Following the broadband money

Posts Tagged ‘ITU

ITU enters credibility gap

with 5 comments

Some people have been shocked by the ITU’s publication of figures showing that the UK ranks fourth in the world for access to high speed broadband, with most Brits have access to broadband speed of 10Mbps or more (see table).

Source ITU. What you see is not what you get in the broadband world. (Click to enlarge)

In fact the document notes that a recent study by the regulator Ofcom showed that actual speed were about half those advertised, especially for those with ADSL access. “FCC (US Federal Communications Commission) has come to the same conclusion in the United States,” the ITU notes.

The ITU stats department said data on fixed (wired) broadband subscriptions are collected according to advertised speeds. Ofcom was the source of the UK data.

“These may very well differ from actual speeds,” the ITU said.

Which is an admission that the figures may not be very helpful to anyone, including consumers, who would like to know whether they can actually receive a quality service for which they are being charged.

Another ITU example, that of Bahrain, showed that actual speeds delivered on a 2Mbps service were always below 2Mbps, and just 1Mbps at peak times.

“It is technically very challenging to measure broadband speeds and quality accurately, but we are discussing the subject within the ITU expert group on telecommunications/ICT indicators (EGTI), with a view to finding additional metrics to refine the measurements,” it said.

The ITU said low speed fixed wire broadband subscriptions (256kbps to 2Mbps) made up less than 2% of total UK subscriptions. ITU doesn’t collect figures on subs below this speed because it does not consider sub-256kbps to be broadband. “This may explain why some rural internet subscriptions are not included in these figures,” it said.

If ITU used actual speeds experienced by consumers, especially on uploads, it might discover there are a lot fewer broadband subscribers too.


That millions are not getting the service they pay for should be a growing concern for regulators, politicians and civil servants who set targets, place contracts and pay broadband delivery bills. As many have said before, it is one thing to promise Britons a universal 2Mbps service; it is another to deliver it. To promise,  to take the money and then not deliver, is fraud.

When so many regulators recruit their staff from the telcos there is a danger that they will over time become biased towards their former colleagues. The UK’s Financial Services Authority, which recruited most of its staff from among bankers, shows where this leads, and the cost to the country.

What countries need are tough-minded, independent and experienced communications regulators. But where to find them, and where do they get their training and experience? Perhaps, as with World Cup referees and umpires, the answer is to recruit the best from outside the country.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2011/09/21 at 16:10

Posted in Broadband, Finance, News, Politics

Tagged with , , ,

Online sunshine leads to better behaviour

leave a comment »

ITU secretary-General Hamadoun Touré is not given to exaggeration, so it’s interesting to hear him warn governments not to mess with the internet.

Cut off access at your peril, he says. Which is not news to presidents of Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and Syria, among others, but may come as a bit of surprise to the heads of western nations.

Reason is simple: people regard access to the internet as a human right, something the UN endorsed last week, so mess with that, you are messing with something people hold personally very dear, even if they don’t use Facebook quite as much as they used to.

Which is why Touré is calling for a common code of conduct negotiated between governments, ISPs, the security mob, civil society and users. We can all (mostly) agree online kiddie porn is a no-no. But reading the Wikileaks cables is a matter of debate.

With the UK thinking of filtering and blocking websites to prevent us all from turning into terrorists, perhaps the government needs to pause to consider alternatives to co-opting the ISP community to block stuff it considers objectionable.

To quote US judge Louis Brandeis, sunlight is the best disinfectant. Access to information via the net is clearly online sunshine.

Perhaps, as Touré says, access to the net will help all of us, governments’ included, behave better.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2011/06/14 at 21:27

Governments to be broadband catalysts and referees, not owners

with 6 comments

Governments’ role in the broadband revolution is to be referee and catalyst, and to leave network development to private sector investors, says the secretary-general of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Hamadoun Touré.

In this exclusive interview with Ian Grant, Touré argues that governments have to provide leadership and vision to use broadband technologies to develop their economies. He says governments need to follow the model of the mobile telephony sector, which has produced 5.3 billion users in about 20 years, with broadband.

He says this applies to both developing as well as developed economies. Governments can create demand for broadband by investing in content creation around education and health care. The ITU is working with other UN bodies such as Unesco to facilitate this, he says.

Touré’s comments come just after the publication of the UN Broadband Commission’s third report on the state of the broadband market. This will receive further attention at the commission’s next meeting at the ITU’s Telecom event in Geneva from 24 to 27 October 2011.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2011/06/08 at 10:05

Split network supply from services, UN Broadband Commission says

with 4 comments

Whether to divorce those who provide the physical network infrastructure from those that supply the services that run on it.

This is the thorny question hidden in the bouquet of platitudes that is the Broadband – Platform for Progress report to the UN’s Broadband Commission, presented today (6 June 2011). The report encourages governments, politicians and policy advisors to invest in broadband networks because they create jobs and grow the economy directly and indirectly.

Given the deeply vested interests and controversial positions on the severance of network provision from service provision, the authors are probably right to hide this thorn among some attractive blooms. But they do put it there to be grasped.

Deep into Chapter 6 the authors, which include Mexican mobile phone magnate Carlos Slim, Rwandan president Paul Kagame and ITU secretary general Hamadoun Toure, say, “The physical network is distinct from the services and functions that travel across it…If applications become ‘built in’ to the network, it might be more difficult for the natural evolution of increased functionality to occur in some cases.”

They go on to say “Policy-makers should be cautious in considering the degree to which the network operator — that is, the supplier of the physical infrastructure — should be directly involved in providing services or functionalities that use and depend upon that infrastructure.”

In a UK context, this is a clear call to split Openreach, which supplies and operates BT’s physical network, from the rest of the company, which sells services that use the network. But it is also recognition that in most countries there is little or no competition to the former (or present) state-owned monopoly network operator, particularly when the incumbent controls access to its infrastructure.

The report stops short of an explicit recommendation to set up or recreate national network monopolies to deliver broadband. The authors argue that to optimise the benefits to society, “broadband should be coordinated on a countrywide basis, promoting facilities-based competition and with policies encouraging service providers to offer access on fair market terms.”

The commission’s report shows clearly that privatisation and breaking up the former fixed network monopolies, mainly in developed countries 30 years ago, have led to lower consumer prices but patchy delivery of new technologies such as broadband.

Network operators did little to expand coverage, preferring to sweat their existing assets. As a result, mobile broadband users in Europe outnumber those with fixed wire service by two to one. In Africa, the continent served most poorly by fixed network operators, the ratio is 18:1.

The authors present much evidence, mainly from economists, that shows that, as with telephones, there is a direct correlation between broadband penetration and GDP growth. They argue for making access to broadband a universal obligation on network operators, but stop short of advocating Finland’s position where access to a 1Mbps broadband connection is a legal right.

The problem for developed countries is that having privatised their telcos, they cannot now force them to ignore economic and financial reality, and insist they rebuild their existing networks to deliver “always on, high capacity” broadband to every citizen. Developing countries may in fact have more sway over their telcos, most of which retain close relationships with the government.

In any event, the direct cost of converting existing or building fully digital networks fit for always on, high capacity broadband, (the report’s standard) is going to be high. Harald Gruber, the man who evaluates broadband project proposals for the European Investment Bank, says meeting the European Digital Agenda targets of universal broadband access by 2013 and then 30Mbps for all and 100Mbps for half by 2020, will cost between €72bn and €200bn.

According to Gruber, the bank’s “back of the envelope calculation” suggests that markets can deliver about one-third of the money at normal commercial rates. Delivering the rest will require government intervention, he says.

Fortunately for Europe, the European Commission is exploring ways to harness national budgets and other Euro budgets, and to make infrastructure investment more attractive to private sector investors.

It remains to be seen how many member states will grasp the thorn they have been presented. If they do, private investment may suddenly become easier to find.


David Brunnen, one of the authors of the report, assesses the relevance of the report for UK policy makers, telcos and funders here.