16 January 2014

Net Neutrality: the very recent development in the U.S.


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Image: Net Neutrality News Tag Cloud by Sean Weigold Ferguson on Flickr

Two days ago the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia delivered its long-awaited decision in which it found that, in an attempt to regulate the Internet service providers, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had overstepped its authority.

The New York Times has published a brilliant, concise, easily accessible and intelligible article on the matter which I strongly advise you to read, in order to grasp what was on stake in the case and also what its implications might be.

24 June 2011

Net Neutrality: On The Legislation Path In The Netherlands


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Image by Alias 0591 on Flickr

10124306246_75b9f93e2d_z

Those interested in telecommunications regulation and, particularly, in questions related to net neutrality have already heard it – the Netherlands has become the first country in Europe to introduce the concept of network neutrality into its national law.

Has it really?

Well, last week Kees Verhoeven from Democrats 66 (D66), Martijn van Dam from the Labour Party (PvdA), Sharon Gesthuizen from the Socialist party (SP) and Bruno Braakhuis from the GreenLeft (GroenLinks)

Lodged A Bill

to enshrine net neutrality with the House of Representatives of the Netherlands (the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament). Here is a link to the original document (in Dutch) and a fair translation of it in English.

According to Daphne van der Kroft from the Dutch civil rights platform Bits of Freedom

The Second Chamber (parliament) has accepted the bill with an impressively broad majority. Now the bill will go to the senate before entering into force. Because of the majority in parliament, we expect the Senate to pass it too. But we’ll have to wait ’till the end of the year to be sure.

That, to be precise, somehow invalidates the widely celebrated media headlines of the “Dutch enactment” of net neutrality, but – as Daphne writes – the chances, for it to happen, are good.
We are likely to have the final result in a year or so.

Now let us have a closer look at the bill!

Systematically, the applicants have chosen the section

End Users Interests

which is dealt with in Article 7 of the Telecommunications Act to introduce the net neutrality bill.

The bill basically provides that ISP may hinder or slow down end users’ traffic only in the very limited cases described in Article 7.4a (1) a. to d.

A further interesting provision is contained in Article 7.4a (2) – ISP must not shut off end users’ networks from the Internet, if such networks may be considered detrimental (e.g. botnets), unless ISP have given the operators of the affected networks the possibility to rectify the faults in those networks.

The most commented provision, however, is to be found in Article 7.4a (3) – the one that prevents ISP from charging prices that might bar end users from accessing specific services or applications on the Internet.
The applicants stress that this still allows for the charging of different prices for different types of bandwidth, but it nevertheless must not result in overpricing the use of, say, Skype so that no one would consider using it.

Article 7.4a (5) foresees the introduction of minimum requirements regarding the quality of service of public electronic communication services in order to safeguard the above provisions.

Finally and for the sake of completeness, Article 7.4a (4) reflects the recent trend in Dutch legislation to delegate the creation of detailed rules and regulations to administrative bodies.

Conclusion

In my view the beginning to a Europe wide legislation on net neutrality has been made.

Consumers from other member states will very likely create pressure upon their political leadership to follow the Dutch example.

How long could politicians refrain from adopting net neutrality legislation, if their voters start to sing

Somewhere over the rainbow

Way up high,

There’s a land that I heard of

Once in a lullaby.

What do you think?

13 June 2011

Europe’s Annual Report On Bulgarian Telecommunications – An Example Of Finger-Wagging


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Image by World Economic Forum on Flickr

374711646_6f66bdc42d_zI know she is no longer the European Commission’s iron lady responsible for Information Society and I found it a pity when she took over the justice and fundamental rights resort.

Nevertheless, the Information Society‘s 2011 report on the Bulgarian telecommunications market bears her style and, when you read it, you can nearly perceive her wagging finger. So I chose to use her image as a story opener.

Going back to the report,  I could identify three important areas of Commission’s criticism.

Let me start with the

Mobile Termination Rates

While the mobile termination rate („MTR“) levels fell down to 6.65 €-cents per minute for peak traffic and 5.64 €-cents per minute for off-peak traffic in 2010, they still exceeded the EU peaktraffic average of 5.46 €-cents by 22%.

The practice of exempting calls originated outside the territory of Bulgaria from MTR regulation became a major issue of complaints to the European Commission since it led to higher termination charges for international incoming voice calls.
While the Bulgarian national regulator, the CRC, considered this market situation to be consistent with its notified market analysis, the European Commission urged the CRC to remedy the issue by uniformly enforcing regulated MTR levels to all types of calls irrespective of their origin.

Number Portability

The CRC announced the introduction of a one-stop shop procedure for all types of number portability as of 6 August 2010, which also made operational non-geographic number portability.

In effect, customers can submit a single application only to the receiving operator. According to the new procedure, the period to port a single number has been reduced to 7 days (10 days for a non-geographic number of the 700, 800 or 900 range or a group of geographic numbers), compared to the EU average of 7.7 days for fixed and 4.2 days for mobile numbers.
The wholesale charge for porting a single number amounts to € 9.2 (€ 15.9 for a non-geographic number), and a discount of 30% applies when porting a group of at least 500 numbers. A retail charge may be levied by the receiving operator, yet this has not become common practice.

In reality, however, the one-stop shop procedure shows flaws and that results in a comparably low amount of ported numbers – according to the CRC only 139 377 mobile numbers (1.38% of all mobile subscribers) and 60 337 fixed numbers (2.5% of all fixed subscribers) have been ported until the end of January 2011.

Consumer Protection

Do you remember the issue with the automatic prolongation of the individual contracts between consumers and mobile operators?
Well, that together with the number portability troubles became the major topics of the about 1 700 consumer complaints lodged at the CRC.

It is funny, but the CRC did not attempt to enforce an adequate consumer protection by undertaking legal proceedings against the mobile operators  – something to which the CRC would be empowered by law. It attempted to merely persuade the operators instead. This is very likely the reason why the European Commission has made the brief and politically correct statement that

With the endorsement of the CRC, all mobile operators have indicated their consent to remove automatic prolongation clauses from individual contracts.

A large portion (about 460) of the complaints on number portability (about 1000) referred to the new one-stop-shop procedure. Due to technical problems with M-Tel’s billing system delivered by Amdocs, many mobile customers experienced problems with incorrect invoices and inadequate service provision.

Further complaints referred to issues with the scope of universal service (in particular fax), availability of telephony services or invoicing.
The CRC has issued 340 penalties to operators, out of which 168 on number portability.

Wrap-Up

All in all, Bulgaria’s MTR remain among the highest in Europe, the number portability is making only a slow progress, if any, and the regulator is not capable to warrant an adequate consumer protection.

No wonder why the report is a finger-wagging towards Bulgaria.

23 January 2011

Why Net Neutrality Matters


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Do you support the view that all content flowing through the Internet should be treated equally?

If yes, you are certainly familiar with the ongoing net neutrality debate in the United States. For those that have never heard of it, I recommend to have a butcher’s at this primer written by Rich Greenfield. You see, the issue goes back to as early as 1996, but appears to have attracted a huge medial attention in the last couple of months. Why?

That is what I asked myself and went through some reads, the most of which available online. So, I would like to share the information I gained with you.

It appears that net neutrality has a twofold characteristic: it is about quantity and quality. The qualitative aspect would regard the content and the quantitative – the service availability in terms of speed, performance and pricing.

In the US, net neutrality is commonly defined as “the notion that broadband Internet service providers should not be allowed to show preferences to certain providers of content or types of content by supplying them with faster service” (Ashley Packard, Digital Media Law, 67). This definition covers rather the qualitative aspects and corresponds to the common standards established in the European Union. Europe is known to have put much effort in regulating both, the quantitative and the qualitative aspect. These are the standards I grew up with, so, initially I could not really figure out the controversy so arising.

Well, the key might lie in that in the 1990s the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) began to treat broadband Internet service providers (ISP) favourably in comparison to, say, common carriers. In the result, such ISP have been under no obligation to share their conduits with competitors and have thus benefited from the lack of quantitative regulation. The US Supreme Court’s ruling in Brand X is considered to have cemented that state of affairs.

Besides, ISP had begun to also determine whether or not to convey certain content through their networks. They had, so to say, entered the area of the qualitative net neutrality. Having gained certain advantages by virtue of the missing quantitative regulation, they might have been willing to shape their service also in qualitative terms.

That seems to have been the point where the ball got really rolling. And when customers complained that Comcast secretly blocked their access to BitTorrent, the FCC decided to act and sanctioned Comcast. FCC grounded its order in the Internet Policy Statement it had issued already in 2005 in order to guarantee consumers unfettered access to all legal Web content, applications, and services. Comcast argued FCC would not have authority to regulate an ISP’s network management practices and eventually won before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

However, FCC did not give up and adopted new rules thereby claiming “an important step to preserve the Internet as an open platform for innovation, investment, job creation, economic growth, competition, and free expression.” How dou you think did the ISP community perceive this act? Well, not necessarily in the affirmative. This time it was Verizon that undertook to challenge the newly issued rules, thereby applying  the successful recipe of the overstepped authority.

Having read that far, what do you think? What might be ISPs arguments to oppose net neutrality? I doubt they would claim changes merely in quantitative terms. Would the assumption that ISP attempt to limit the freedom and openness of the Internet be permissible? I could not figure it out why they should do so. Otherwise Verizon seems very reluctant to provide for cogent reasons why they oppose net neutrality.

For the time being and in contrast to the development in the US, the European Union Commission has managed to defend the concept of net neutrality. They have recognized that there is one Internet and that it should remain open and interconnected regardless of the technologies and services users rely on to access it.

While I understand that quantitative shaping network management might even be necessary, I would never accept a qualitative one. An ISP would then be in charge as to what content I would access. Such an effect would be even fortified by the fact that the market is likely to fail curing discrepancies so arising. You remember – many ISP are not obliged to share their networks with competitors. I could not just walk away from my ISP and sign with another.

Therefore I care for net neutrality. Actually, anyone using the Internet must care about net neutrality.

Otherwise there is a fair chance that we cede ground to persons like Mr Neil Berkett, the CEO of Virgin Media and they make the decisions on our behalf. And, believe me, that will not be necessarily to users’ benefit. Why? I guess that if you ask them, he will say “this net neutrality thing is a load of b****cks!”

 

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