Wednesday, March 31, 2010

US policy developments update


Lots happening in the US, in the wake of the publication of the National Broadband Plan a fortnight ago. As to be expected, some criticisms, but praise too. The New America Foundation have published their assessment (also available here) of the plan, which, while recognising that the plan "represents vision and an important policy shift for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)", also suggests that "the plan's goals and policies must be bolder if the U.S. is to close digital divides in rural and urban areas, and allow the U.S. to improve its international broadband ranking." The San Francisco Chronicle offers a useful overview of this and other concerns.

More specifically, the report suggests that the FCC should:
"reconsider the conclusions contained in a recent report it commissioned from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, which summarized the successful strategies of other leading nations.12 If the Commission is committed to facilitating competition and driving down prices, it must at least consider the narrowly and geographically targeted application of unbundling and open access policies. As the Berkman Center study demonstrates, these policies have proven successful in other countries and markets. They cannot be taken off the table simply because of political opposition from incumbent carriers; rather, a commitment to transparency and data-driven policymaking requires a full evaluation of all potential options."
Which is very interesting, especially as the Berkman Centre report (available here) was commissioned by...the FCC. See this previous post for more on this. The New America Foundation assessment also includes a very useful summary of the FCC's Title I/Title II (in relation to the Communications Act) broadband reclassification options on pages 14-15, suggesting that the Commission should:
"promptly issue a Notice of Inquiry considering only the issue of whether to classify the transmission component of broadband Internet access as a telecommunications service. This necessary next step will commence the process of fully airing and resolving questions related to the Commission’s authority to implement the plan and will allow the FCC to deal with jurisdictional questions holistically, rather than tackling the question repeatedly as it seeks to implement each of its policy proposals."
Lots of other useful material on the New America Foundation site, including this presentation of the findings from a report on the role broadband plays in boosting local economic development, and an analysis, entitled Homes with Tails, of the potential for consumers to purchase and own fibre connections running from their homes. Returning to the National Broadband Plan, Network World report that several elements have met with Republican opposition, particularly in relation to the issue of broadband reclassification, and its likely impact on broadband providers:
"While Chapter 4 of the broadband plan doesn't talk specifically about reclassifying broadband as a common-carrier service, committee Republicans said the chapter addressing broadband competition policy recommends a number of new rules that could potentially create new regulations for broadband providers...Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, questioned how (FCC Chairman) Genachowski could talk about encouraging private investment in broadband and also propose new net neutrality rules that would prohibit broadband providers from selectively blocking or slowing Internet content. The broadband plan has sent a "shiver of cold" across the investment community, he said."
But on a more positive note, EDUCAUSE have welcomed the plan's endorsement of their Unified Community Anchor Network (UCAN) concept. From their press release:
"We underscore the goal of 1 gigabit-per-second connectivity to all anchor institutions. The report endorses the Unified Community Anchor Network (UCAN) that EDUCAUSE, along with the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition and several others, proposed in comments to the FCC in January. Internet2, NLR, ACUTA, and many other peer organizations also strongly support this creative and economically sound plan to extend high-speed broadband into the hearts of our communities."
Also on a positive note, Google report an excellent response to their request for information in relation to their plans to build an experimental fibre network on their official blog:
"Over the coming months, we'll be reviewing the responses to determine where to build. As we narrow down our choices, we'll be conducting site visits, meeting with local officials and consulting with third-party organizations. Based on a rigorous review of the data, we will announce our target community or communities by the end of the year. Of course, we're not going to be able to build in every interested community - our plan is to reach a total of at least 50,000 and potentially up to 500,000 people with this experiment. Wherever we decide to build, we hope to learn lessons that will help improve Internet access everywhere...We've received more than 1,100 community responses and more than 194,000 responses from individuals."
Network World report that some communities went to rather extreme measures in attempting to secure Google's interest...including jumping into icy lakes, swimming with sharks and re-naming towns (Topeka, Kansas became Google, Kansas for the duration of March 2010)...we shall have to wait and see if any of these antics helped their respective causes!

Finally for this update, it seems that changes to the rules governing how the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) and National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will dole out the second round of broadband stimulus funding are encouraging interest from companies previously reluctant to apply. Fierce Telecom report that Qwest has applied for "a $350 million broadband stimulus funding grant to extend broadband services to rural communities in its 14-state ILEC region", where ILEC = incumbent local exchange carrier. A useful assessment of the rule changes is available here.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ofcom: encouraging investment in NGA


Hot on the heels of Gordon Brown's announcements yesterday come two consultations from Ofcom, on mechanisms to "promote competition and investment in current and super-fast broadband services".

One consultation focuses on the wholesale local access (WLA) market (which relates to fixed telecommunications infrastructure - the physical connection between a consumer's premises and the local telephone exchange), and the other on the wholesale broadband access (WBA) market (which relates to the wholesale broadband products communications providers (CPs) provide for themselves and sell to each other).

The WLA consultation describes a new mechanism called virtual unbundled local access (VULA). This would have to be provided by BT wherever it has deployed its NGA network. The intention is that VULA would provide access to the NGA network in a way similar to how LLU operates in current broadband provision. But rather than providing a physical line, VULA would provide a virtual connection that gives other communications providers a dedicated link to their customers and substantial control. Clearly this is cheaper (and more sensible) than requiring operators to invest in parallel, duplicate networks. This is close as we're likely to get to the open access model in the UK?

So BT does the heavy lifting in terms of provisioning fibre, and is also obliged to offer access to other operators to deliver services over it. The WLA consultation also includes physical infrastructure access (PIA) proposals, intended to allow other operators "to deploy fibre in the access network using BT's ducts and poles - either to support deployment of FTTP technology, or to support deployment of FTTC technology (by enabling a backhaul connection between street cabinets and the OCP's network" (where OCP is "other communications provider").

The WBA consultation relates to promoting further competition in the provision of current generation retail broadband services. Essentially, the proposals involve the imposition of general access and non-discrimination obligations on BT to address the fact that it has significant market power (SMP) in exchange areas where it's the only operator (16.4% of UK premises), or in areas where there are only 2 or 3 operators (13.7% of UK premises). Charge controls are also proposed, strict ones where BT is the only show in town and "a degree of pricing freedom" in areas served by 2 or 3 operators.

Commentary from the usual suspects: the FT (Push to open up BT ducts to broadband rivals), TeleGeography and the BBC.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Some (very) rough cost estimates


The reports from JANET(UK)'s recent LLU project offer an interesting insight into the costs that can be achived through local expertise and a willingness to engage with the detail of telecoms provision. From the report on Access Locate:
"By having both LLU and Access Locate space in an exchange you are able to take advantage of all the various types of Openreach tails, from a simple low cost MPF right up to 10GbE circuits over fibre. In every case the pricing for these is going to be the floor regulated price which is agreed with OFCOM and openly published on the web. This gives clarity of pricing that buying through third parties with all their associated mark ups does not."
The report models the following annual costs over a five year period for connecting 33 (28 primary, 5 secondary) schools in Carlisle. All figures are based on published Openreach pricing as of December 2009. Prices change frequently, so the following should be regarded with some caution. Modelling is based on connecting secondary schools at at 100Mbps and primaries at 10Mbps, through a combination of technologies available via unbundling an exchange.

This gives the following five-year annual cost per site across the 33 sites:
  • Standard WES: £4505/site/pa
  • LLU + WES: £3066/site/pa
  • LLU + Access Locate with WES-LA: £2128/site/pa
For this last option, note that 13 out of the 28 primary schools would be connected at 100Mbps and upgrading the remainder similarly would be a relatively low cost option.

The DCSF's Education and Training Statistics for the United Kingdom: 2009 tells us that there were 24,737 schools in England in 2008/2009. So to do the maths (if everything looked like Carlisle):
  • Standard WES: £4505/site/pa x 24,737 sites: £111m/pa
  • LLU + WES: £3066/site/pa x 24,737 sites: £76m/pa
  • LLU + Access Locate with WES-LA: £2128/site/pa x 24,737 sites: £53m/pa
And for a more rural area, Brampton, which is just to the east of Carlisle, to connect 6 schools (5 primaries, 1 secondary) gives the following costs, again over five years:
  • Standard WES: £10,236/site/pa
  • WES + POP in secondary school: £6388/site/pa
  • LLU + Access Locate + MPFs + WES-LA: £5258/site/pa
Similarly, for the last option above, 3 primaries would be connected at 100Mbps rather than 10Mbps.

So, doing the same maths again (if everything looked like Brampton) gives us:
  • Standard WES: £10,236/site/pa x 24,737 sites: £253m/pa
  • WES + POP in secondary school: £6388/site/pa x 24,737 sites: £158m/pa
  • LLU + Access Locate + MPFs + WES-LA: £5258/site/pa x 24,737 sites: £130m/pa
...all in the best tradition of beermats and fag packets of course, but interesting food for thought all the same. Especially in that these costs, while impressive in themselves, also suggest it's more than twice as expensive to connect rural areas, whichever of the three provisioning approaches is employed. As I said in a previous post, some very interesting parallels here with the US National Broadband Plan (see this previous post), on the importance of being able to access to the most cost effective provision available to you. Which, of course, may not be what the telcos would prefer to sell you?

Broadband confirmed as an election issue


...as if it wasn't already. In a session that appears to have been set up purely to brief the press, as I can find no reference to any audience or context in any of the coverage, Gordon Brown made a speech this morning on building Britain's digital future. The speech seems a direct response to the Conservative's technology manifesto (see this previous post for more on this), stressing as it does the need to make more public services available online and put more and more data in the public domain.

But it's the announcements about super-fast broadband which have been the focus of much of the coverage. To quote from the speech:
“Now government must decide what action it will take to bring about universal access to the next generation of superfast broadband, simultaneously ensuring the highest quality content is available online and available to all. The choice with broadband infrastructure is clear. We can allow unbridled market forces to provide a solution on its own terms and according to its own timetable as others would do. The result would be superfast broadband coverage determined not even by need or social justice, or by the national interest but by profitability alone. This would open a lasting, pervasive and damaging new digital divide.  It would allow the country to become split between a fast-track and a slow-track to the future, between those fortunate to live in densely-populated areas and those not. But to concede a willingness to have superfast broadband reserved for some rather than for all also betrays a total failure to grasp the scale of the educational, economic and social opportunities that it brings.”
While I concur with the intent expressed in the above, especially the very real risk of a new digital divide emerging, a couple of things strike me. First, I think it's a bit rich to criticise some un-named "others" (as if we didn't know) for intending to allow "unbridled market forces to provide a solution", when up until the release of the final Digital Britain report less than a year ago, this was precisely the approach the current administration had taken. Second, given the widely stated opposition to the 50p tax, on the basis of both its alleged unfairness and, more specifically, because it's been argued that it simply won't generate sufficient funds, is it also arguable that adopting such a mechanism to support NGA "betrays a total failure to grasp the scale of the educational, economic and social opportunities that it brings"?

I think the solution lies somewhere in between the approaches espoused by the two parties, combining elements of both. I don't think we can just rely on the market to deliver what we urgently need, however many barriers to investment are removed through measures like sub-loop unbundling, duct sharing and dark fibre access. Some money needs to be found from somewhere to drive NGA roll-out. This ideally needs to be made available in a way that encourages the development of a new (or a consolidated and extended existing?) public infrastructure as a national, rather than commercial, asset.

I don't think the current Next Generation Fund is the right vehicle for this, and I think there are some valuable lessons we can learn from developments in the US, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere. The question of whether taxpayers' money should be used to fund NGA at all (as the BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones considers on his blog) is an interesting one. To my mind, it all depends what it's spent on. If it's used to develop a national, open access, universally available public asset that benefits everyone, then I'm very comfortable with that. The OECD summed this up very succinctly:
"When the public pays for broadband investment they should expect to benefit from improved service and greater choice in the market place. One means to accomplish this is to ensure that networks built or augmented using any public funding are available via “open access” rules, meaning network providers offer access or capacity to all market participants on cost-based, non-discriminatory terms."
However, if public funds go straight to telcos and other providers, to subsidise the development of commercial, privately owned assets that can be subsequently exploited for many years to come, then I'm not so sure.

Friday, March 19, 2010

FCC vs Comcast & reclassifying broadband


It's timely to revisit Comcast's dispute with the FCC over traffic management, in the light of the publication of the US National Broadband Plan this week, as well as the FCC's intention to reclassify broadband so as to allow (if I've understood correctly) Universal Service Fund (USF) monies to be used to support further deployment. Such a reclassification would also enable regulation similar that currently employed over traditional voice services, which would entail a much greater level of scrutiny than that currently afforded to broadband services.

Naturally broadband providers have opposed this, see this previous post. The FCC's proposals for preserving the open internet are at the heart of this issue, calling as they do for broadband service providers to "treat lawful content, applications, and services in a nondiscriminatory manner" and to "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 rulemaking." These two requirements form an additon to the four general Internet policy principles previously set out by the FCC. See this previous post for more on these principles, which have underlined the ongoing net neutrality debate in the US.

Network World recently published an interesting interview with FCC Robert M. McDowell about the net  neutrality proceeding. McDowell expressed some doubts over the extent and legality of the FCC's regulatory role, mentioning the FCC/Comcast case specifically:
"Since 2002, the Commission has continued on a path of classifying broadband services as less regulated information services under Title I of the Communication Act. As such, proponents of net neutrality rules have had to argue that the commission has jurisdiction to impose these rules through its ancillary authority under Title I -- rather than directly through Title II. But, some question whether the commission can use its ancillary authority for network management regulations. That specific jurisdictional question is currently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in the Comcast/BitTorrent case. Oral arguments have already been held in that case, and it will be interesting to see how the court rules regarding the commission's ancillary jurisdiction. If the court rules that the commission does not have jurisdiction, the proposed rulemaking will be on a shaky legal foundation."
Further explanation commentary on this from Ars Technica:
"...Comcast's degradation of BitTorrent...came to light in 2008. The cable ISP used TCP reset packets to disrupt certain P2P connections, changing the purpose and use of reset packets unilaterally. But when that Comcast case was finally ruled on by the FCC, and the company was told to stop its practice, a dispute erupted: did the FCC even have the authority to act on its "four freedoms"? Those Internet freedoms were explicitly not rules, and Comcast has since gone to court over the issue. Genachowski wants to make all six of his proposed Internet principles into official agency rules to make clear to ISPs exactly what's required of them, and to make sure the FCC has the authority to act if problems arise."
And from an earlier article, also from Ars Technica:
"Although Comcast's legal arguments are complex, the crux is simple: there were and still are no statutes or credible regulations that support the Commission's authority to act on this matter, the company says...the obsessive-compulsive question for legal beagles is whether Title I gives the FCC the legal cajones to stomp ISPs if they block your efforts to download the movie trailer for District 9 via BitTorrent, Vuze, or some other P2P app. The consumer groups that petitioned the FCC to do something about Comcast's behavior say that Title I granted the FCC all the authority it needed to act in this situation. Free market groups like the Progress and Freedom Foundation contend  this ancillary authority business is way too vague to be used in something as crucial as regulating network management. PFF calls it a "standardless discretion" contrary to "the foundational principle that agencies only have that authority conferred by Congress, which ensures accountability."...The bottom line is that Comcast, as you've probably already guessed, argues that Title I doesn't give the FCC diddley when it comes to overseeing ISPs."
Comcast's opening brief is available here. If the judge finds against the FCC, the decision could have a significant impact on their ability to provide the necessary mandates to ensure delivery of the National Broadband Plan, if it also affects the FCC's wish to reclassify broadband services? Does the FCC want to reclassify broadband so as to ensure its authority and jurisdiction over broadband providers can't again be brought into question in the courts, or to ensure that USF monies can be used to support its deployment? More on this in this previous post, see the link to the Wall Street Journal.

My guess is both, that they're trying to kill two birds with one stone here. If the FCC's attempt to reclassify broadband is successful, it will be interesting what impact this has on the Comcast case, as clearly the dispute predates any such reclassification. Not the most solid foundations for leading on a National Broadband Plan?

New Zealand's Rural Broadband Initiative finalised


New Zealand’s communications minister Steven Joyce announced on Tuesday that plans for the rural broadband initiative (RBI) have been finalised. From TeleGeography:
"Under the RBI, 97% of rural households will have access to broadband services of at least 5Mbps, with the remainder reaching at least 1Mbps. Schools will also benefit from the plan with direct fibre connections delivered to 97% of schools across the country and 99.7% of students. The RBI is being implemented separately but alongside the government's Ultra-Fast Broadband Initiative in urban areas and is expected to cost around NZD300 million (USD210.35 million), funded by a NZD48 million direct government grant, plus NZD252 million raised via a new Telecommunications Development Levy being set up as part of the accompanying TSO reforms. The new levy will see NZD50 million a year raised through contributions from telcos. All will then be able to compete for the right to tap the fund to develop rural broadband services."
More on the plans for schools from the New Zealand government's press release:
"A big part of the plan will be connecting fibre directly to rural schools. "Schools are one of the most concentrated areas of broadband demand," says Mr Joyce. "The government's rural broadband initiative will help deliver fibre connections to 97% of schools across the country and 99.7% of students. The remaining most remote schools will achieve speeds of at least 10Mbps...Mr Joyce says that the only significant change to the rural broadband initiative was to up-weight the importance of the community connection objectives, relative to the schools part of the initiative. "Some submitters were concerned that too much emphasis was being placed on school connectivity relative to the rest of the community.  We have changed that in the final plan to be clear that while the schools will be the original catalyst to get fibre to the community; achieving at least 5Mbps across the communities is the primary aim of the exercise." "
"Schools will be the original catalyst to get fibre to the community"...an interesting echo of the anchor institution/community access recommendations made in the US National Broadband Plan, see this previous post for more on this. And speeds of at least 10Mbps for the most remote schools is an ambitious commitment if the UK experience is any indicator.

The New Zealand government will undertake a two-phase RBI tender process, calling for Expressions of Interest during April and commencing allocating funding to successful bidders before the end of the year. The final RBI proposal document is available here, which includes details of the access, service and performance and technical standard minimum requirements "that will promote a pro-competitive, future-proofed outcome for rural communities".

Central to this are requirements to ensure "open access to RBI-funded infrastructure over time", "Equivalence of Inputs for access to RBI-funded fibre" and, perhaps most interesting of all, "establish at least one open access local aggregation point per community where a school is connected and allow access seekers to establish additional aggregation points under reasonable terms and conditions."

Digital Economy Bill passed by the Lords


The BBC reported on Tuesday that the bill has been passed by the Lords, despite continuing criticism. The Guardian suggested that the bill, which the Conservatives support (as evidenced by comments from shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt), was likely to face little further scrutiny as the election approaches:
"The government is planning to introduce controversial measures, backed by the Conservatives, that would force internet companies to block websites that host substantial amounts of pirated content as it scrambles to get its digital economy bill through parliament. But because of the truncated timetable for getting the bill into law before a looming general election, the government's as-yet unwritten clause is unlikely to face any major scrutiny before coming into force. It will be the product of a deal done behind closed doors between the government and opposition in the so-called "wash-up" of legislation hurried through before the dissolution of parliament."
It's still not clear what form this "as yet unwritten clause" will take, and timings are very (too?) tight for the bill to be complete prior to the election:
"...the government's new clause 18 would allow for new regulations to be introduced that dealt with websites and other services that allow access to unlawfully copied material...Hunt reckons a solution has been found that would see the content industry pick up the bill for any court action needed to block certain websites with ISPs only picking up the bill if "they act unreasonably". But while Lord Young suggested in the House of Lords on Monday that a new clause could be introduced before the bill went to the Commons, where it will receive its first reading in the next few days, parliamentary procedure does not allow for amendments to bills until the committee stage. The bill will not reach committee if an election is called for 6 May. Instead, the new clause will be thrashed out behind closed doors by party whips in the "wash-up" of legislation. The wash-up, however, only facilitates unopposed legislation so the fact that the clause seems to have Conservative support is absolutely crucial."
There are also procedural issues within the EU which could derail the bill:
"The technical standards directive, otherwise known as the transparency directive, calls for any member state to submit to Brussels any law which introduces regulations that go beyond regulation demanded by EU law, three months before it is enacted. It is designed to stop countries giving local companies an unfair advantage over businesses from other member states."
So, still a fair way to go and a number of obstacles to overcome yet. Andrew Cormack of JANET(UK) offers very good advice on his blog: that we should now seek "to persuade Ofcom to fit us into the Bill’s definitions and Code in a way that does not do too much harm either to rights holders’ interests or ours."

On a related note, the BBC reported on Wednesday that mobile operator O2 has expressed its condemnation of the letters being sent to alleged UK file-sharers by ACS:Law and its client DigiProtect. There have been a number of reports in the media that many people have been wrongly accused of file-sharing and that the letters are bullying in nature. The letters offer recipients to settle out of court for around £500 per infringement, which seems particularly cynical given that some of the content people are accused of downloading is hardcore pornography.

Finally, YouTube (which is often mentioned in coverage about the bill, as a site that would need to be blocked for containing copyright infringing content) is in the news again on a related matter: the ongoing $1bn copyright infringement filed against it by Viacom, owner of the Paramount film studio and MTV Networks.

According to the FT (YouTube ‘knew of copyright violations’) and the BBC, Viacom claim that YouTube was aware early on that large amounts of copyright material was being uploaded to the site, as evidenced by email exchanges between the site's founders. Viacom claim this is indicative of a deliberate strategy to encourage the flouting of copyright to drive traffic to the site.

Google (which bought YouTube for $1.65bn in 2006) has responded by accusing Viacom of "hiding the origins of videos it posted itself for promotional purposes by hiring 18 marketing agencies to post them and deliberately “roughing them up” to make them look stolen or leaked." Viacom responded that the number of clips posted by employees or agents working for Viacom was only in the hundreds, while virtually all of the roughly 63,000 clips the company had found on the site were unauthorised.

Interesting one - were Viacom uploading their own content to support their claim that YouTube had a cavalier attitude to copyright and lacked appropriate self-regulation mechanisms? Or simply because they wanted to use YouTube as part of their marketing strategy, as its number of users made it too good an opportunity to miss? Or perhaps both? Do Google have some form of entrapment defence in relation to this, or does their defence simply rest on the claim that Viacom wanted to have its cake and eat it?

YouTube has insisted that it acted in accordance with the law, by taking down more than 100,000 clips at Viacom's request a month before the lawsuit. Both parties have until 30 April to file opposing arguments to each other's motions, and all the arguments are expected to be completed by June.

More on the National Broadband Plan


I’ve only just scratched the surface of the plan so far, but from a quick scan it's clear there are lots of strands (resource discovery, content and data interoperability, infrastructure approach, funding approach, environmental opportunities) paralleling activitites in the UK.

But this paragraph (on page 237 of 376!) in particular leapt out at me, from the section on modernizing educational broadband infrastructure:
"...the Mukilteo School District in the state of Washington reports that it currently uses dark fiber (without support from E-rate) at a cost of $0.0009/student/Mbps/ month, which is 1/300th of the cost charged by a telecommunications carrier for a similar E-rate-approved service (costing $0.27/student/Mbps/month). The district indicates its costs include maintenance and service level agreements providing equivalent service to an E-rate-eligible service. Similarly, the Council of Great City Schools noted the flexibility to lease dark fiber from providers and own the related equipment would permit “the most cost-effective pricing” for schools and libraries. The state of Wisconsin said E-rate should prefer the most cost-effective solution. Other commenters expressed support for giving recipients more flexibility to use dark fiber as part of their broadband solutions. These organizations also said participants need more flexibility to reduce the overall cost of broadband, increase bandwidth and participate in local and regional networks using dark fiber.”
This echoes some of the findings and recommendations from JANET's recent local loop undbundling (LLU) project, the deliverables from which are available here. From the report on Access Locate (an Openreach product which allows communications providers to order space in an exchange in the same way as for LLU purposes but which can be used to terminate fibre products instead) opportunities:
"From the overview and worked examples it is clear that LLU on its own has considerable potential to give us savings connecting sites. Add Access Locate to the mix and the scale of build-out needed to give a quick ROI is reduced significantly. It is also clear that moving to Access Locate adds the potential to tackle aggregation in a systematic way using a single backhaul to good effect. The backhaul can be local to pick up a core site or PoP, or it can be inter exchange to a remote core node. Either way there are costs to be met but greater savings can be achieved over traditional point-to-point circuit topologies. By having both LLU and Access Locate space in an exchange you are able to take advantage of all the various types of Openreach tails, from a simple low cost MPF right up to 10GbE circuits over fibre. In every case the pricing for these is going to be the floor regulated price which is agreed with OFCOM and openly published on the web. This gives clarity of pricing that buying through third parties with all their associated mark ups does not. With a little bit of thought, an element of luck (EBD) and some hard work you can strip costs whilst improving both reliability and scalability of your networks...Getting all the various public sector groups to fund LLU/Access Locate and backhauls jointly could result in very substantial savings: with the PSBR being what it is and everyone needing to make spending cuts, this has to be a way forward."
"MPF" above means metallic path facility, or, more succinctly, copper phone lines, and EBD stands for Ethernet Backhaul Direct, an Openreach service offering permanently connected, point-to-point high speed data circuits that provide a secure and uncontended backhaul service. This is currently only available in around a fifth of BT exchanges, hence the comment above. In summary, the JANET LLU reports show there is huge benefit in "getting into" exchanges, with a mixed economy of copper and fibre provision offering a very cost effective way to provision last mile connections.

The advantages here are clear: the more you can get your hands dirty in planning and implementing your WAN, the greater the cost savings you can achieve by negating the need for more expensive managed services (which are themselves based on the same underlying products anyway). Folks "on the ground" have a detailed appreciation of local circumstances and opportunities, which can result in innovative bespoke solutions which wouldn't necessarily even have been considered by a telco.

Returning to the National Broadband Plan, I'm not sure whether it's encouraging or depressing. Probably both. What's encouraging is the detailed recognition and engagement with a wide range of educational issues and opportunties, and the consideration of how broadband infrastructure can address these. What's depressing is that there hasn't been similar detailed engagement within UK broadband policy development, other than to continually re-state the "importance of broadband to education".

It's now time to put some substance behind such statements?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan


The FCC issued a press release yesterday heralding the delivery to Congress of their National Broadband Plan later today. This was accompanied by the plan's executive summary and preview commentary on the plan's offical blog. The signs are good that education is high up on the Plan's agenda. From the press release:
"Affordable access in every American community to ultra-high-speed broadband of at least 1 gigabit per second at anchor institutions such as schools, hospitals, and military installations so that America is hosting the experiments that produce tomorrow's ideas and industries."
This is set out as Long-Term Goal No. 4 (of 6) in the exec summary, which also states:
"Government can influence the broadband ecosystem...(by reforming) laws, policies, standards and incentives to maximise the benefits of broadband in sectors government influences significantly, such as public education, health care and government operations."
"The plan contains multiple recommendations that will foster competition across the ecosystem. They include...clarify the Congressional mandate allowing state and local entities to provide broadband in their communities and do so in ways that use public resources more effectively."
I hope this second extract, in conjunction with the recommendations on anchor institutions, demonstrates recognition of the opportunity to extend the reach of education broadband infrastructure to serve under- and un-served communities. This is certainly something that shoud be explored further in the the UK so the US approach could provide a helpful model. I know of some instances where local schools are connected via local authority/RBC provision, but neighbouring homes and premises are too far from serving exchanges or mobile broadband networks to obtain any useful broadband service. A case of joining up the dots?

Two (or perhaps three?) birds with one stone here - deliver broadband to communities that don't have it, in a way that builds on existing infrastructure (therefore increasing RoI and demonstrating procurement/delivery efficiencies, very important in the current economic climate), at the same time as consolidating and increasing the capacity of the infrastructure serving schools and potentially other "anchor institutions" as well. If this can be done, what's not to like?

In addition, some comparisons can be drawn from the exec summary with the UK's proposed Next Generation Fund (as well as the objectives of the Home Access programme), in relation to the proposed Connect America Fund (CAF) and Mobility Fund. The former is to be created by shifting funds from the existing Universal Service Fund (see this previous post) and will support "the provision of affordable broadband and voice with at least 4Mbps actual download speeds". The latter is to "ensure that no states are lagging significantly behind the national average for 3G wireless coverage". A more inclusive appoach than that set out in the Next Generation Fund consultation, which ruled wireless out, on the basis of its inability to deliver NGA levels of bandwidth.

And on education specifcally, the plan includes recommendations to "improve the connectivity to schools and libraries by upgrading the FCC's E-Rate program to increase flexibility, improve program efficiency and foster innovation by promoting the most promising solutions and funding wireless connectivity to learning devices that go home with students." A similar upgrade to the current funding approach for UK education broadband is urgently needed if the current model is to be sustained? It's arguable that the many successes in delivering broadband to education in the UK (all schools connected, a successful local/regional/national approach, scalable provision, integration with JANET etc) have all been achieved despite the current funding approach, rather than because of it. Time for a re-think perhaps?

Finally, the exec summary states that "the plan is in beta, and always will be. Like the Internet itself, the plan will always be changing - adjusting to new developments technologies and markets, reflecting new realities, and evolving to realise the unforeseen opportunities of a particular time." Such a recognition is healthy I think, much more so than simply regarding broadband as a problem to be fixed, but at the same time it makes it much more difficult to define and measure success.

A huge amount of media coverage, as to be expected, such as this example from the BBC, while the FT continue their focus on spectrum reform obstacles (US broadcasters set for fight over FCC plan). But this commentary from Fierce Telecom is particularly interesting, suggesting that the FCC has disregarded some fundamental advice it itself asked for:
"...the FCC commissioned and then disregarded a study by Yochai Benkler at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society on how best to develop the national broadband policy it will be introducing tomorrow. Benkler used international market research to suggest that the best way to develop national broadband at fair prices would be to encourage widespread competition by forcing big companies such as cable MSOs to share their wires with smaller ones...The FCC has a history with political resistance to opening networks so it apparently would like to avoid the hassle when it comes to promoting a national broadband plan."
Benkler (whose FCC-commissioned 333-page study, Next Generation Connectivity: a review of broadband Internet transitions and policy from around the world, is available here) suggests that failing to take such an approach to ensure greater competition means you are just "engaged in cosmetics". Strong stuff.

Update, 15:20PM: The plan (all 376 pages of it!) has now been published and is available for download here.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Australian National Broadband Network signs up first service providers


From an Australian Government press release:
"The Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy today opened a Proof-of-Concept Test Centre and announced the first retail service providers which will offer high speed broadband in Tasmania. Senator Conroy said the Test Centre would provide retail service providers with access to a live environment to test their services as part of the roll out of the National Broadband Network."
The first providers are Primus, Internode and iiNet. From Internode's related press release:
"Internode is one of three retail service providers who will deliver broadband and telephone services over a fibre-optic network being built by NBNCo in Tasmania. These commercial services are expected to be available in the second half of this year. Internode took the initiative to engage with delivery of NBN Tasmania Stage 1 in order to extend its experience in providing Fibre to the Home services at 'greenfields' residential developments in SA, NSW, Victoria and Queensland."
Let's hope Digital Region is catching up, from an 11th March news update:
"Digital Region, along with our partner company Thales, are working tirelessly to ensure that potential users can gain connectivity as soon as possible, and advanced negotiations are taking place between ourselves and a number of Internet Service Providers. We hope and expect that this will be finalised in the very near future, and superfast broadband will become available to potential users."
See this previous post for more on Digital Region.

All eyes on the US as National Broadband Plan approaches


The FCC's long awaited National Broadband Plan will be unveiled tomorrow, a day before it's presented to Congress. Some interesting speculation from the FT (US watchdog prepares for broadband shake-up) on the plan's likely focus:
"The shortage of available spectrum is widely seen as the single biggest obstacle to progress. While many countries forced their local telecoms companies to give preferential access on their networks to rival internet service providers, ensuring a competitive broadband market, the US abandoned a similar attempt early last decade. That has made the wireless networks the best hope for fostering new broadband competition."
The article goes on to flag the resistance TV broadcasters have expressed to giving up any spectrum. But while wireless has potential to provide coverage relatively affordably (especially in comparison with the civil works cost of installing fibre), its ability to deliver bandwidth is limited, especially in terms of NGA levels of provison?

Fierce Telecom flags proposals to reclassify broadband to enable reallocation of Universal Service Fund monies (which subsidise phone service in rural areas and for low-income households) to fund broadband for areas without high-speed Internet service as a key issue:
"Perhaps the most controversial element to leak out about the broadband plan is a proposal to shift the focus of the Universal Service Fund from voice to helping to provide incentives for broadband service deployments. A reformed USF plan would include a new Connect America fund and a mobility fund."
The Wall Street Journal also flags the important role wireless will play in the plan, and it seems funds may not be sufficient to realise the FCC's ambitions:
"...(the) National Broadband Plan will propose up to $25 billion in new federal spending for high-speed Internet lines and a wireless network for police and firefighters as part of a broader plan that appears to be a win for wireless companies...(the FCC) would allocate significantly more airwaves for wireless broadband services, including a block of airwaves set aside for use by police and firefighters...$9 billion in federal spending would bring broadband to rural areas faster, however, FCC officials say they don't believe Congress is likely to endorse more broadband spending. That $9 billion would be in addition to the $7.2 billion for broadband lines Congress included in the economic-stimulus legislation."
This previous FCC announcement suggested that the public safety network would require $12-16 billion over 10 years. The same WSJ article has this to say in relation to the USF proposals:
"The plan will also suggest creating a new broadband account in the federal Universal Service Fund, an $8 billion annual program funded by ratepayers which subsidizes phone service in rural areas and for low-income Americans...FCC aides say the size of the $8 billion annual program won't increase because the agency will root out waste in the program. Mr Genachowski (FCC Chairman) will propose redirecting USF from funding phone service to funding Internet service over the next decade, starting in 2012. The fund has continued to grow larger every year despite efforts to cap its size."
Another WSJ article is very critical of the FCC's approach, accusing it of using the plan as a "Trojan Horse" to expand its jurisdiction:
"In 2009 alone, broadband providers spent nearly $60 billion on their networks. Absent any evidence of market failure, the best course for the FCC is to report back to Congress that a broadband industrial policy is unnecessary. Instead, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is moving to increase the reach of his agency and expand government control of the Web. Among other things, he wants broadband services reclassified so the FCC can more heavily regulate them. The national broadband plan, to be unveiled tomorrow, will call for using the federal Universal Service Fund to subsidize broadband deployment. The USF currently subsidizes phone service in rural areas, and Mr Genachowski knows that current law prevents it from being used to subsidize broadband unless broadband is reclassified as a telecom service. Congress ought to be wary of letting the FCC expand its jurisdiction through back doors like this. Mr Genachowski wants more control over broadband providers so that he can implement "net neutrality" rules that would dictate how AT&T, Verizon and other Internet service providers manage their networks. To date, Congress has given the FCC no such authority. Nor has the agency had success in court. Based on oral arguments last month, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is almost certain to rule against the FCC in a case involving Comcast's network management."
The USF proposals make for an interesting comparison with our 50p landline levy/Next Generation Fund though...the US approach appears to be about the better deployment of existing revenues, rather than raising additional funds?

Also gaining some attention is a line in a recent FCC press release, as flagged by PC Magazine, about the commission's involvement with America's Digital Inclusion Summit on 9th March:
"Tuesday’s summit focused on ways to help people take advantage of broadband when it is available to them, known as broadband adoption...The draft broadband plan makes a number of recommendations on increasing broadband adoption to FCC, Congress and other branches of government and the private and non-profit sectors. They include...make broadband more affordable...consider use of spectrum for a free or very low cost wireless broadband service".
This has been met with opposition from the commercial sector, of course, with fears that such a service would interfere with spectrum that operators purchased at high cost during the Advanced Wireless Services auction in 2008. I await tomorrow's announcement with interest.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A few more items from the news


  • The Conservatives have launched their technology manifesto as part of the build up to the election. This re-states their ambition to deliver broadband speeds of 100Mbps to most homes by 2017: "Our plans will give Britain the fastest high speed broadband network in Europe, helping to create 600,000 additional jobs...We will unleash private sector investment to build this superfast broadband network by opening up network infrastructure, easing planning rules and boosting competition...If the market does not deliver superfast broadband in certain areas, we will consider using the proportion of the licence fee dedicated to digital switchover to finance superfast broadband roll out under the new BBC licence fee settlement, starting in 2012. This amount would be leveraged to maximise the investment made, either by making it available as loans or on a matched funding basis."
  • The BBC report that Virgin are to trial fibre delivery via telegraph poles: "The firm believes it could be used to extend its reach to another one million homes in the UK, mainly in rural areas. The trial will initially deliver 50 megabits per second (Mbps) broadband to the Berkshire village of Woolhampton." The press release is here; Fierce Telecom report that Virgin Media currently serves 12.6 million homes with an underground fibre network. An aerial deployment could enable it to target more than 1 million new homes. The trial will build on experience gained in a previous FTTC trial in Cornwall.
  • Also from Fierce Telecom, it seems the Australian government is struggling to gain support for its proposals to break up Telstra, the incumbent service provider, so as to merge its wireline business into the planned National Broadband Network (NBN).
  • The EU launched a consultation on 2 March, closing on 7 May, on future universal service in the digital era: "Current EU rules on universal service obligations for telecoms date from 2002 and guarantee that Europeans have access to public telephone networks and to services like basic internet access. The consultation launched today aims to see if these rules and definitions on universal service need to be updated for the digital age, and in particular if they should be extended to cover broadband access...the Commission will report on the results in a Communication, which it may follow with legislative proposals before the end of 2010, if necessary." The press release is here and the consultation document is here. Interesting to see how the outcome impacts on BIS/BDUK activity in relation to the UK's proposed Universal Service Commitment (USC).
  • In the US, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) and member company Eagle Communications' have protested about a $101 million broadband grant given to Rural Telephone Service Co. under the broadband stimulus programme. They claim, as reported by Fierce Telecom, that instead of targeting an unserved or underserved community, the majority of the money being spent is on Hays, Kansas, an area well served by communications infrastructure, effectively overbuilding in an area already served by Eagle. Other instances of overbuilding have also been reported.
  • The US Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) have published a new report: Going Mobile: Technology and Policy Issues in the Mobile Internet examines "changes that must be made to the Internet and to the mobile network to make the Mobile Internet a pervasive and universal reality in the United States and the rest of the world."
  • Also in the US, EDUCAUSE, as part of a broad group of eleven library and higher education-related institutions and organisations, has called on the FCC to adopt net neutrality principles, to preserve "an open internet". Their letter to the FCC recognises that operators should be "able to engage in reasonable network management", so long as such actions are reasonably consistent with the principle of non-discrimination (as ever, the devil's in the detail here) and network management practices are disclosed to ensure users can make informed choices about broadband services.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Recent developments round-up


Lots of interesting bits and pieces over the last few weeks. In no particular order:
  • Echoing the US net neutrality debate, the FT report Ofcom's announcement that they will begin to scrutinise broadband providers' approaches to prioritising traffic and charging higher rates for guaranteed delivery of premium services (Ofcom set to explore web traffic control). More info in a speech by Ed Richards available here. Thankfully, Ofcom's views seem much more considered than some of the hyperbolic and ill-informed views that have been expressed in the US. There is a recognition that traffic management is a necessary component of good network management, rather than the root of all evil, with the focus instead on ensuring transparency and preventing anti-competitive activities. This second aspect is very interesting in the UK, given how closely broadband provision and broadcasting (Sky, Virgin) are intertwined. The key will be ensuring that traffic management works for consumers rather than against them. My guess is Ofcom will be much more keen to regulate via mechanisms such as codes of conduct rather than pursue a highly interventionist policy, in keeping with the EU's proposals for reform of the current telecoms regulatory framework. This seems much more sensible than a blanket mandate that all content and services must be treated in a non-discriminatory manner.
  • Also from the FT (Exodus of the young puts rural life at risk), the Commission for Rual Communities' Rural Advocate Report 2010 flags the lack of broadband access in rural areas as a key issue. 
"Lack of broadband access and mobile phone coverage is a factor restricting the growth of rural enterprises. The need for rural business diversification for continuing competitiveness is well recognised but so much of this depends on the ability to communicate online – be it rural tourism, or producing goods and services which can be promoted and sold on the internet. Almost 60% of urban areas are able to receive a cable-based broadband service – in villages and hamlets this drops to 1.5%. The Government’s delivery of Next Generation Access by 2017 must put rural areas at most need at the forefront of targeted delivery. The same attention should be paid to mobile phone coverage."
  • Some concerning developments in relation to BT's continuing pension deficit problems. A recent Ofcom press release announcing a consultation on the matter revealed that allowing BT to increase its wholesale charges is being considered to help address the deficit. The proposed increases would relate to Openreach products and services, which could mean further increases in broadband costs for schools. The FT report that BT's pension woes are of their own making (BT ‘responsible for own £8.8bn pensions gap’), meaning that the proposal has understandably provoked an angry response from rivals.
  • Shrewd insight from Screen Digest in relation to their reported decline in demand for online films. While online film downloads are a key consumer driver for takeup of next generation services, it seems the rights owners have rather painted themselves into a corner with overly restrictive DRM provisions. From the FT's related commentary (Demand dips for online films): 
"...US revenues for 2009 were substantially lower than forecast at $291m.“The market just cooled off,” said Arash Amel, a research director with Screen Digest. “This wasn’t caused by economic factors...the level of interest in digital downloads just isn’t there.” He believes consumers have been deterred by an array of competing online platforms that prevent viewers from watching digitally downloaded films on the devices of their choice. A consumer buying a film from Apple’s iTunes store is unable to watch it on their Microsoft Xbox console, for example. “Digital downloading is characterised by its restrictions – it’s all about what viewers can’t do, rather than what they can do,” added Mr Amel."
I guess the bottom line here is about driving the right consumer behaviours, so that people are dissuaded from ripping movies from copy protected DVDs or using P2P to find what they want...sounds very familiar doesn't it?
  • The FCC's national broadband plans have come under some criticism recently. Internet Evolution offer some detailed attacks on the FCC's National Purposes Update, accusing the FCC of "pandering to the media and political interests" and "muddy and deceptive thinking" and arguing that there is nothing in the update that "has anything to do with 100 Mbit/s for 100 percent of Americans by 2015". The author argues that the FCC's vagueness fails to address the real opportunities broadband offers, and, more importantly, that it's avoiding the real issues - how much, and who pays. Network World offer similar critcism, arguing that the plan already appears to be "impossibly broad and technologically difficult to roll out". Fierce Telecom report that the FCC's proposals to reclassify broadband services to enable regulation similar that employed over traditional voice services have also met with opposition, with some of the largest fixed and wireless providers joining with industry associations to write to the FCC to protest at proposed net neutrality rules. They argue that any move to reclassify broadband from an "information service" to a "telecommunications service" would have "far-reaching and destructive consequences." Network World also comment on this, suggesting that the FCC must reclassify broadband services in this way if they are to have any chance of mandating broadband access: "...on the one hand, you have the carriers howling about the impossibility of ubiquitous broadband. On the other, there's the FCC threatening to use the big stick of regulation to make the carriers roll it out."
  • Finally, returning to the UK, ZDnet report Stephen Timms' launch of Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), the body responsible for deploying the government’s Universal Service Commitment and Next Generation Fund (see press release here). The Universal Service Commitment will ensure all households have a 2Mbps connection by 2012, while the £1bn next-generation broadband fund will supplement private-sector investment with the aim of offering next-generation broadband speeds to 90 percent of the population by 2017. This coincides with the publication of a new report prepared by Analysys Mason for the Government which forecasts the future reach of NGA across the UK. The study investigates the expected reach of next-generation access (NGA) across the UK up to 2017 based on three scenarios: a purely market-led approach, a network subsidised by Digital Britain’s Next Generation Fund, and local interventions supplementing a subsidised network (such as the Yorkshire Forward Digital Region initiative in South Yorkshire). On a related note, the Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) have issued a call for evidence to help revise its fibre cost model. The intention is to test whether the underlying assumptions and conclusions regarding costs set out in the 2008 report are still valid, or whether they should be revised in light of industry developments. This will inform the BSG's response to the government's Next Generation Fund consultation.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

More on the Digital Economy Bill


The FT reports unease over the bill is growing ever more widespread:
"The House of Lords passed the amendment last week, replacing a clause that would have given broad powers to ministers to change the copyright act to respond to new forms of online infringement without the need for primary legislation. Internet companies had also opposed that clause but said the amendment, which would allow rights holders to apply for a court injunction forcing broadband providers to block public access to offending websites, was no better. Because the clause proposes that ISPs should bear the legal costs of defending each accused site, they are likely to accede to rights holders' requests to block them without a judge ever being involved, web companies argue." (Internet law 'threatens free speech')
I guess "broadband providers" in the above means everyone, so any successful injunction would require LAs, RBCs, JANET etc to ensure offending sites are blocked. That'll drive the kind of user behaviours we all want to see I'm sure. And whither YouTube, with all its Government channels (DCSF, No.10 etc)?

Surely any dispute over copyright is primarily between the rights holder and the individual or individuals using an ISP's (or anyone else's) facilities to distribute copyright materials? Metallica didn't sue ISPs, they sued Napster (in its original incarnation), becoming the most hated band on the Internet in the process. But should they have sued the individuals using Napster instead/as well? Though I guess the fact that Napster was  developed expressly for locating and sharing MP3 files, almost all of which infringed copyright, counted against it. The P2P services which followed were developed to distribute a much broader range of content, much of which is entirely legitimate (Linux distributions, BBC iPlayer downloads etc). This makes it much harder to bring a legal challenge against the developers of P2P services or their users, especially given the decentralised manner in which P2P services operate.

It's interesting that in the recent Pirate Bay case, the main ISP (Black Internet) was also sued, according to Wikipedia:
"On 13 May 2009 several record companies again sued Neij, Svartholm, Sunde and also The Pirate Bay's main internet service provider Black Internet. They required enforcement for ending The Pirate Bay's accessory to copyright infringement that had not stopped despite the court order in April, and in the complaint listed several pages of works being shared with the help of the site. The suit was joined by several major film companies on 30 July. The Stockholm district court ruled on 21 August that Black Internet must stop making available the specific works mentioned in the judgment, or face a 500,000 SEK fine. The company was notified of the order on 24 August, and they complied with it on the same day by disconnecting The Pirate Bay. Computer Sweden noted that the judgment did not order The Pirate Bay to be disconnected, but the ISP had no other option for stopping the activity on the site. It is the first time in Sweden for an ISP to be forced to stop providing access for a website, and the ISP is appealing the ruling. Due to the cost of the appeal process, a public support fund fronted by the CEO of the ISP was set up to cover the legal fees. Pirate Party leader Rickard Falkvinge submitted the case for Parliamentary Ombudsman review, criticising the court's order to make intermediaries responsible for relayed content and to assign active crime prevention tasks to a private party."
Difficult one this, as it's clearly nonsense to suggest that Black Internet had no knowledge of what the Pirate Bay was doing. In such blatant cases as this, does a "mere conduit" ISP defence cease to apply? If so, what precedent does this set? Has the "mere conduit" defence ever applied? Who makes the judgement call as to whether an ISP should be held accountable or not in such cases? Is this dictated by the scale of the copyright infringement? If so, how do you measure the scale of the infringement? By amount of material, value, number of users, volume of traffic? Could the Pirate Bay itself make a "mere conduit" defence, as its function is to index BitTorrent files? It's the individuals making illegal content available via BitTorrent (which has many legitimate uses) that are the real copyright infringers in such instances?

All of these questions need answers if any new legislation is to be successful. But I guess what constitutes success in this context is a moot point. My definition would include something about ensuring an additional law - the law of unintended consequences - was given the fullest consideration possible in developing any solution. Also, to what extent does current UK legislation address these issues? Again, an interesting question: while the Pirate Bay's founders were found guilty of assisting in making copyright content available (and are currently appealing their one year prison sentences and fines), the site itself, having been sold, continues to operate as far as I can see. Which, in the eyes of copyright holders, can hardly constitute success?

Returning to the issues at hand, there are two aspects of immediate concern here:
  1. The originally proposed mechanisms to deal with individuals downloading copyright materials - these could have a significant impact on education providers (in its broadest sense, to include schools, universities, libraries etc). There are both operational (how to identify individuals, how does an institution know if it's done all it's expected to do to prevent access) and strategic (the risks to open access networks) issues here.
  2. The newly proposed mechanisms to deal with "offending websites" - clearly the free availability of copyright infringing materials can't be advocated, but a mechanism which doesn't follow an appropriate legal and governance framework is not the right solution. There are operational issues here too, in how to ensure education broadband providers abide by injunctions.
While I wouldn't argue for a moment that copyright owners don't have a point about the scale and impact of online copyright infringement, this seems an ill-drafted legislative sledgehammer to me. The fact that crafting an appropriate solution is complex and difficult is no excuse for bad legislation. As with all things broadband, it's more important to do it right than to do it right now. But unfortunately the Guardian report that the bill is likely to be pushed through before the election. We can only hope...