same time the UK released the Digital Britain report and wanted to become a 2Mbps country, 500 times smaller...It just illustrates in the decision making process that [the Government] has not realised the potential of telecoms, both economically and for society...If there is positive investment from the Government side, we see operators follow, but also if there is good competition in the last mile, this will drive it too.”
    How far does yesterday's announcement go in addressing the FTTH Council Europe's concerns? We'll have to wait and see.

    UK coalition government's broadband ambitions - best in Europe by 2015

    In a speech yesterday, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt set out the new government's intentions for broadband. Unsurprisingly, no new funding accompanied his announcements, but the speech was encouraging nevertheless, demonstrating both a refreshing recognition of broadband's importance and a clear intent to improve the UK's broadband infrastructure:
    “It is a scandal that nearly 3 million households in this country still cannot access 2 Mbps broadband speeds, and less than 1% of the country is able to access the internet using modern fibre optic technology – compared to an OECD average of around 10%. Some people ask why we need these speeds when the iPlayer can manage on less than one Mpbs. They are missing the point. Superfast broadband is not simply about doing the same things faster. It’s about doing totally new things – creating a platform on which a whole generation of new businesses can thrive. The Federation of Small Businesses has estimated that a superfast network could add £18 billion to GDP and create 60,000 jobs. NESTA thinks it could be ten times that – 600,000 new jobs. We may not know the precise number but no one is any doubt about the economic impact...But it isn’t only about business. Next generation broadband will open up new opportunities to improve public services such as education and healthcare. The biggest driver of high speed broadband in Korea, where I was in January, is children getting help with their homework. Telemedicine is next – and already patients undergo heart surgery on the remote island of Guam supervised remotely by surgeons in Hawaii.”
    Also recognition that, while the market should drive development, government must play its part too:
    “...wherever possible the market should lead the way...But I have always recognised that there has to be a role for government as well as the market. Both in driving up demand for broadband by putting as many services as possible online. And also...government must ensure we do not open up a new digital divide between the urban areas most attractive to infrastructure providers and rural communities where superfast broadband may never be viable.”
    There is a clear fit here with the opportunities to consolidate and extend existing education broadband infrastructure, discussed in this previous post, which offers the potential to deliver both universal service and (depending on the technologies employed) next generation access objectives as well. The universal service commitment will be funded by "a proportion of the underspend on digital switchover", while next generation access options will be explored by "three market testing projects that will bring superfast broadband to rural and hard-to-reach areas" - no word on how these will be funded or where they are though.

    Broadband Delivery UK (about whom more here, scroll down to final bullet point) will continue to provide leadership in this area:
    "Broadband Delivery UK – the organisation which will be the delivery vehicle for these policies and accountable to me – will hold an industry event on 15th July to provide further details, and to describe how the procurement of these testing projects will be achieved."
    Opening up infrastructure is the key, apparently, again offering synergies with the potential of utilising existing education broadband infrastructure:
    “...I also want to address the biggest cost involved in rolling out new fibre optic networks: digging up the roads. Cut these costs and, straight away, investing in superfast broadband becomes a substantially more attractive proposition. That’s why I want companies to be able to take advantage of the infrastructure that already exists – the ducts and poles of telecoms companies, the sewers and other utility networks. We said in our Coalition Agreement that we will require BT and other infrastructure providers to allow the use of their assets to deliver superfast broadband. So I wholeheartedly welcome Ofcom’s proposals to open up access to BT’s ducts and telegraph poles to promote further investment – and the positive and constructive attitude BT has shown to this development. But I would like to go further. If legislation is necessary to require other infrastructure providers to open up their assets as well, then – as announced in the Queen’s speech – I am ready to bring it to the House as soon as parliamentary time can be found."
    "Take advantage of the infrastructure that already exists" - spot on. Education broadband providers (regional broadband consortia, local authorities) are likely to be more than happy to "open up their assets" if additional funding can be secured to consolidate and improve their networks as a result? Using public money to reinforce an existing public asset (schools' broadband infrastructure) kills two (or possibly three) birds with one stone and offers a number of unique advantages:
    • helps to deliver both USC and potentially NGA objectives too;
    • provides a performance uplift for schools' broadband (for example, to fund the long-lining of fibre to remote schools that would otherwise be too expensive to connect);
    • offers a more cost effective option than new build, reducing duplication and providing better return on an existing investment, a significant consideration in the current economic climate.
    Returning to the speech, a paper setting out the government's latest thinking will be published at the BDUK industry event on 15th July. Finally, the speech sets out a lofty ambition for next generation access:
    "Our goal is simple: within this parliament we want Britain to have the best superfast broadband network in Europe."
    Further coverage on BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones' blog and also on BBC news. Rory offers a football metaphor (there is clearly no escaping football at the moment!) in relation to the government's ambition to be the best in Europe:
    “That means by 2015, with the spending of a maximum of £300m of public money, the UK will have soared to the top of the European broadband league. I had a look at a recent study of global broadband performance by Cisco and Oxford's Said Business School to see how far we need to go to achieve this goal. It puts the UK in 17th place in Europe, far behind the likes of Sweden and Switzerland, with even Slovenia and Latvia ahead in the table. So to use a football metaphor, Mr Hunt is in the position of the manager of West Ham, promising to win the Premier League within five years, without a big budget for new players. Even Hammers fans may see that as a little optimistic.”
    It's a funny old game, this broadband policy lark. More of the same available here.