Archive for March 2013
For light relief I sometimes follow copyright issues, especially music piracy. So it was with great interest I came across this little tidbit from the European Commission’s institute for prospective technological studies.
The good guys there analysed the clickstreams from 16,000 digital music consumers and concluded that a 10% increase in clicks on pirate music download sites leads to a corresponding 0.2% rise in clicks on legal download sites.
Conversely, a 10% increase in clicks on legal streaming websites leads to up to a 0.7% increase in clicks on legal digital purchase websites. The difference in effect between legal and illegal sources on music sales is basically zero, they found.
“Our results suggest that internet users do not view illegal downloading as a substitute for legal digital music,” say the researchers.
“Our findings indicate that digital music piracy does not displace legal music purchases in digital format. This means that although there is trespassing of private property rights (copyrights), there is unlikely to be much harm done on digital music revenues.”
Bottom line? The Pirate Bay, Megaupload etc were doing the music companies’ marketing for them. For free.
It’s time to repeal the misbegotten Digital Economy Act, and lift the useless court-imposed ISP blocks on content.
The Financial Times has come to the belated view that the BDUK procurement of next generation access to broadband is a farce.
The trigger appears to have been Fujitsu’s decision not to compete for any of the contracts available under the BDUK procurement framework, a process that has cost taxpayers £10m to create and left BT as the sole supplier.
The formal announcement has been a long time coming, but has been anticipated ever since the Cabinet Office effectively blacklisted the company by describing it as a “high risk” supplier of government IT systems.
That description did not preclude Fujitsu, with BT the only qualified suppliers under the BDUK framework, from bidding for business.The final straw for Fujitsu appears to be BDUK’s absurd requirements for wireless suppliers of NGA broadband to rural areas.
These were published on 18 February in response to the European Commission’s sensible relaxation of the ban on wireless as a means delivering next generation broadband.
Much of Fujitsu’s business plan, at least in Cumbria, relied on wireless to get around the need to access BT’s poles and ducts. When this was ruled inadmissible, Fujitsu withdrew, leaving BT as the sole bidder in Cumbria.
The commission then rethought the ban and raised it. However, it still appears to believe that fibre to the home is the end game, but it is willing to acknowledge that high speed broadband delivered by cellular technologies such as LTE are the way to go.
This is making life hard or impossible for fixed wireless broadband providers. In its guidance to local councils regarding the use of fixed wireless in their coverage plans BDUK asks for service levels that not even fixed line suppliers have to meet.
For example, wireless providers must show that their system is capable of providing access speeds in excess of 30Mbps download, with at least ~15Mbps download speed to end-users for 95% of the time during peak times in the target intervention area.
Then it says the wireless operator must put in a fibre to the home network . “The subsidised solution must be an interim solution chosen where a fibre-based solution is not yet economically viable, and there shall be a commitment to replace non-wired connections with fibre at a later stage.”
Kijoma Broadband, which supplies high speed wireless connectivity in the south of England, says, “There is no such guarantee (on download speed) for FTTC for example. FTTC starts at 15 Mbps sync speed and as previously reported, 5 Mbps orders will be accepted via wholesale providers,” he says.
BT has doubled its original offer of 15Mbps download speeds to “up to” 30Mbps. Ofcom this week reported that the average national download speed is 12Mbps, due largely to Virgin Media’s largely urban roll-out of high speed broadband over cable TV channels.
FTTC connection (speeds) will be lower in practice due to line length, crosstalk, ISP contention, traffic management policies, and other issues, Lewis adds.
Regarding the commitment to install fibre, Lewis says, “If fibre in a low density area is viable in around five years, then it is viable now. The only time it would improve is if the rural area in question gained a large new housing estate.”
Fibre is going into rural homes and businesses, but it is due to community-based efforts such as B4RN and Gigaclear. Both face hostile responses from BT, which has consistently failed to publish precise coverage plans for both its £2.5bn “commercial roll-out” of FTTC to two-thirds of UK homes, and its BDUK-funded roll-outs in “not spots”.
As Ewhurst resident Walter Willcox notes elsewhere on the blog, even having a fibred-up street cabinet in your street doesn’t guarantee access to a high speed service because the cabinet’s capacity may already be taken up.
This should raise questions regarding the percentage of “homes passed” that can actually be served by the cabinets BT has installed so far. BT has said in the past that it would add more street cabinets if the newly installed ones reach capacity. Ewhurst’s experience is to the contrary.
Virgin Media was responsible for more than half the rise in the UK’s average broadband speed, Ofcom told Br0kenTeleph0n3 today.
Ofcom senior telecommunications analyst Nick Collins said VM has been doubling the speeds of its customers, and this was mainly responsible for the national average broadband speed rising one-third from 9.oMbps to 12.0Mbps in the six months to December 2012.
Collins said the national average reflected a combination of headline speeds and market share. He said these data were confidential as they contained competitively sensitive information. He confirmed that Ofcom looks at these figures in assessing the national average, but does not publish them.
VM’s acceleration programme will end towards the middle of the year, Collins said. At that point growth in the national average is likely to depend mainly on the take-up rate of BT’s Infinity fibre to the cabinet product, which will dilute VM’s influence on the figure.
In February US cable TV firm Liberty Global agreed to buy VM for around $23.3bn. The deal will create a multinational broadband company that covers 45 million homes and serves 25 million customers. Around 80% of its estimated $17bn sales will come from the UK, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
VM’s skills in mobile telephony and B2B networking were cited as key to the future growth of the group. VM CEO Neil Berkett, who will leave the company, said the combined company will be able to grow faster and more profitably by capitalising on the “exciting opportunities” that the digital revolution presents in the UK and across Europe.
Emails between Richard Brown, the site owner, and BT reveal that BT doesn’t even own the site it accuses Brown of copying.
Brown received a letter from BT’s legal department informing him that he had copied much of the content of the website Superfast-Wales.com, including the design of the front page, and giving him seven days to remove material that was BT’s intellectual property.
Brown wrote back asking which bits infringed BT’s copyright. “As you have chosen to give this the highest of priorities (just 7 days) I would like to expedite this for you, but in the absence of a response to my request for clarification regarding the specific nature of the changes you wish to see it is somewhat challenging to assist you.”
Bernadette Mee, head of trade marks at BT, who wrote the original letter, apparently went on leave in the middle of this correspondence. As a result it escalated to Miles Beckingham, BT’s senior trade mark attorney, who thundered, “BT requires that you remove from your website all content which has been directly copied from www.superfast-wales.com.”
Brown had done some homework in the meantime. He responded to Beckingham, saying “Well, as you are apparently unclear as to what elements of the site are in question, perhaps it would be helpful if we clarified what we are discussing.
“Firstly, http://superfast-wales.com is not a BT property, as demonstrated by the leasing arrangement for the URL that can be evidenced here:
This shows that Superfast-Wales.com is registered to one Gary Mortensen-Baker. Googling Mr Mortensen-Baker throws up a credit for a YouTube animation that explains the next generation broadband technologies BT plans to deploy in Lancashire, home to the B4RN fibre to the home community project.
Brown wrote, “Whilst superfast-wales.com is not a BT property, I am nonetheless keen to try and assist you with concerns you have expressed with regard to your copyright and/or IP.
“Perhaps you can find the time to identify those elements that you believe are BT property, regardless of the ownership of the superfast-wales.com website?
“With specific regard to your artificially short deadline – this would have already been completed if your department had acted promptly, as per my requests.”
Meanwhile on Twitter, @BroadbandBill, widely believed to be Bill Murphy, managing director of BT’s next generation access project, indicated that all Brown has to do is remove the blurred image that BT’s legal department believes represents the BT logo.
BT’s legal department has sent a ‘cease and desist’ letter to the satirical website superfarce-cymru.com, claiming it breaches BT copyright and giving it seven days to take down the allegedly offending material before it starts legal proceedings.
It accuses site owner Richard Brown of copying “a substantial amount” of the content of the superfast-wales.com website, including the design of the home page and BT’s logo, “which although blurred, is easily recognisable”.
Brown appears to aim as much at the Welsh Assembly Government as at BT’s marketing hype about superfast broadband.
In answer to the question “What’s Superfast Cymru all about?” the home page says, “If we can convince you that we are doing a decent job by claiming that this is a pioneering multimillion pound programme to bring nationwide superfast broadband, there’s a chance you’ll overlook the millions wasted on RIBS, Fibrespeed, PBSA, buying Cardiff airport etc and still vote us back in.”
BT is spending some £220m inWales, with most of it going towards Superfast Cymru. The WAG is contributing £58m, BDUK £57m. with £90m coming from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
The default installation will be fibre to the cabinet, which offers a nominal 80Mbps download and 20Mbps upload, but BT indicates it will also offer a 330Mbps download, 30Mbps fibre to the premises wholesale product. It aims to cover 96% of Welsh homes and businesses.
The Superfarce Cymru site reflects a sceptical view of the £425m roll out. “FTTC provides wholesale download speeds up to 80Mbps and upload speeds up to 20Mbps, so if you are a long way from the exchange or the cabinet, this won’t make any difference to the speed that you will be able to get. If you have a nice view or not very many neighbours, this won’t make any difference to the real speed you can get.”
Under the contract, the largest next generation broadband deal in the UK, BT says it will install 17,500km of optical fibre cable and around 3,000 new fibre-enabled street cabinets.
The first eight regions to benefit will be Bangor, Caernarfon, Dolgellau, Menai Bridge, Porthmadog, Pwllheli, Ebbw Vale and Tredegar.
WAG business minister Edwina Hart unveiled the first Superfast Cymru cabinet in Bangor in February.
News that BT is hire 1,000 extra engineers as part of its £2.5bn next generation broadband roll-out is welcome, especially for the long-term unemployed and returning army staff who face the sack after Iraq and Afghanistan.
However, it is tacit admission that BT’s HR plan has been a disaster. If you want proof, the Office the Telecommunications Adjudicator’s February charts provide graphic evidence.
The OTA2 reports that “Openreach continue to tackle the serious supply chain issues which have had a major impact on CP Pop-site deliveries”, and further that, “Following a protracted period of ‘problematic’ usage by a small number of early adopter CPs, Openreach recently issued the following statement:-
” ‘Openreach has taken the decision to temporarily suspend Ethernet Access Direct (EAD) on EST in response to feedback from our customers who have raised concerns about the overall experience and underpinning processes. This came into effect on 15th February 2013 and is expected to last until September 2013.’
“This is a disappointing set-back for the Ethernet community, but given the strategic importance attached to this key development, and the need to ‘get it right’, the decision by Openreach to ‘suspend’ whilst a fundamental re-assessment is undertaken is a decision which is welcomed by the CP community.”
EAD is Openreach’s point to point connectivity service for speeds up to 1Gbps. It’s pretty much the bedrock ordering for next generation links.
This must be worrying indeed for BT and all those who depend on it for Ethernet connectivity.
Those squaddies can’t come back fast enough, for the good of the country, in many, many ways.
Ofcom has responded to a request for comment by saying that the suspension of EAD has to do with problems with a new ordering platform, Ethernet System Transform, that Openreach uses to process requests for service. However, Openreach can still use the old one, ECO-X, to process orders.
The OTA2 earlier described Openreach’s Ethernet service deliver system as “broken”. Efforts to improve matters by by moving Ethernet onto BT Equivalance Management Platform had failed.
These back office systems are complex, Ofcom says, but since CPs have access to the legacy platform, the suspension has no real impact on Openreach’s ability to process Ethernet orders.
Ofcom remains concerned over Openreach’s declining performance with respect to providing PoPs and fixing faults. “Plan and Build is an issue that affects everyone,” a spokesman said. He points out that these problems led to Openreach signing a new Memorandum of Understanding that make it liable for fines for late delivery of accepted orders.
Openreach will pay £2/day for every day it misses the 13-day SLA, and £4/day if it takes longer than 16 days.
In return, CPs like Sky and TalkTalk have to tighten their estimated line requirements from +/-15% to +/-10%.
Ofcom declined to say whether payments at this level were sufficiently large to get Openreach’s attention. “We are confident Openreach is committed to improving its performance,” the spokesman said.
BT has not yet responded.
I have changed the title to reflect more accurately the suspension of Openreach’s problems with Ethernet deliveries. BT has not returned requests for comment on the suspension of EAD.
BT has responded (at 11.51 on 11 March): “Ethernet Access Direct orders can still be placed through the legacy system. We have acted swiftly to address some issues with orders placed via the newly introduced EST route, and in response to feedback from our CP customers will be suspending new orders on this system until we are confident we have worked through any remaining teething issues in collaboration with CPs.”
Last week Ofcom proposed to make BT cut its prices by 11% a year for each of the next three years for very high speed wholesale services outside of London and Hull. It believes this will encourage leased line customers, mainly large enterprises and bandwidth resellers, switch to Ethernet as it will allow prices for services based on older technologies to rise modestly to allow BT recover its costs from a declining customer base.
Supporting this proposal was a report from CSMG on qualitative issues around the >1Gbps market. Its main findings about market conditions were unsurprising: BT has significant market power outside London and Hull; most cities on the UK’s ‘figure of 8’ fibre ring are relatively well provided for; the rest of country depends on Openreach, etc etc.
The respondents, 25 end users and five wholesale buyers of >1Gbps services, also volunteered comment off the ‘approved list’ of topics. Full marks to CSMG for including them in its report, and to Ofcom for publishing them even though they must have made uncomfortable reading.
The ‘unspoken’ issues include lead times to provision services, lack of physical route diversity, supply of dark fibre, business rates on lit fibre, and duct access. By and large, the comments suggest that Ofcom has failed to make best use of two of its primary policy tools, namely to encourage investment in network infrastructure and to ensure a competitive market at all levels.
“Numerous” end users told CSMG, “We have major problems with lead times – it can take three months to get a site survey, and a further three months to get installation. The whole process can sometimes take over a year, with major implications for business. There is insufficient competition outside the M25 to drive lead times down.”
Another said, “We find we have to rely on BT Openreach for laying fibre, whoever we are procuring the service from… the [network build-out] process is very slow, and it is hard to get firm dates and prices. It’s holding the business back.”
More than half (56%) were concerned about true physical route diversity, mainly to improve service resilience. CSMG noted this was because carriers are reluctant to share their route data, but one user reported having a clause in its contract that required its provider to reveal updates to its network annually. Another said BT charged a premium, “but at least they can confirm they are using a fully diverse route.”
Opinions on dark fibre were split. Some said it is relatively easily available, others that the market is “immature”. Two heavy users of dark fibre thought market consolidation will see less dark fibre on the market as the remaining carriers could choose to offer only higher margin lit services.
Six of the eight respondents who expressed concern about business rate taxes on lit fibre said they were having to take lit services rather than buy dark fibre, as they would prefer, because of the high rates of tax payable on lit fibre. Two were currently using much more dark fibre than lit, but said they may have to move back to lit services in future because of the high rates, CSMG said.
Two end users wanted more clarity regarding the use of self-managed dark fibre, especially who has to pay the rates on lit fibre. One believed he was exempt because he was using the fibre himself rather than reselling it. However, he was still having to pay an unexpected bill for three years’ rates.
One of the wholesale buyers was keen to build out more of his own fibre, but said the rates payable on lit fibre were damaging the business case.
Three interviewees believed that BT was advantaged by the fibre rates regime. This was unfair on smaller operators and end users who bought dark fibre, they said.
“The very high level of the fibre tax is a major reason why we have to limit the use of high bandwidth fibre services. We feel that the level of fibre tax which BT pays is unfair. We would like to see everyone paying the same rates as BT – or preferably, no tax at all.”
Another said, “The fibre tax is arbitrary and unfair – we do not see why smaller, more agile players should get taxed while more dominant players such as BT are given tax relief.”
A wholesale buyer said, “Costs are currently prohibitive for new entrants to the market, and for existing players looking to expand their network. In particular, the fibre tax is not helping the business case for network build-out, and gives larger players – particularly BT – an unfair tax advantage.”
Vtesse Neworks earlier took the fibre tax issue to the Appeal Court, which ruled two to one against the carrier. Responsibility for the fibre tax lies variously with the Treasury, the department of communities and local government, the Valuation Office Agency and local councils. The incoming coalition government promised to “review” the tax, but as these comments suggest, has failed to level the playing field. Ofcom may be entitled to redress any advantage that might accrue from the allegedly unfair treatment, but has not done so.
Where Ofcom has also done less than it could is in opening up duct access. It did persuade BT to introduce a new product, Physical Infrastructure Access, to allow third parties to use BT ducts and poles. However it also allowed BT to impose terms and conditions such that there has been no large-scale take-up of the product. In fact, these terms and conditions were largely responsible for seven of the nine carriers invited to bid dropping out of the BDUK next generation procurement framework .
CSMG reported, “Four interviewees, including two wholesale buyers, were disappointed at the lack of duct access available in the market, which was preventing them undertaking more widespread build-out.”
As these comments were not within Ofcom’s brief to CSMG, it is unlikely anything will come of them. This leaves us with the actual outcome – the proposed 11% price cut.
One could say it’s better than nothing. However, CSMG found that end users and systems integrators can negotiate discounts, especially where there is competition. Fifteen respondents, including all five wholesale buyers, reported being able to negotiate on price. Three won discounts of around 30% and one got a 50% cut on a dark fibre service, CSMG said.
That makes Ofcom’s proposal look like small beer indeed.