Following the broadband money

Archive for December 2011

Chat-up lines in Whitehall

with 5 comments

Professional nosy parkers like Br0kenTeleph0ne and GCHQ are always keen to know who’s talking to whom, when and about what. So it was with interest that we learn that in June culture minister Jeremy Hunt had a meeting with “Hua Wei” to discuss “telecomms issues”.

This revelation is part of the government’s transparency agenda, so that we can all, if we can be bothered, find out who’s been polishing the chairs in Whitehall and Westminster.

Equally interesting was communications minister Ed Vaizey’s visitor list. How one would have liked to be a fly on the wall in one or two of the meetings. His guests between April and June were

Authority for Television On-Demand

To discuss the smaller operators

Taylor Herring

To discuss the internet

Save Kids TV

Follow up meeting


To discuss the Digital Economy Act

Cisco. TalkTalk, Virgin Media and Fujitsu

To discuss Intellect/Cisco Broadband

Broadband Stakeholders Group

To discuss open internet issues


To discuss emergency calls


To discuss emergency calls

Torres Strait Delegation

To discuss the repatriation of human remains

Classic FM

To discuss the Music Review

Cable and Wireless

Catch up meeting

Ironbridge Gorge Museum

To discuss Renaissance Core Museum proposal

Ikon Gallery

To discuss possible new gallery in Birmingham

Literary Heritage Group

To discuss Literary Archives and Philanthropy


To discuss issues around industry

Boster Group

Introductory meeting

My Cake

To discuss the creative and cultural sectors


To discuss the new Mulberry factory

UK Music

To discuss funding and Enterprise Finance Guarantee


To discuss arts organisation

Three and Hutchison Whampoa Ltd

To discuss Ofcom spectrum proposals

BT, TalkTalk and Universal

General discussion

Film Matters

Introductory meeting

Warner Music

Introductory meeting

Faber & Faber

To discuss businesses and activities

Touring Partnership Theatres

To discuss Regional Theatre


Update meeting

Everything Everywhere

Catch up on Ofcom proposed spectrum auction rules


Introductory meeting


Introductory meeting

JF Kennedy Performing Arts Washington

Introductory meeting

Finch and Partners

General discussion

Film matters

Introductory meeting

Warner Music

Catch up meeting

Faber and Faber

To discuss brand related business and activities

Touring Partnership Theatres

To discuss Spending Review

Power to the Pixel

Introductory meeting

Turner contemporary

Introductory meeting


Introductory meeting

Prudential Security

Introductory meeting


Introductory meeting


Introductory meeting


Introductory meeting


Introductory meeting


General discussion


Introductory meeting

Imagination Technologies Ltd

Introductory meeting

Reach Global

Introductory meeting

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2011/12/17 at 21:43

Dodgy doings in defence of copyright

leave a comment »

Music rightsholders have shown a remarkable willingness to indulge in questionable tactics to preserve and extend their control of digital content.

First we had Lord Peter Mandelson’s Corfu lunch with Hollywood oligarch David Geffen that led to the sudden and unexpected inclusion of “three strikes and out” provisions in the Digital Economy Act.

Now TorrentFreak, a website that watches the battle between rights holders, copyright pirates and other interested parties, is following the saga of how Universal Music got YouTube to take down a promotional video for Megaupload, a free online file storage service, that was going viral.

The catchy Mega Song, which features music artists like Blackeyed Pea , P. Diddy and Alicia Keys, has been up and down and up again on YouTube as the legal arguments have flowed.

The takedown seemed possible thanks to a side deal between YouTube (owned by Google) and Universal that allows Universal to get YouTube to take down material to which it does not own the copyright.

This goes beyond the ambit of the Digital Copyright Millennium Act (DCMA), many of whose provisions are written into the Anticounterfeit Trade Agreement (Acta), which is now in the European Parliament for a vote. Acta is a rightsholder-sponsored multilateral deal that activists claim would not pass public scrutiny.

Taken together, Acta and the Mega Song case sheds an interesting light on the motives of music rights holders.  They would make rightsholders key gatekeepers in the emerging digital economy as broadband access to digital content expands.

The UK government is fighting back, somewhat, with its consultation on a new copyright regime in the light of the Hargreaves Commission report. This would allow private copying eg from a CD you own to an MP3 player, greater access to “orphan works” i.e. work for whom ownership cannot be established, and non-commercial data mining of academic works.

Perhaps most interestingly, it has already asked Richard Hooper to do a feasibility study to test a key Hargreaves recommendation, a digital rights exchange, to reduce the friction and cost of buying online rights.

On the face of it, this would be a good or better deal for artists. According to the Bemuso blog, artists might earn five pence from a 79p digital download, and rightholders 46p. The exchange would allow them to sell rights directly, and possible earn more than what they can earn via the rightholders, without having to sign away their copyright to record labels.

If government has been slow to change the status quo and seem to be siding with rightsholders, Bemuso shows why: after the rightsholder, the next biggest beneficiary is the government.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2011/12/17 at 20:03

VOA ready to bung BT billions

with 7 comments

Happines is a warm bung.

The Valuation Office Agency review of business rates on fibre-based communications networks is shaping up to be a massive bung to BT, which already enjoys a cost advantage over its competitors because of the rating regime.

In a statement to Br0kenTeleph0ne, HM Revenue & Customs said “The VOA (Valuation Office Agency, which is responsible for setting business rates) hopes to publish the results of the NGA (Next Generation Access) final third Receipts and Expenditure valuation model (for rural areas) before the New Year in 2012.”

In the HMRC statement, a VOA spokesperson said, “We are aware of concerns about business rates in the telecom sector and we wish to see greater transparency and clarity in how rateable values are set.

“The VOA is working with the Broadband Stakeholders Group (BSG) to develop a new Receipts and Expenditure-based valuation model for Next Generation Access (NGA) networks in the final third (rural areas). This is not a review of how fibre networks are taxed and no such review is being undertaken by the VOA.”

The BSG declined to comment ahead of HMRC’s publication of the review.

BT is the only telco evaluated under the Receipts and Expenditure basis (ie on profits); VM’s valuation is based on “homes passed” and the others on the length of their networks and the individual lit fibres.

The VOA says, “BT and Virgin Media are assessed on the same statutory basis of rateable value as all other rateable properties.”

It is unclear whether the VOA review will look at fixed and mobile wireless infrastructure such as base stations, masts and towers, which are currently subject to business rates. If they are not included, the cost of delivering high speed wireless broadband to rural areas, via the mobile networks, microwave or even satellite, on a per kilometre basis may be higher than need be for purely competitive or economic reasons.

This would give BT’s wires, now 40 years old in many cases, a relative advantage, even though BT has said some areas will not get high speed broadband, and that “a mix of technologies” is needed.

It is also unclear what areas are considered “final third”. If it is Ofcom’s Market 1 regions, BT already enjoys either a monopoly or “significant market power” in these areas.

In 2006 an independent report commissioned by the government recommended that fibre be zero-rated to persuade network operators to invest in it. The then minister Stephen Timms ignored the report.

Subsequent reports showed that large network operators such BT and Virgin Media enjoy a consistent price advantage over smaller network operators as a result of the VOA’s different pricing formulas.

The formula for smaller operators uses distance, making it prohibitively expensive to install and light fibre in rural areas. For a grpahic view of the effect see the bottom of this page.

While in opposition, the Conservative Party vowed to review the so-called fibre tax, but soon forgot its promise.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2011/12/16 at 07:02

B4RN-raising gets off the ground, NFU promises help

with 4 comments

B4RN CEO Barry Forde (left) with first shareholder Walter Wilcox. Copyright Lindsey Annison

More than half a dozen people became on the spot shareholders in Broadband for the Rural North, better known by its Twitter hashtag #B4RN, at its launch today in Lancaster, UK.

B4RN is potentially the most significant telecoms business of recent times because it could show rural communities worldwide the way to access high speed broadband without depending on government or incumbent telco favours.

B4RN is a community-owned and run telco that is raising £2m from private investors to fund the first 275km of a 1Gbps symmetric fibre to the home (FTTH) network.

The first of three phases will cover 1451 properties in eight rural Lancashire parishes. This area is so remote that it is unlikely to
receive any government funding via the BDUK procurement process or affordable connections from commercial network operators.

B4RN was born out of frustration with the status quo. A smaller project designed by Barry Forde, who designed the Cumbria and Lancashire educational network (Cleo) had the £750,000 earmarked for it taken back by county councillors.

A high speed wireless community network in the village of Wray was threatened with higher connection and traffic costs when BT Global Services took over the Cleo network.

Negotiations with local city and county councillors proved fruitless, mainly because of confusion and delay surrounding the BDUK procurement process, which a year after money was allocated to four pilot projects, seems at least a year away still from delivering a broadband signal.

Forde estimates B4RN will complete its build in 12 months, if it raises the £2m.

B4RN’s average cost of connection will be under £1400. B4RN aims to start monthly residential subscriptions at £30/m, which include a telephone service. This makes is financially attractive compared to BT’s £25/m “up to 40Mbps” asymmetric Infinity fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) service plus £10 telephone rental, even if residents could get it, and even if BT doubles Infinity speeds as promised next year.

B4RN will also offer managed business networking services, and is believed to be in talks to carry backhaul traffic for mobile network operators.

One reason B4RN’s pricing is so reasonable is that many landowners have waived wayleave rentals for fibre passing under their properties. However, some, and those who help with the digging, duct installations and network operations may be entitled to B4RN shares in lieu.

A more formal national agreement on wayleaves for rural broadband is under discussion. This was expected by November, but has been held up by “public bodies”, says David Collier, chief rural affairs adviser to the National Farmers Union for England.
Collier. Collier used Twitter to promise B4RN “practical help” after attending the launch. He says the wayleaves issue should be settled within the next few weeks.

This may coincide with a review of the business rates applied to lit fibre in rural areas. HM Revenue & Customs confirmed to Br0kenTeleph0ne that an announcement on this is likely “before the New Year in 2012”.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2011/12/15 at 21:52

UK leads opt-in on cookie laws

leave a comment »

The UK is one of just five European countries to require website owners to get an opt-in from visitors in order to allow ‘cookies’ to track their movements on the internet.

According to a report from law firm DLA Piper, the others are Austria, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden.

Countries that have passed legislation to enable the so-called cookie law (Article 5 of the e-Privacy Directive) but that do not require customers to opt-in are Finland, France, Hungary, Ireland, Luxembourg, and Portugal. Several others are pending.

The Information Commissioner’s Office, which is responsible for enforcing the directive gave UK firms 12 months from April last year to implement the necessary changes. From 25 May, any UK website that does not ask visitors to opt in to have a cookie installed on their computer will be in breach and subject to action.

DLA Piper says, “The more the use of a cookie relates to the personal information of a user, the more robust the procedures to obtain consent will have to be.

It advises firms with website to check their systems now and to make them compliant as soon as possible.

The issue of cookies is sensitive politically and economically. Privacy activists see them as intruding on internet users’ privacy. Firms like Google and Amazon use them to estimate your preferences from your behaviour on the net. They use this to “push” information and advertising to you that may be interested in.


EU Member State Implemented in local law Prior opt-in consent required?
Austria Yes Yes
Belgium No TBC
Bulgaria No TBC
Cyprus No TBC
Czech Republic No TBC
Denmark Yes Pending
Estonia Yes Pending
Finland Yes No
France Yes No
Germany No TBC
Greece No TBC
Hungary Yes No
Ireland Yes No
Italy No TBC
Latvia Yes Yes
Lithuania Yes Yes
Luxembourg Yes No
Malta No TBC
Netherlands No TBC
Norway1 No TBC
Poland No TBC
Portugal Yes No
Romania No TBC
Slovak Republic Yes No
Slovenia No TBC
Spain No TBC
Sweden Yes Yes
United Kingdom Yes Yes
Source: DLA Piper

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2011/12/13 at 22:49

Ofcom ignores business needs in 2012 work plan, but hints at an independent Openreach

with 3 comments

Mobile and broadband are Ofcom’s key targets for next year, but there is not a word about dark fibre, the product most desired by business network users, in its draft work plan for 2012.

Ofcom said its framework requires BT to provide access to its physical infrastructure (PIA), including sub-loops, ducts and poles, so that other providers have the option of investing in NGA.

It also requires BT to offer virtual unbundled local access (VULA) to its next-generation fibre infrastructure, so that other providers can compete with BT to sell superfast broadband services to consumers.

Both of these statements from Ofcom’s work plan mask serious reservations among business users and would-be competitors to BT.

According to GEO’s chief executive Chris Smedley, the usage restrictions on PIA do not apply to BT, and together double the breakeven period for next generation investments compared to BT’s reported breakeven period.

The Communications Management Association, whose members buy some £13bn of communications goods and services a year, has for years called for Ofcom to insist that BT offer dark fibre, but Ofcom has repeatedly said there is no apparent demand for it.

Ofcom says it may look at dark fibre in its planned review of business access, due late in 2012, but did not mention it in its draft work plan, which is open for public comment.

In the absence of dark fibre, the CMA has called for structural separation of Openreach, BT’s inforastructure division, as the country’s single physical network operator.

However, Ofcom CEO Ed Richards said recently that it would require BT to supply customers with different wavelengths on its fibre rather than the fibre itself.

But in a speech on next generation network investment, Richards held out the prospect of a single converged fibre broadband network that carries voice ‘over the top’.

“This would of course be a significant change for both BT and competitive operators alike and would have to be considered very carefully,” he said.

In the meantime, Ofcom’s priorities for the year include:

  • Auctioning and clearing the 800MHz and 2.6GHz frequency bands for ‘4G’ mobile use
  • Review video on demand regulations
  • Make sure the 2012 Olympics has the spectrum it needs
  • Enable the copyright provisions of the Digital Economy Act.

Also on the wish list are to promote competition and investment in high speed broadband, business connectivity and voice markets, to ensure consumers can understand what they are buying, make it easier for consumers to switch suppliers, and to see about “regulating content”, which is code for stamping out online piracy and blocking or taking down websites with offensive or illegal material.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2011/12/09 at 15:43

Spectrum games are over, Ofcom tells UK MNOs

leave a comment »

The UK’s mobile operators, Vodafone and O2 in particular, may have been too clever by half in threatening to litigate their way through the proposed auction for high speed broadband frequencies.

Ofcom CEO Ed Richards told the European Competitive Telecommunications Association (Ecta) regulatory meeting yesterday, “some major companies will have to reflect upon whether they have inadvertently jeopardised the benefits of objective, independent regulation in this area by virtue of their willingness to game the system.”

Richards said he recognised the need for companies to defend their commercial interests and to use the law to do so. But it had been “very disappointing” to see how far the incumbent mobile operators were prepared to “entangle this process in litigation or threats of litigation”.

Richards said that only a few weeks ago, the department of culture, media and sport, which oversees communications policy, had realised “the stance of the operators made it harder for important decisions to be made and implemented”.

This may be unfair; culture minister Jeremy Hunt and communications minister Ed Vaizey are both said almost 18 months ago  they hoped the MNOs would not turn to the courts but cooperate with government in creating a vibrant 4G mobile market.

Richards said, “This may well be a consideration as British lawmakers consider their approach to a promised new communications bill for the UK.

“I am sure legislators would be all too willing to accept an argument which returns power in such matters to politicians, in light of the apparent inability of the current model to make timely decisions where the national interest is at stake.”

Richards was speaking ahead of Ofcom’s imminent release of the terms and conditions for the auction of 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum, the so-called 4G frequencies, now delayed until mid-2012. These will permit local operators to introduce high speed mobile broadband services in urban and rural communities.

The threat of litigation and the need to free up 800MHz frequencies has delayed the auction to the point where the UK is now far behind competitor economies such as Germany and France in 4G mobile roll-outs.

While the lack of cheap 4G handsets has minimised the gap up to now, this is less and less the case. It has also dampened projects to explore the use of LTE (Long Term Evolution) as an alternative to copper in local access networks.


Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2011/12/02 at 08:00