Tag Archives: EU

European Commission on the future of the Internet

The European Commission has just published a communication which describes the broad lines of its Internet policy in the coming years. Vint Cerf, on the Google Public Policy blog sees this as a very interesting vision.

Indeed, it closely links the issue of openness of the Internet to several obvious and not-so-obvious factors. An open Internet relies on an open market that allows innovation, but at the same time sufficiently regulated to prevent incumbents to outplay newcomers. The communication also supports Net neutrality, noting the current practices of traffic prioritizing used by ISPs may prove to be anti-competitive.

Vint also notes that the European vision considers open standards and open interfaces to be vital part of an open Internet. While open standards is a given in the Internet world, thanks to  the IETF, the concept of open interfaces is quite new in this context.  It has been used previously in the investigations of the Commission on Microsoft’s anti-competitive behaviours. So, my understanding of the term “open interfaces” in this context is that it covers everything that is preventing vendor lock-in, like open file formats.

It is good also to read that the Commission wants to add broadband Internet access in the Universal Service.  Currently, many parts of rural Europe do not have broadband Internet access, because the costs of deploying an infrastructure is disproportionate with the expected returns. If broadband is included in the Universal Service, it will mean operators will be forced to offer the service, but at the same time public authorities will be allowed to subsidize it.

All in all, this seems like the way to go. It does not mean that citizens should sign a blank check to the governements and ISPs in hope that they will implement this vision the right way. The devil is often in the details, as the recent discussion in the European Parliament has demonstrated. If there had been no citizen’s actions, we might have ended up with the awful “graduated response” proposal that would have allowed Hollywood to decide who gets access to the Internet. By the way, congratulations to the European chapters of ISOC to have raised the issue.

We need real paneuropean mobile operators

I got my mobile phone bill in the mail the other day and, again, I nearly got a heart attack.   It has been like this for over the last 10 years. Whatever I do, this bill is always way higher than expected.

I tried everything from switching operators to  spending hours figuring out the optimal subscription plan. I do not place calls from my mobile if I can avoid it, especially abroad. I avoid SMS when e-mail is possible. I do not even dare to use the data services, although I have a 3G phone.  Still no luck. The main issue is that I work in a small country, live in the country nearby and often go to a two other countries for shopping and leisure. I am roaming on other networks than my home one 75% of the time. While this may sound unusual, actually this is what the whole European Union construction is all about: abolish borders.

I decided last year to subcribe to Transatel, a MNVO (Mobile Network Virtual Operator). In short, they do not have a network on their own, but buy capacity from other operators. It looked attractive because they cover several countries. They give you a local phone number in each country you choose. This makes it cheaper for the people calling you.  I can receive calls on my Luxembourg number while in Belgium and no roaming charges will apply. Sort of. Because, actually, you only get a limited number of minutes each month for call transfers across countries. Once you have reached the threshold, you are billed for the call transfers. This is just roaming charges by another name. At the time of subscription, they promised my monthly bill would be 50% lower. It looks like my usage profile was not part of their statistical sample…

The European mobile market is very fragmented. Each country has 3 or 4 mobile operators. Even those self labelled paneuropean networks like Vodaphone or Orange are actually alliances of different national operators, loosely tied by a similar logo.  All the rest of their offerings is different: subscription plans, services, phone numbers and roaming charges.  As for roaming charges, I noticed on several occasions in the past that if your home network operator is a Vodaphone partner, it may sometimes be cheaper to select a non-Vodaphone network abroad.

Those alliances are another way to make the offers more opaque to better fool the customer. On the economics of the mobile market, there is this interesting post from Kurtis Linqvist (thanks to Patrik Fältström for the link) . Just like Kurtis, I agree that there is no such thing as free and open mobile markets  in Europe.  I, too, hope the European Commission will continue to regulate the market until such time that it will cost the same price to call a mobile in Stockholm from Madrid that it is to place call from Los Angeles to Washington.  At&T in the US has a subscription plan for unlimited voice calls throughout the US for USD99.99/month. Unfortunately, given the current market conditions, I do not see a similar paneuropean offer any time soon.

European Commission pushes IPv6 forward

The European Commission has released a communication on IPv6, in time for the IPv6 Day in Brussels next 30th May.  It goes in the same direction as the report presented at the OECD Ministerial meeting on “Future of the Internet Economy”, that was held in Seoul, Korea earlier this next month. At the same time, the Commission committed to make its own web services available on IPv6 by 2010.

It is good to see that intergovermental organizations take the lead on this, after 10 years of failure of the private sector to actually deploy IPv6. This is a good example of why governments are needed in the Internet governance arena, be it the IGF or the GAC in ICANN.

Quick and dirty fixes like NATs allow for small investments and high short-term returns. This is what most CEOs in the Internet industry are concerned with,  because they risk to get fired if they do not provide a good and quick return to shareholders. When a long term and societal vision is needed, governments become key leading partners.

It is true that these governments also include a bunch of “supreme guides of the people’s revolution” and other sorts of autocrats and dictators. Indeed, they censor and control their local Internet. These are the same people who control other media like TV or the written press. There is nothing new under the sun, and I still do not understand some in the Internet community who like us to think the Net is different from other media and that the (bad) rules do not apply.

This is why we need the increased presence of democratic governments in Internet governance circles. Unfortunately, the current ideology in democratic countries is to let the private sector do whatever it  wants, with little political support. Not-so-democratic governments, on the contrary, tend to be very active. The end result, as we see in the IGF, is that the latter come up with requests that neither the private sector nor the “civil society” (whatever that means) can counter, because they lack the political weight. A good dictator knows the best way to silence the private sector is to become one of its customers, because no company wants to loose business.  Which leads us back to paragraph 3 above.