28 November 2006

Telecom regulation in the EU

This article is a good illustration of the "give and take" between the European Commission and national regulators (here is the EU's press release on the subject). A similar example was published earlier on this blog.

Do you think that this supra-national approach can be replicated in other areas of the world? Do you think it should be replicated?

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Supreme court and telecom

This article in Forbes (free registration required) is one that bears watching. While it seems that the telecom aspect of this case is incidental, its potential impact on the industry may be huge.

27 November 2006

Comparing international broadband connectivity

At least once per year, one organization or another reports on broadband in the US as it compares to other countries -- see this earlier post, for example. Inevitably, the US does not compare well to our trading partners on these reports, which has resulted in calls for government action to remediate this gap. In that context, I found this item that was posted over at PFF's blog to be an interesting departure. Note that the author of the Analysys report is Michael Kende, one time FCC staffer.

Do you think that the report cited by PFF is the right way to go? Are any of these reports meaningful in a way that should prompt government action? How would you measure connectivity in a more meaningful way?

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Wireless data services and net neut

In reading a special section of BusinessWeek (free registration required), I came across the following quote in this article:
Mobile operators such as Vodafone have long been content to fly solo as they make the costly push beyond voice calling into data. Many European carriers reckoned they didn't need to form partnerships to make good on upwards of $100 billion spent on the government-issued licenses needed for delivering advanced wireless services such as Internet access.

They may be singing a different tune, judging from a spate of recent announcements. Vodafone, for example, announced on Nov. 14 that it was forming a partnership with Yahoo! (YHOO) to put advertisements on mobile phones. Then, on Nov. 16, Hutchison Whampoa's British wireless operator 3 unveiled its X-Series, which bundles wireless broadband applications including Google and eBay for a flat fee, an effort aimed at encouraging customer adoption of data services

Is this the same as the fees that content providers are upset about in the US? If so, why the change? Is there a relationship between the content provider's interest and the carrier's?

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22 November 2006

Bandwidth, applications and net neut

This article posted in Forbes today (free subscription required) discusses the impact of new Internet applications on the bandwidth requirements of the backbone. In the article, Dan Frommer writes:
Thanks to video sites like YouTube, News Corp.'s (nyse: NWS - news - people ) social networking phenomenon MySpace and online videogame services like Microsoft's (nasdaq: MSFT - news - people ) Xbox Live, U.S. Internet carriers saw usage increase up to 90% in the past year, Nortel estimates. It's not that more people are getting on the Web; it's what they're doing when they're on there. A conventional Web site may push a few hundred kilobytes of data across the Internet over a three-minute span, but watching a streaming video clip for the same amount of time requires moving ten times as much data.

The increased traffic demands are forcing giant telecommunications carriers that carry much of the world's Internet traffic to keep sinking billions of dollars into their networks. Research firm Infonetics projects that major carriers will spend $203.1 billion worldwide on capital expenditures this year, up 5% from last year. But unlike the last build-out, when companies buried thousands of miles of long-haul fiber-optic cable under the sea and across continents, today's construction is focused more on connecting local homes and businesses with faster Internet pipes.

"The bottleneck is still in the local and metro areas," says Lisa Pierce, a vice president with research and consulting firm Forrester. "It's not being built out fast enough."

Does this add credence to the arguments of the carriers in the "net neut" debate?

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21 November 2006

Spectrum harmonization

You might find this report interesting, written at the behest of the European Commission by the consultancy Booz Allen and Hamilton. In case you're wondering what they mean by "harmonization", you might find this definition helpful:
Harmonisation in this study means defining technical conditions, including spectrum, band plan and technology, at a global and regional level, to ensure efficient spectrum use, seamless services over wide areas including roaming, system co-existence and global circulation of user equipments across borders.

Then again, maybe not ...

Not suprisingly, they find benefits in harmonizing spectrum, though others would argue that a free market approach confers more benefits on the end users in the end. They present some data, like SMS use, to bolster their argument.

Are there other ways to interpret the data they present? Perhaps comparative cost matters, for example. Was there anything else in the report that you found worthwhile?

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17 November 2006

iTunes, networks, and digital music

As I mentioned in this post earlier, the current trend in digital music seems to be toward developing closed platforms (or vertically integrated systems). While this enables the provider to capture the value of networks and to lock consumers in, it also creates powerful incentives for consumers to find work-arounds. Given the market dominance of Apple's iPods, it isn't surprising to find some workarounds.

Certainly converting to analog and re-converting to MP3 is one way of doing this, it results in a loss of fidelity. A "cleaner" way of doing this, and one that would not involve the loss of fidelity, would be to circumvent the controls digitally. This is basically what is reported in this article.

On a related note, you will find this article, over at Telecom Liberation Front, in which Adam Thierer talks about the benefits of incompatible platforms.

What do you think the implications are for Apple? What about for the other music services? What about for the non-iPod MP3 players? Do you think that Apple will react? What kinds of reactions would you expect from them?

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16 November 2006

Ofcom report on new technologies

The Office of Communications (Ofcom) is the telecommunications regulator in the UK. They issued this report recently on technology research recently. In this report, they highlight the impact of wireless technologies such as dynamic spectrum access and mesh networks. They are also expecting continued impacts from telecom liberalization.

Do you think that this list would be similar for most industrialized countries? What about for developing countries?

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14 November 2006

"Body of Knowledge" in infrastructure regulation

I came across this item on the ITU website today. This seems like it is an interesting adjunct to the World Bank's Handbook.

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07 November 2006

Roaming charges in the EU

This item was released today by the EU. It is no surprise that consumers want reduced roaming charges -- after all, who is eager to pay more? The main question that occurs is how to accomplish this. It is certainly possible to regulate roaming charges, but is this the best way to go? If you think this, how would you determine "excessive"? Another alternative is to publish current (and correct) information about roaming rates, and allow consumers to use that information when choosing a service provider (i.e., "regulation by information"). Finally, is it possible that structural solutions may work? For example, roaming is a non-issue in the US for most people. Why is there a difference?

By the way, the PDF that is linked to the above website is worth a read!

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Verizon, YouTube and network neutrality

This article reports a pending deal between Verizon and YouTube, which was recently purchased by Google. What is notable here (to me) is that these two firms were on opposite sides of the network neut* debate. In fact, I could probably make the case that YouTube is the kind of service that serves as a kind of "canary in the coal mine" for this debate. On the one hand, it is an innovative service that seems unlikely to emerge if transport and content is exclusively linked (so it serves the pro-regulation side of the debate). On the other hand, it is a high bandwidth service (being streaming video) that the carriers are concerned with (so it serves the pro-market side of the debate).

So, what do you make of this? Is this an indication that these content/carrier issues can be sorted out by private contracting in the general case? Does this suggest that "network neutrality" regulation is unnecessary?

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06 November 2006

Metcalf's law discussion

Some of you might have heard about Metcalf's Law, which states that the value of a communications network grows as the number of users grows. So, you might be interested in listening in to a conversation that was stimulated by an article in July's IEEE Spectrum.

So what do you think? Who is right? Does the growth rate matter?

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Municipal franchising

The subject of municipal franchising has been becoming a "hot button" issue -- one that is likely to be addressed in any legislation reforming telecommunications regulation in the forthcoming years. In some cases, it has been addressed by state law.

Like any issue, it has (at least) two sides. Verizon and AT&T, who seek relief from having to seek permission on a one-by-one basis, cite high costs. This article, appearing in Forbes, describes the case of one town. Here we see interests of the public as well as active lobbying against the franchise by their (CATV) competitor. A recent editorial in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette articulates some of the "public interest" arguments that emerge.

Do you think that it is unreasonable to ask new entrants (such as Verizon and AT&T) to get franchises individually for each of the municipalities they wish to serve? Do the (CATV-based) incumbents have a competitive advantage due to the power of their incumbency? Are the "public interest" arguments valid in your view? Why or why not?

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02 November 2006

HBO, Broadband, and Network Neutrality

In case you missed it, this story in BusinessWeek has some interesting aspects that seem to me to be closely related to the ongoing debates in the telecom industry. The short story here is that HBO, the premium television channel, lacks an on-line presence. So, the question that faces them is how to establish it. Certainly they can go it alone (as STARZ did), or they can partner with broadband access providers (eg. Comcast).

By partnering, do they set a precedent for the kinds of payment structures that some content providers oppose in the guise of "network neutrality"? Is this an example of private contracting to overcome a "small numbers" bargaining problem? So, is this the vanguard of the future or is this a "last gasp" of a legacy, mainstream media business model?

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