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The Incumbents’ Net Discrimination Plan Exposed

27 Nov

I was just pointed to this fantastic German video that ‘unveils’ Deutsche Telekom’s plans with internet discrimination. It’s both funny (because it turns every creepy aspect of it into a ‘feature’, like “you will no longer be bothered by these thousands of services you could never figure out“) and scary, because from all I can gather in discussions with Incumbents across Europe and the US, this is exactly what they hope to achieve. Seriously worth watching.

Oh, and since I always insist on the lobbyists working for Big Telecom being exposed, the guys behind this are Internet activists, and you can find them on

Behind the Great Firewall

3 Sep


I’ve been living in China for close to 4 weeks now. Admittedly not long enough to get a real sense for what it is to live here, especially since my living conditions are not exactly similar to those of your average Chinese citizen, but enough to have faced a number of challenges on the connectivity side that I thought were worth sharing, especially since they cast a different light on some of the debates that are still raging in the west around Net Neutrality and traffic discrimination.

To clarify a number of things up front, I have fiber in my home, or at least what’s advertised as fiber (I suspect it’s FTTB, which is indeed considered fiber in most of the world) with a nominal service of 100 Mbps down and 4 Mbps up. As a foreigner here, I have essentially two issues:

  • the general low quality of any traffic outside of China,
  • the large number of blocked services.

The former is a challenge because most if not all of what I access is not hosted in China. As a consequence, no matter what I’m trying to do, my speed is close to what I’d expect of a slow DSL or even worse. And there’s nothing I can do about that. It’s not censorship, at least not openly, but it’s traffic degradation for sure.

The latter is an addressable challenge, at least on paper. I subscribed to a VPN service before I came, and it’s been working fine, mostly, except that by definition the VPN tunnels to a non-Chinese destination (hence crappy bandwidth) and also that it’s regularly targeted by the Chinese authorities, so somewhat unreliable. Sometimes it kicks me out, sometimes it slows to a crawl.

What astonished me was the sheer scale of the stuff that’s forbidden. The most shocking discovery (and with a great impact for me) was to find out that all Google services have been blocked since the doodle on June 4th to commemorate Tienanmen Square. And when I say all, it really is everything: search engine, mail, maps, shared documents, everything. Dropbox is also blocked, for reasons unknown. Every large non-Chinese hosted blog platform (blogger, of course, but also wordpress, tumblr, etc.) is out.

And then there’s the sheer randomness of it all. Some services you can’t access for no apparent reason, others are so slow that you can’t figure out if they’re blocked or just snail-paced. And as I experience this, I wish some of our politicians and media people, those who see net neutrality as the enemy, I wish they’d come here and experience what a radical version of non-neutrality is. Again, I have a VPN service to overcome most of this (at the cost of speed) but most people don’t and/or can’t afford one.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that not enshrining net neutrality is the equivalent of doing what the Chinese (or Iranian, or Indian) government does. But I look at the UK’s blocking mechanisms supposed to protect children but really targeting just about any kind of site for arcane reasons that no one can figure out, and I think that what I have here is an extreme version of the same thing.

After years of experiencing a reliable internet, one where you don’t have to wonder before you access content or as you wait for it to load whether it’s actually accessible, being behind the Great Firewall is a humbling experience. You suddenly become aware of things you had forgotten, like the importance of your page loading within a reasonable amount of time.

Etsy last week came out with an impassioned plea for Net Neutrality for that reason alone : the smaller commercial sites will actually lose business (more business) to the large retailers under a net discrimination regime, simply because they won’t be able to afford the cost of bringing down their page load times. Meanwhile, a moronic French representative of rights holders comes out with a speech where he argues that Net Neutrality protects the big guys (meaning Americans) against the little guys (meaning French) and I’m thinking this guy should come here a bit and experience a radical version of what he’s wishing for.

They say you don’t know what you have until you lost it. In the case of an open internet, I’m certainly here to tell you that that’s true.

Photo: The Great Wall of China (CC) lutmans

The Right to be Forgotten

2 Jun

For the last few days I’ve been musing about the recent “right to be forgotten” that has been imposed on Google (and, presumably other search engines, although I haven’t looked at Bing and others in any detail on this issue). Read this good Techcrunch feature if you don’t know what I’m talking about. And then I watched the excellent segment above last night and things started to coalesce.

Needless to say, I think it’s a bad idea. If you are (to take a hypothetical example) a failed Spanish business man who is tired of people finding newspaper articles on your failures, you should turn to said newspapers and ask them to remove the incriminating articles from their online archives, or at least delete your name. The newspapers are the ones who wrote about you. Google changes nothing conceptually from someone finding an article on you in the paper archives of a library. Sure, it’s easier to find information on you via a search engine today than it was twenty years ago, but the search engine is not responsible for the information it links to.

The implementation seems even more ridiculous to me. Quite simply, here it is: I can see three circumstances here where this plays out, and all three are different :

  • first, you post stuff that you regret later. Then it’s your responsibility to remove it. Or it should have been your responsibility to not post it in the first place. Ignorance is a lame excuse in that instance: it’s been said enough that anything posted to the internet is there forever.
  • second, someone (an individual) posts stuff about you that harms your reputation (photos, sex-tapes, illegal recording). Then there are laws to protect you, you should sue their ass and get the content removed by law.
  • third, the (online) press at large writes about you. That’s not a search engine issue, it’s a freedom of the press issue. If it’s defamatory, you sue.

In none of these circumstances is the fact that potentially harmful information about you is available on the internet Google’s responsibility. None.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not about absolving Google on all issues, but on this particular issue, I think this is totally wrong-headed. Ironically, Google is playing this the way they play best: they’re playing dumb. The process to remove things is so manual and so subjective that the results will most likely be disheartening for anyone who wants out of Google.

And, as John Oliver points out in the video above, the Spanish guy who wanted his debts forgotten now is famous worldwide… for his debts.

Talking Smart Cities in Stockholm

5 Mar

The week before last, after the FTTH Council Conference in Stockholm, Stokab and Stocholm IT Region organized an event for their customers and stakeholders. They filmed the whole proceedings and have put it all up on a the Stockholm IT Region website. Since all of the speeches were of great interest, here are individual links to each one of them:

The morning started with an address by the Chairman of the Board of Stokab, followed by a fun presentation on the history of telecommunications in Stockholm by Anders Johansson.

This was followed by a very interesting presentation by Ericsson’s Head of Strategic Marketing on Smart Cities, presenting Ericsson’s Networked Society Index. You can find the Index itself here. What was interesting, beyond the ranking itself, was the trends emerging in terms of infrastructure, affordability of services and usage maturity.

Which led to Diffraction Analysis’ intervention, specifically on Smart Cities and the Infrastructure issues that are raised by connected community initiatives. It’s not the first time we deliver this speech, but I believe it was very appropriate to this audience and went down well. You be the judge.

Then followed an excellent speech by Christopher Mitchell on the US market and how some cities are taking broadband matters into their own hands (and others can’t). Christopher also talked about Google Fiber and the impact it’s having on the US market.

Henry Quek of Singapore’s regulator iDA then detailed how Singapore led the pack in terms of NGA and structural separation, and in particular showed how despite quasi-universal coverage the story is not over. Some fascinating things about enabling Smart City applications there, and a graph from Diffraction Analysis research quoted, always good for our ego.

The final speaker of the day was Chorus’ Martin Sharrock who explained very clearly how groundbreaking the New Zealand NGA model is, and the challenges that it faces from political turmoil.

There was finally a 45mn Q&A session with Ulla Hamilton (City of Stockholm), Crister Mattsson (Acreo) and Benoît Felten (Diffraction Analysis). The discussion was very complementary to some of the discussions had during the Investor’s Day earlier in the week: EU political process, structural separation, community involvement, etc.

Since Stokab then ran separate interviews of all the speakers, here’s Benoît Felten’s interview that summarizes some of the topics discussed during the presentations and panel discussions.

Gigabit Musings

21 Jun

Just a quick note to point out two recent articles on gigabit broadband.

Despite similarities in theme, the two are very different and address different facets of a same issue.

Broadband and Over-the-Top

17 Jun

Plum Consulting has released a really excellent and concise paper on the impact of over-the-top services on the telco business model. It’s entitled (appropriately) Over-the-top – hindering or helping achieve European Digital Agenda goals? If you read me on a regular basis, you will find a lot of the arguments exposed there to be familiar. What I find interesting though is the way they’re framed.

Brian Williamson who wrote the paper notes something important, and that is that the rate of growth of internet traffic, both over fixed and mobile networks is slowing down considerably. The source for this information is Cisco’s own Visual Network Index, hardly a source that could be suspected of downplaying traffic growth. Indeed, there’s a note by Karl Bode on that same topic that’s a little more direct, shall we say. He called it So Much for that Exaflood, Huh? I wish Andrew Odlyzko was still compiling internet traffic growth data like he used to: even back in 2008-2009 he was pointing out that actual growth numbers were systematically lower than predicted growth numbers.

All this to say that the argument that telco lobbyists constantly use that traffic growth is killing them is nonsensical: traffic growth is now lower than the capacity growth enabled by equipment renewal!

Anyway, Plum Consulting’s piece is on the point and recommends three complimentary policy actions (and I quote):

  • Promotion of the principle that consumers should have access to lawful applications and content of their choice.
  • Limiting use of the term “internet access” to those access providers who offer full and non-discriminatory access to lawful internet based applications.
  • Extending the concept of equivalence to internet applications in addition to network access and requiring equal treatment for over-the-top and vertically integrated services.

That last point goes above and beyond anything we have seen in policy circles ever on this topic, and I don’t dream of ever seeing it applied unless telcos start embracing OTT as a delivery mechanism for their own products and services (which some are doing, albeit quietly).

But even the first two bullets, which seem kind of straight-forward, I don’t believe will be implemented. As I wrote this morning in a ZDNet France article (in French) entitled Transparence n’est pas Neutralité (Transparency isn’t Neutrality), Neelie Kroes’s discourse shifted from protecting a neutral internet to demanding an internet where discrimination is transparent.

I’m not optimistic.


Photo Credits: CC Claremont Colleges Digital Library

Collaborative is the new black

21 May

Last week I had the opportunity to speak about Net Neutrality at two separate events organised for and around internet start-ups. The first was an informal gathering organised by the recently founded France Digitale, a structure devoted to carrying the voice of internet entrepreneurs to the French government (who seems to rarely understand the specifics of start-ups). The second was a broader and more formal event called Web2Day. It’s an annual gathering in Nantes, and even though I only really had half a day there, I loved every bit of it and will undoubtedly attend again.

Of particular interest to me was a panel on the collaborative economy, a euphemism for all those disruptive business models (from project financing to accomodation  booking) that circumvent the established aggregation structures like banks and hotel chains to address the end-user directly. I’m fascinated by the potential of these initiatives. On the panel in particular were Kiss Kiss Bank Bank and AirBnB, two emblematic examples of such collaborative initiatives.

The potential for disruption of these initiatives is hard to assess. Of course, they themselves think they are changing the world, and maybe they are, but at the same time they’re careful to stress that by and large they are not displacing existing business models as much as complimenting them (for example AirBnB insisted that the places where they see the most supply and demand are places where there’s very little accomodation to be found anyway because these places are saturated with demand.) At first I thought that was naïve or disingeneous, but at the same time I can’t really figure out how these currently grassroots initiatives may grow in the future.

A point about the disintermediation that I found interesting was the element of trust. Kiss Kiss Bank Bank for example insisted on the fact that very few of the projects the platform finances result in crooks taking the money and bailing, simply because most of the financing comes from people who know the entrepreneur personally. The interpersonal trust is an additional layer of stability into the system.

All this connects with the work of two of my favourite people: Robin Chase and her various carsharing endeavours, and Doc Searls and his Vendor Relationship Management approach. In fact, the latter is why The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge is on my to read list. I’ll tell you about it once I’ve read it.

So much for mobile-only network strategies…

16 May

I had a “wow!” moment this morning reviewing a presentation given by WiK’s Scott Marcus entitled State-of-the-Art Mobile Internet connectivity (thanks for Chris Marsden for pointing this out).

In particular, there’s one graph in there that blew my mind, I’m reproducing it here.


Source: Mobidia / Informa (2013)

This shows the proportion of mobile data traffic that is offloaded to private wifi networks (in blue) or public wifi networks (in light blue). Basically, only a quarter to a third of the data traffic consumed by mobile devices is actually delivered over mobile networks (except in Japan and India where it’s half).


Take that, “we’ll only need mobile networks in the future” posse…

Data Caps are the new front on the net neutrality war

2 May

Gaffel Kolsch by Generallysceptical ) on

The tech press has been abuzz last week when it was first leaked and later announced that Deutsche Telekom would soon apply data caps to their wireline broadband offers (see this Fierce Telecom article for details.) Unlike AT&T style caps, heavy users will not be charged overage, they will be throttled to service levels marginally higher than what we’d get in the days of dial-up.

The company, as is often the case with these stories, claims that this is to avoid the cost of bandwidth hogs spilling over to the general public’s subscriptions. It’s not.

Caps serve no purpose in managing traffic flows, as Diffraction Analysis clearly demonstrated in our study last year entitled Do Data Caps Punish the Wrong Users. In fact, that’s even been admitted semi-officially by the head of the US Cable lobbying association. Data Caps serve no purpose other than to create a very strong disincentive for customers to consume video “over the top”. The fact that DTs own video-on-demand service will not count as part of the monthly traffic allowance is to be expected, and is a clear giveaway.

DT is playing foul, but that is also to be expected: this is just a new front in the war against Net Neutrality. Since operators, incumbents in particular, can’t get a clear go-ahead on the ability to throttle online service providers to their hearts’ content or to make them pay a toll for delivering traffic to end-users who have already paid for the right to access that content, they’re creating barriers on the side of the end-users to make their own service offerings unfairly competitive.

The real question is what happens next: will DT lobby the government and regulator to apply the same caps to their wholesale bitstream offers ? I suspect they will, just as it happened in Canada. Otherwise, other operators in the market will start advertising no-capping policies, and if they’re smart they’ll even start partnering with online content providers to drive the difference (for more on that see Diffraction Analysis’ latest report Building the Optimal NGA Service Portfolio). That could mean loss of market share for DT.

Is the German market truly competitive ? Guess we’ll know soon enough.


Photo Credits: Gaffel Kolsch by Generallysceptical (CC)

Debunking the Free-Rider Myth

4 Apr

The debate on net neutrality has been heated these last few months, with various initiatives both at policy levels and ISP levels highlighting the need to clarify how internet traffic is carried so that journalists and members of the public can form an opinion on these issues for themselves. A while ago, I was asked by Google to write a paper aiming to do just that. It was released yesterday under the title There’s no economic imperative to reconsider an open internet.

I’m quite proud about this. Working on this paper gave me the opportunity to really explore the net discrimination arguments and examine their worth. My conclusions are expressed in the title: there is no big issue related to the cost of traffic management, even as the traffic itself increases. I hope you find the paper interesting, and feel free to spread it around.