Business internet ofcom

ISPA Conference

Another busy week in prospect starting on Monday with the ISPA conference in the City of London. This is an annual event where the industry gets together to debate “commercial and regulatory issues of today and tomorrow”.

I’m on at 14.00 on a panel that discusses how ISPs can work in harmony with content providers. Other panelists are Feargal Sharkey of UK Music, Jeremy Olivier of Ofcom and Steve Purdham of We7, a music download business that was co-founded by Peter Gabriel.

This is a pretty hot topic at the moment, not only because of how piracy is hurting the music industry but also because of the pressure that legal download sources such as BBC iPlayer is placing on both ISP networks and margins.

Business ofcom voip

USA FCC Forces Mobile VoIP Providers To Support 911 (ie 999)

In the USA the Government in the guise of the Federal Communications Commission has ordered VoIP providers who allow access through mobile devices to provide their customers with support for calling Emergency Services.

It is perfectly possible for providers to do this. What isn’t possible is the identification of caller location information. In the UK Ofcom has recognised this and specifically exempts users of mobile voip services from having to provide address details. The 999 system recognises a mobile VoIP number as such.

A mobile VoIP user doesn’t of course have to use a mobile handset for this to be the case. A laptop with a softphone is a more likely scenario with users travelling between different office locations.

VoIP providers in the USA are going to have a difficult time of it methinks. They don’t appear to have the same leeway as in the UK and the FCC isn’t telling them how to go about providing the location information.

Business internet ofcom

UK Parliament and Internet Conference

Had a very interesting day today at Westminster at the 3rd Annual Parliamentary Internet Conference. The event was very well attended with standing room only for much of the time.

There were a number of headline speakers including Ed Richards, CEO of Ofcom and Francesco Caio, author of the report on Next Generation Access. I have commented on the latter in previous posts but this was the first time I have seen Ed Richards in action. His predecessor in the job, Stephen Carter, couldn’t get there on account of his being created a peer today.

Richards was very personable and cited a few facts that I use myself in talks – we obviously read the same stuff. He made one quip regarding what you would have found had you “Googled” iPod 5 years ago. The answer was nothing. “myspace” took you to an Australian home improvement store.

I guess his point was that things moved very quickly in the internet space and the proliferation of matters “internet” brought with it a snowballing set of responsibilities for Ofcom. He didn’t offer any advice as to what we should be Googling now to see the success stories five years down the line.

Business internet ofcom

Ofcom And Behavioural Marketing

If you are a tecchie you will already know about Phorm and already have formed your own views. If you are not the whole storm may have passed you by. That Phorm storm however is still a blowin’ strong.

Phorm is a system that allows an ISP to monitor the internet browsing behaviour of its customers and to thereafter provide targeted advertising based on your surfing history. The pitch from an ISP to its customers is that it will make advertising, which is going to happen anyway, more relevant and that noone could possibly object to this. The ISP benefits from enhanced click through revenues.

The objection from some consumers is that it invades privacy. It opens the door to potential problems. For example one member of the family secretly looks at pornography whilst everyone else is out of the house. Phorm recognises this and starts pushing adverts for pornography to that computer which is also being used by the kids during the day. Not good.

In principle the government is saying it is not illegal provided consumers are informed as to what they are signing up for and privacy is respected. In actual fact during early trials of the system in 2006 and 2007 by BT customers were allegedly not informed of what was happening and this is potentially being seen as illegal by the EC.

BT seems to have actually started using Phorm in a new trial under a service banner called Webwise. It is based on an opt-in policy but no mention is made, naturally, of the controversy surrounding the technology.

Yesterday a meeting was held between Ofcom and various representatives of Government and the ISP industry to discuss the subject. Present were most of the major consumer ISPs, BERR and Phorm itself. The Government doesn’t really want to get involved here and wants industry to draw up it’s own voluntary Code of Practice. “Helpfully” it has also provided an example of such a Code.

Industry, I sense, is steeling itself for another bout of legislation. It doesn’t really want to get further embroiled in red tape/codes of practice and certainly the ISPA has not begun working on one.

This certainly is an interesting industry. As a member of the ISPA Council I need to look at the subject from the perspective of the ISP membership.  Consumer ISPs will be interested in whether they can upside their margins during tough times, and who can blame them. As a director of a Business to Business ISP I have no interest in Phorm. We provide uncomplicated quality connectivity to our customers without the additional unwanted addons (plenty of wanted addons though 🙂 ). As a consumer I might or might not like the idea of Phorm.

I’ll keep you posted.

Business ofcom voip

999 Update From Ofcom

A customer of one of ITSPA’s members complained to Ofcom recently. He was unhappy about having to provide his address for the use by the Emergency Services in the event that he ever had to dial 999. His position was that the reason he had a VoIP service was that he was able to use it from many locations. Providing information regarding one location was therefore pointless (he said).

The Ofcom reply said:

“Ofcom’s view on this is that location information should be provided to the emergency services in cases where the service is being used at a predominantly fixed location. As such, nomadic users will not have their address provided to the emergency services.”

This is a useful clarification by Ofcom. VoIP users with an inbound number are in any case flagged as such if they dial 999. The operator knows to ask for confirmation of location.

The problem lies with silent calls or calls to 999 that are immediately terminated upon answer. There could be a totally innocent reason for this. For example my 4 year old son once dialled 999 by repeatedly hitting the randomly selected number 9 on our home phone. I received a callback and rebuke from the operator for letting the little dear waste their time.

However there may of course be reasons why the call was terminated that are of genuine concern. Granny consumed in the flames, attacker putting the phone down forcibly or caller collapsing on top of the phone spring to mind. You can use your own imagination here.

Because of this Timico will at least record the main company address of their VoIP users even though we know that a great many of our customers are nomadic users.

Business ofcom Regs

New Number Porting Process Thrown Into Disarray

The big news that came out yesterday was about Vodafone’s appeal against the new number porting process. I recently did a post on Portco, the new company being set up to manage an improved number porting process for the UK.

It’s a good job I didn’t give a specific date for the formation of this company because the whole activity is now being called to question. Vodafone successfully appealed against the Ofcom decision to mandate Portco on the basis that it was based on flawed judgement. If you want to read the whole judgement (and I don’t) you can find it here.

Ofcom now has to reconsider its whole approach to number porting. One has to feel sorry for the people involved in putting the whole Portco programme together. They have been hard at it since hte beginning of the year and now do not know whether their labours have been in vain. A meeting is apparently being held on the subject on the 24th September after which I assume we will know more. 

Business internet net neutrality

The complex world in which we live

I have sometimes observed at how complex the world of technology is and how difficult it is for small businesses to know whether they are making the right choices technically. 

As a provider of practically every type of communications service you can think of (satellite is the one I think we have never provided although I’m sure that some one from Timico will now correct me) we not only have to juggle with the technology and the commercial complexities thereof but also with the regulatory minefields that are liberally scattered in our way. 

As a good citizen I am actually happy to be seen to properly negotiate these minefields. My first Internet Service Providers’ Association meeting this morning  brought it home in no uncertain terms the need to have friends that can help you through.

ISPA is or has had recently to deal with subjects ranging from 

  • whether ISPs are being fair to consumers in how they advertise their broadband speeds
  • is the use of a “fair use” policy fair when your literature majors on “unlimited” broadband
  • Net Neutrality and the throttling of certain types of traffic such as peer to peer (remember P2P has legitimate uses as well as illegal ones)
  • liability of ISPs in respect of websites hosted on their equipment
  • the safety of children on the internet – ref UKCCIS – UK Council for Children Internet Safety
  • the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AMSV) and what constitutes TV and should therefore be licensed
  • Piracy
  • who pays for free content downloaded from the internet (it is possible to put a cost against a 60 minute TV show for example)
  • legal intercept of VoIP based telephone conversations
  • provision of 999 location based information
  • data retention
  • should ISPs moderate content on their network

The list is endless and represents rich pickings for the legal profession hovering nearby. I trust that I will be able to provide readers of this blog with suitable insight into these subjects as we move forward.

Business ofcom voip

Number porting

Number porting has always been a hot topic in the telecoms world. Why does it take so long? Why can I move a number from “service provider A” to “service provider B” but not from “service provider C”.

In the “old” world porting was (is) an expensive process involving one provider actually forwarding calls to another. The number is never actually ported, just diverted. Whilst the consumer doesn’t see the costs the network operator certainly does.

Way back in November 2007 Ofcom decided to make it easier for everyone, consumers and networks alike and mandated that the UK telecommunications provider industry sort itself out. What’s more Ofcom gave everyone until 31st December 2008 to get a database populated with numbers so that porting would be made easy – within 2 hours for a mobile number, for example.

This would make switching service providers really easy and provide for a more competitive marketplace etc etc.

A working party was set up that includes all major telcos in the UK together with representation of smaller businesses via ITSPA (Internet Telephony Service Providers’ Association) and others. 

This activity seems to be making progress. Portco,  new company funded by industry to manage the porting process, is on the verge of being set up and a supplier/partner to build the database is near to being selected.

The initial requirement is for mobile numbers to be easily ported. Once the database is available the industry is being given until September 2009 to get it populated after which time mobile number porting should be a cinch.

Fixed numbers don’t have to be portable in the same way until the end of 2012 but I imagine that in reality it will happen a lot sooner because it is in the interest of everyone to make it happen.

Business ofcom voip


Monday 8th of September is an important day for Internet Telephony Service Providers. This is the day by which they have to support Access to the Emergency Services by VoIP phone ie 999 must work when dialled.

There has been much debate amongst the global VoIP provider community as to how much regulation should be applied to VoIP. In the USA it centres largely on commercial issues. In other words telephone calls are taxed but VoIP calls were not taxed, at least initially. The argument was that VoIP calls are actually just computer to computer data traffic and not telephony as traditionally defined.

The incumbent telephony providers have fought hard to have VoIP  calls taxed in order to remove the competitive advantage notionally handed to VoIP companies.  Clearly it is in the interest of the VoIP provider community not to be subject to taxation. The justification for this is that it would stifle innovation amongst new market entrants. There is a case for this.

In the UK the argument is different. Regulation is not so much about taxation as personal safety. In this case Ofcom, the UK regulator, has mandated that if you provide telephony services that allow connection to and from traditional PSTN phone numbers you must provide access to the Emergency Services.

The Ofcom pronouncement comes with constraints including making sure that customers are aware that VoIP calls probably aren’t going to work if there is a power cut of if the broadband connection carrying the calls is down.

I am fully supportive of the Ofcom position.  What is going to be interesting is how the regulator responds to companies like Skype who at this time do not support 999 access and as far as I am aware have no plans to do so. Buyer beware.

End User ofcom security


Oh oh here come the pirates!

What a rogue.

It’s a constant battle.

Everyone needs a little help.

Ofcom to the rescue.


broadband Business ofcom

Ofcom Eases Up on Returns on Investment for Next Generation Broadband

In my post “Who pays for next generation broadband” I mentioned that BT were complaining that the regulatory environment in the UK positively discouraged investment in a high speed broadband network (read fibre) because it did not allow a return on investment commensurate with the risks involved.

Well Ofcom head Ed Richards seems to have made an about turn on this in a speech he made to the “Intellect Conference 2008” on 3rd July.

I’ve pasted an extract here:

“Our position is clear. Ofcom favours a regulatory environment for the next generation of networks and access that both allows and encourages operators to make risky investments, to innovate for the benefit of consumers and, if the risks pay off, for the benefit of their shareholders too.

We are very clear that if operators are going to make investments in new infrastructure, investment that is inherently more risky than developing the existing infrastructure, then they need to know that the regulatory framework will allow them to make and keep a rate of return that is commensurate with the risks they are taking.”

I can’t imagine that anyone will be unhappy about this though we still have to see someone stepping up to the plate with the requisite investment. UK PLC does need to be looking beyond 21CN for the IP connectivity that will allow the true exploitation of the promise of the internet.

broadband Business ofcom

Who Pays for Next Generation Broadband?

Interesting enough debate at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in London today with the latest Telecommunications Executive Networking bash. The subject was Next Generation (NGN) broadband and specifically who is going to pay for it.


The debate was prompted by the BT position that the UK regulator OFCOM does not allow the company to make return on investment to justify spending money on an NGN network.


Panelists included Andrew Heaney from Carphone Warehouse, Kip Meek from the Broadband Stakeholders’ Group and David Campbell, Director of NGA at Openreach. It is actually a complex and highly politically charged subject when you take into consideration that BT (Openreach) has Universal Service Obligations.


In short the assembled masses, the great and the good of the UK Telecommunications industry, concluded that they wanted an NGN network to be privately funded.


A few interesting points came out of the meeting. Of the two hundred or more attendees the majority of them were equipment vendors. There can’t have been more than ten or fifteen hands up from ISPs. I’d have thought that the ISP community would have been more interested than this turnout suggests. Perhaps this is because there are few (if any) ISPs who could afford even to consider investing £12 billion in a high speed broadband network. No one is going to be able to do it alone.


There seemed also to me to be a level of ignorance as to why a high speed (100Mbps) network might be wanted. What applications would drive this they were asking?  In my experience at Timico once people get given higher speed access they find ways of using it. The move from 2Mbps ADSL to 8Mbps (up to J ) ADSL Max prompted a large increase in average usage per tail.


Andrew Heaney could see that a NGN would be required but that this wasn’t going to be for some time to come. He intimated that he would be looking to begin looking at such a network in a 2 – 4 year timeframe. He also suggested that traffic was doubling every two years. This is slightly slower growth than others in the industry are forecasting.


Whilst the chicken and the egg come into this calculation to some extent my rough back of a beer mat calculation goes like this.  Traffic doubling every 2 years is the same as being given double the download bandwidth in the same timeframe. On this basis the arrival in 2008 of (up to) 24Mbps  should prompt the need for 48 Mbps in 2010 and 96Mbps in 2012. This isn’t particularly scientific but it does provide a rough guide to the way that market demand could go.


There isn’t a plan on the table today for 96Mbps but 50Mbps is available now from Virgin. If anything would be geared to make the board of BT press the investment button for Next Generation broadband it would be seeing their market share going to Virgin.


Practically everyone in the room said they would be prepared to pay the additional £8 a month for NGN broadband that the £12bn investment is supposed to mean. Of course this is easy for a room full of well paid company directors to decide, The Openreach position is that the value in the market has disappeared and that consumers have been lead to expect faster broadband for less money.


We shall see. Interesting times ahead.