Archive for February 2012
Plans to give millions of pounds to BT to upgrade its rural networks under the BDUK procurement rules will face legal challenges from small network operators. They will claim that the market is working, and that any taxpayers’ money given to BT will violate state subsidy rules.
Guy Jarvis, MD of NextGenUs, which is installing a hybrid fibre-wireless network in Cumbria told Br0kenTeleph0n3, “I can confirm that NextGenUs will challenge any CCC (Cumbria County Council) award of taxpayers’ money to BT on the grounds that the market, without any public subsidy, is either delivering superfast service in Cumbria or has firm plans to so do.”
Bill Lewis, MD of Kijoma Networks, which provide high speed wireless broadband in southern counties like East and West Sussex, said he supported such moves.
Lewis told Br0kenTeleph0n3, “I have been challenging WSCC (West Sussex County Council) over their blatant pro-BT stance for years and will certainly wish to continue to do so!
“In this county we have the added stitch-up with the three non-ADSL exchanges. I am informed that they have gained permission from BDUK to spend some of the money to enable these exchanges for a ‘2 Mbps service’.
“As the commercial incumbent in these areas for ~7 years I am a bit miffed obviously as when we asked about funding (for) our networks back in 2003-2004 they snubbed it.”
Kijoma’s network provide greater than 10Mbps wireless service to the non-ADSL exchanges. However, maps prepared by WSCC indicated they were broadband “not-spots”. The maps were removed from the WSCC website after Lewis complained that they misrepresented the true situation.
There are plenty of other small network operators that could join forces to challenge awards under the BDUK procurement rules which were written to exclude them. They include Rutland Telecom, now part of Gigaclear, and Vtesse Networks, as well as a host of local wireless network operators.
EU procurement rules insist that any network operator who receives public money must provide “open access” to its physical infrastructure. So far only one firm, Call Flow, which operates in south-east England, has indicated it will take up BT’s PIA (physical infrastructure access) offer. Fujitsu Telecom, which complained earlier that BT’s charges were excessive, has experimented with BT’s PIA offer. It has yet to say if or how it will proceed.
Four pilot studies announced earlier by the government, designed to test alternative solutions to rural broadband, have seen all alternative suppliers to BT pull out. The main reason is believed to be related to BT’s PIA charges.
BDUK aims to disburse £530m in the next two or three years to achieve the government’s goal of “the best broadband in Europe”. It has sought blanket permission from the European Commission’s DG Competition for money granted under its procurement framework to be rubber-stamped without further investigation.
A DG Competition spokesman told Br0kenTeleph0n3 it had received BDUK’s request, but could not say when the matter would be heard or a decision given.
“I cannot reply on substance, or even on timing which depends on several factors, such as the complexity of the case and cooperation with the relevant authorities,” the spokesman said.
I’m told on good authority that Fujitsu has not pulled out of the Cumbria procurement.
It is annoying to read, once again, reports that the coalition government, or at least certain civil servants, wants to reintroduce Labour’s shelved Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP), now in its new guise as the Communications Capabilities Development Programme (CCDP.
Curiously, the story broke in the same week that Canada introduced a “Crime Bill” to permit surveillance, allegedly to give children the same online protection that others countries give, but which looks a lot like the IMP.
Basically the law enforcement people want to be able to tap phones they way used to, but the change in technology to packet switching means this is hard to impossible.
The initial cost of IMP was put at £12bn. This was mainly for the centralised GCHQ database, to be run by US outsource outfit EDS. This was to house all the emails, social network chit-chat, telephone calls, and especially voice over IP calls, that originate in or transit the UK. GCHQ then apparently opted for a £2bn pilot study. No-one outside the security establishment knows whether it worked, or to what extent it failed.
The UK, and to be fair, most other countries, have been deluged with draconian surveillance legislation ever since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In Britain, the Information Commissioner’s Office even produced a report that asked whether we were sleep-walking into a “surveillance state,” and answered its own question with a “yes”.
Communications service providers like BT, Virgin Media, TalkTalk, Sky etc, are required under data retention laws to keep header information about the messages that transit their networks for a year. This information is essentially the same as one might find on a postal letter: name and address of sender and receiver, and the time of sending. NOT the contents. Or at least, not yet.
The data retention laws are supported by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA). Under RIPA warrants to intercept messages (i.e. the entire communication) must be signed by a secretary of state of a Scottish minister. “The authorisation can only be given in the interests of national security, for the purpose of preventing or detecting serious crime or for the purpose of safeguarding the economic well-being of the United Kingdom,” the Interception of Communications Commissioner (ICC) says in his 2010 annual report.
In 2010 the Home Secretary signed 1,682 warrants, and there were 1,048 still in force at the end of the year, a 10% rise over 2009. Scottish ministers approved 183 warrants, down from 204 in 2008, leaving 46 still in force at the end of the year a 5% rise from 2008. The ICC does not report how many requests were refused.
RIPA also allows hundreds of thousands of civil servants to request communications data (i.e. the “envelope information”). And they do. Those allowed include the intelligence agencies, police forces, the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA), the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) and other public authorities such as the Gambling Commission, Financial Services Authority (FSA) and local authorities.
The ICC’s annual report for 2010 says there were 552,550 requests for communications data for that year. This was up from 525,130 and 504,173 in the two preceding years respectively. Some 65% were to find out who owns a mobile phone. In the light of investigations into police corruption allied to mobile phone hacking, that may cause some concern.
There is without doubt a terrorist threat: the 7/7 London bombs show that. But with the death of Osama bin Laden and the apparently destruction of of Al-Queda, what threats remain?
One would not like to think that the entire panoply of anti-terrorist measures are to be used to fight RnB music pirates, as SOCA did this week.
The fact remains that this entire area is virtually evidence-free, certainly with regard to costs and benefits. One imagines that MI6 could buy an awful lot of human intelligence with £12bn, without affecting the law-abiding majority of the population.
These are the questions I would like to see answered and debated in public.
What evidence must the authorities produce for minister to grant a warrant to permit surveillance?
How can ministers test it before they grant the warrant?
How many warrants does the government expect to issue a year?
Under what circumstances will the evidence gathered from surveillance be permitted in court?
How do the investigators account for IP spoofing, for temporary IP address assignments, for TOR’ed messages and for encrypted messages?
Who bears the cost of collecting, storing and accessing communications data?
What is the budget for the collection, storage, retrieval and subsequent processing of this data?
What protections and sources of restitution are there for people falsely identified and investigated?
What estimates are there of the number of residents who buy or sell pornographic images of children?
How many convictions have been secured in the past five years in which evidence gathered using surveillance laws, particularly intercept and communications data, proved conclusive to the prosecution?
What is the split between convictions related to terrorism and to economic crime (including smuggling)?
What about the new EU idea about the right to be forgotten, or the old one, to have multiple online personalities?
Google says doing what it wants with your (or my) online record will result in a better search experience for the billions of people who use it daily.
What’s in it for Google is clearly more billions of advertising money. So what’s in it for you and me? Well, Google didn’t know, or at least it doesn’t provide the answer in the first page of search results.
Instead it suggested the thought-provoking introduction from RedTape’s Verisign hack story, “It should be clear by now that nothing online is sacred…”
I prefer to have a disaggregated identity when I’m online. In other words, I like the anonymity that goes with being a dog, unless I explicitly make my identity (and my preferences) available. I don’t think Google or anyone else should be messing with that.
Neither does Mirjam Remie, who writes for Bits of Freedom, a Dutch website. She’s trying to live Google-free for a week.
Here are some of the alternative tools to Google’s she says she may be using, in case you’d like to try them too.
Market consultancy Analysys Masons (AM) has done some theoretical thumbsucking and concluded that by doubling the network frequency (planned for 2012) and applying novel VDSL acceleration technologies such as vectoring, bonding and phantom lines, BT will be able, theoretically mind, to provide a 30Mbps broadband service over existing copper lines to 99% of homes in the UK.
Bloody marvellous, what!
AM was at pains to say that these technologies are in use or planned in the United States (AT&T’s U-verse), in Netherlands (KPN) and even Pakistan (PTCL), because they allow incumbent telcos to compete on sheer speed using their existing copper access networks against fibre and cable companies, and in some cases beat them for coverage.
Of course, there are caveats (see here for attenuation issues). Fibre to the cabinet, the most expensive part, has to be pretty well ubiquitous. The line length from the cabinet to the premises must be under two kilometres. The copper in the lines should be good quality. The homes should have at least two pairs of wires that could be bonded. The telephone pole to the cluster of homes it serves should be not be multiplexing services ie 12 homes each with two pair cables should have a 48-wire cable on the pole.
AM says it’s a secret how many homes have just a single copper pair. Br0kenTeleph0n3 understands that many, if not most, premises actually have four pairs, something AM doesn’t dispute hotly. And 99% of homes are within two kilometres of a street cabinet, it says.
Slam dunk, game over, right?
Well, no. There’s a problem with quantifying demand, which goes to the commercial or business case.
OK, so what’s the cost of just building it and hoping they will come? Remember this is only for the one-third of the country that BT says it requires taxpayers’ money to make it worthwhile. AM reckons the extra costs represents about 15% of monthly revenues from those subscribers.
So would BDUK’s £830m cover it?
AM’s answer to that is not clear and explicit. That’s because I asked if that money was applied mostly to put in fibre to the cabinets rather than upgrade the “last mile”, might it not contravene European Union rules on state aid?
Apparently this was getting into an area where conflicts of interest might apply, and the interview ended. Abrup…