Business Legal Regs

Enabling better business connectivity by reforming the Electronic Communications Code

domnhall dods electronic communications act reformDomhnall Dods says the next Government should be looking at Electronic Communications Code reform

Thirty years ago we saw the start of a new era in the UK telecommunications market. The Telecoms Act 1984 introduced competition and included the Electronic Communications Code which regulates the relationship between landowners and telecoms network providers.  The primary policy objective of the Code was to enable operators to develop networks and encourage competition where previously BT had been the only operator. Unfortunately the Code never fulfilled its intended purpose and is seldom used due to the complexity of the processes and the very poor drafting of the Code.

This matters because the economy depends to an ever increasing extent on digital connectivity. In 2013 in their report on the Code, the Law Commission cited research showing the value to the economy of our industry as some £35 billion.  For businesses a fast reliable connection is now vital. Consumers too increasingly regard superfast broadband as an essential service. Demand for bandwidth continues to grow.  To deliver the 21st Century services that the UK needs, we need to enable investment in the networks needed to provide such services.

A modern, workable legal framework would help encourage fresh investment in UK telecoms infrastructure.  This is an immediate regulatory step the Government could take to reduce the costs of network extension and so drive investment and innovation.

The current Code – outdated and counter-productive

The Code is widely regarded as a poor piece of legislation. In the main communications providers have tended to find other ways to avoid or overcome land access problems. They do this by finding alternative routes, sometimes by paying up the sums demanded for access as the need to connect a customer is so urgent, or in extreme cases by simply not installing the infrastructure at all.

The issue was examined by the courts in the Bridgewater Canal case when Geo Networks sought to install additional fibres in existing ducts under the Bridgewater Canal. The landowner claimed Geo had to pay more fees in addition to those paid for the existing ducts installed under the canal. Geo sought to rely on the code but this meant pursuing the matter through the courts for a number of years, ultimately ending in the Court of Appeal.

Mr Justice Lewison said of the Code “ In my view it must rank as one of the least coherent and thought-through pieces of legislation in the statute book”.

The Law Commission

Under pressure from industry the Government instructed the Law Commission to look into the matter in 2011.  In 2013 the Commission recommended that a brand new code be drafted, starting with a blank sheet of paper.

Two years have now passed since the Law Commission’s recommendations were published but nothing was done until January of 2015. Then the Government rushed out amendments to the Infrastructure Bill which would have totally rewritten the Code. Unfortunately while the intent was good, the execution was poor and the proposals had to be withdrawn in the face of opposition from both communications providers and landowners. Nothing can now be done before the election but DCMS has issued a consultation on what a new code might look like so there is hope that reform might still take place after May and that the UK might at long last have a Communications Code fit for the 21st Century.

This should be an issue which commands cross-party support.  The Government, announcing an agreement with the mobile networks to enhance their coverage, described the code as ‘out-dated and ineffective’ whilst the Opposition said during parliamentary debate of the Code last year that they ‘have made it very clear that we are in favour (of reforming the code)’.

A new Code is needed to make the UK an investment friendly environment

Crucially, the UK is now falling behind other European countries in the support given to those responsible for maintaining our digital infrastructure. For example, while network upgrades in the United Kingdom can (as shown by the Bridgewater Canal case) be a lengthy and expensive process and can require network operators to pursue costly legal action, other countries recognise the economic importance of such work and allow much quicker methods with less red tape.

If the Government is to achieve its stated ambitions in relation to world class communications infrastructure then it needs to reform the Code. The industry has been campaigning for this reform since 2009. What is needed now is political leadership and a commitment to produce a workable Code which balances the interests of network operators and landowners alike. Failure to do so will put the UK at an economic and competitive disadvantage. Businesses and consumers cannot afford for the UK government to continue to prevaricate on this issue.

Improvements and repairs are being delayed

Failure to reform the Code will continue to hinder the ability of communications providers to build the infrastructure needed to compete with BT. It also limits the utility of regulatory remedies such as passive access to BT’s infrastructure – in order to use the duct and pole sharing products which BT was ordered to make available, BT’s rivals need first to negotiate with landowners for the right to install their own fibre in BT’s existing ducts since wayleaves almost always prohibit the sharing of the duct with other operators.

This runs contrary to Ofcom and Government policies of encouraging infrastructure sharing. The current system builds in delays with the rental negotiation and other administrative processes, all backed up by a code which is so cumbersome as to be unworkable when seeking access to land to install infrastructure. Delays in rolling out network are   frustrating both to customers (particularly businesses) and to communications providers alike.

Reforming the Code – what needs to be done

It is widely recognised that the current Code is outdated and no longer fit for purpose. It was drafted in an age when electronic communications were less of a priority whereas they are now a vital part of any business and regarded as an integral part of everyone’s life. As the Law Commission put it “The current Code is complex and confusing, it is inconsistent with other legislation, and it is not up-to-date with modern technology.”

There is considerable detail behind the issues highlighted above and this article cannot properly cover all the salient points. However, the starting point would be to address the following headline requirements:

  1. Wholesale review of the procedural aspects of the Code, including changing the forum for resolving disputes from the Sheriff and County Court to the Lands Tribunal and standardising procedures and powers throughout the Code. An efficient, workable process is required.
  2. Clear guidelines on the basis for payments, to be unequivocally based on compensation for rights taken, thereby providing certainty as to likely costs and eliminating the possibility of ransom rents being demanded.
  3. Decouple right of access to install apparatus from payment, thus enabling communications providers to proceed with installation and resolve payment disputes subsequently which would avoid delaying network rollout and ransom situations. Time is of the essence and communications providers need certainty as to timescales as much as they do about costs.
  4. Clear statement regarding the Crown and Duchies, which currently fall under special regimes which are not conducive to NGA rollout.
  5. A fundamental review of the Code and establishing a valuation framework looking at comparable network industries in the UK such as the energy and water industries. The services carried may differ but the fundamental nature is shared, ie a network infrastructure providing business and consumers with essential services.
  6. Standardised terms and conditions, possibly using a reference offer, mandating infrastructure sharing and open access conditions.  This would eliminate the competitive advantage which BT continues to enjoy as a legacy of its former monopoly status.
  7. No contracting out, voiding any contract term for contracting out of the code or penalties on operators using the Code.
  8. Repeal of The Electronic Communications Code (Conditions & Restrictions) Regulations 2003 which require network providers to have financial instruments in place to pay for the removal or making safe of their network should they cease trading.


Significant reform of the Electronic Communications Code is needed to deliver efficient and more effective delivery of increased competition as we move forwards into an era when fibre to the premises can be envisaged as being required. Network upgrade and extension will therefore assume an increased importance and relevance. It is vital that this is not compromised by outdated and unworkable statutory provisions.

The industry has been urging Government for at least 6 years to look at improving the Electronic Communications Code;  UK businesses and consumers cannot afford to wait any longer for change in this fundamental piece of legislation which underpins the ability of communications providers to provide the infrastructure which the UK needs and the public increasingly expects.

This post was written by Domhnall Dods in a personal capacity.

Domhnall is a highly experienced telecoms lawyer and regulatory expert He has worked in the telecoms industry since 1996 having spent 12 years as Head of Regulatory Affairs at THUS plc. (1996 -2009).

On leaving THUS he joined Towerhouse LLP, a law firm specialising in the regulated sectors of the economy.  Domhnall trained and qualified as a solicitor with Shepherd & Wedderburn WS in Edinburgh, qualifying in 1990.  He was educated at the University of Aberdeen and Napier University Edinburgh.

Other political week posts on

James Firth on why government should stop looking to big corporates for tech innovation

Gus Hosein on Data Protection Reform and Surveillance

The Julian Huppert crowd funding campaign here

Paul Bernal suggests government should hire advisers who know what they are doing

See all our regulatory posts here.

Business Cloud Legal Regs

Cloud Uncertainties

Andrew Cormack Andrew Cormack of Jisc asks the next government for cloud policy guidance over safe and lawful use of cloud offerings

Cloud computing, used appropriately, could benefit many organisations. Cloud services could let businesses deploy robust websites for their customers, provide best-of-breed collaboration tools for their staff or store information in highly secure data centres. Scarce and valuable IT experts might no longer need to spend their time operating commodity systems, but could concentrate on developing and building innovative new services. New ideas could be brought into production without major capital investment. But at the moment many responsible organisations are not taking up those opportunities because of uncertainties over compliance and risk.

The problem has become particularly apparent during Jisc’s discussions with universities, colleges and cloud providers. In trying to identify appropriate services and agreements for the education sector we’ve heard many different, often conflicting, opinions on what legal and organisational arrangements are required. Even when looking at application-level services, which should be a simple translation of existing sub-contracting arrangements, it’s not clear which configurations count as international nor which of at least three possible legal provisions applies to those that do. For lower-level platform and infrastructure services, some of the implications of privacy law seem bizarre – will the law really compel an infrastructure provider to examine its customers’ information, rather than treating it as just bytes, in order to ensure it is taking appropriate measures to protect it? Organisations that want to be sure they protect information according to the law and best practice might well give up on clouds, even if their own systems cannot provide the same security against physical, technical or social attack.

We had hoped that Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation would provide some clarity; it was, after all, announced as being “cloud-friendly”. However the various draft texts only deal with cloud services provided direct to European consumers or those used within a business group. For organisations that want to use third-party clouds to deliver their own services there is no obvious assistance. Indeed some proposals would actually increase the number and complexity of overlapping legal options that need to be taken into account.

This silence could, however, provide an opportunity for the UK to take a lead. It seems unlikely that more law is needed – the current problem is too much of that rather than too little. Much better would be clear cloud policy guidance, and possibly exemplars, for when and how third-party cloud services should be used. These should cover all levels of cloud provision, from infrastructure to application, and involve real-world situations, such as a SaaS cloud being built on an IaaS infrastructure. Clear statements of policy and regulation would help cloud providers develop appropriate platforms and contracts, while reassuring potential tenants that they can safely and lawfully use cloud offerings as a basis for their operations and services.

Without such cloud policy guidance and reassurance there is a risk that new applications will only be developed and deployed in the cloud by those unconcerned with compliance or user safety. Organisations that want to do the right thing will be hindered and delayed by the difficulty of working out what that is.

Andrew Cormack joined Janet, the UK’s National Research and Education Network, as Head of CERT in 1999. He is now the network’s Chief Regulatory Adviser, concerned with the legal, policy and security issues involved in providing the network and networked services to universities, colleges and research organisations. Previously he worked for Cardiff University’s IT Services operating, among other things, the first web cache in Wales. He can be found on Twitter as @Janet_LegReg and blogs at

Other political week posts on

James Firth on why government should stop looking to big corporates for tech innovation

Gus Hosein on Data Protection Reform and Surveillance

The Julian Huppert crowd funding campaign here

Paul Bernal suggests government should hire advisers who know what they are doing

See all our regulatory posts here.

End User Legal Regs

Internet Policy advice for whoever wins next election

Paul Bernal government internet policy

Paul Bernal offers winners of general election advice re government internet policy – how about hiring advisers who know what they are talking about

Perhaps the most defining feature of government internet policy – and this means pretty much all governments around the world, and particularly the last two governments here in the UK – is its incompetence. It has also been largely pretty illiberal, but for the current government at least that should be no surprise because illiberalism has characterised almost all its policies.

That illiberalism, however, does not seem to be as pronounced as its incompetence. Very little that governments want to do – or at least say they want to do – do they actually achieve. Their measures against copyright infringements fail to stop copyright infringements. Their surveillance plans fail to catch terrorists. Their ‘porn’ filters fail to prevent people having access to porn.

What’s more, their efforts have side effects – and indeed often appear to be worse than ineffective: they’re actually counter-productive. Measures against copyright infringement encourage piracy and the development of new methods of illegal file-sharing. ‘Porn’ filters block sex education sites. Mass surveillance distracts from and sucks resources from more direct, targeted forms of intelligence work – in France, for example, conventional surveillance of the Charlie Hebdo shooters was dropped for lack of resources six months before the shootings, while money was being spent on ineffective mass surveillance.

There are two immediate questions to ask about that incompetence: why does it happen, and how can it be avoided?

Answering the first is complex – but a significant part of it is the ignorance of the politicians. They don’t understand the internet, the people who spend time on the internet and how they spend their time. They design their policies based on false assumptions and bad advice – advice from people who themselves either don’t understand the internet or have a vested interest in a particular kind of solution. Copyright legislation based on the advice of the copyright lobby. ‘Porn’ filters based on the beliefs (and that is the appropriate word) of people who essentially don’t like porn, and think that’s enough to build a system on. Surveillance systems based on the advice of what might be loosely called the spooks.

That, then, leads to the answer to the second – and to the policy that I would suggest to whatever government comes into power in May. The government needs better advice – and very different advisers. A panel of advisers should be put together, drawing not on the usual suspects – the PR people of the ‘copyright lobby’, the heads of the intelligence services, the pressure groups of the ‘family’ lobby – but on people with real knowledge and understanding of both the internet and the community that spend time there. There is a huge amount of expertise out there, if only the government were willing to consult them.

 These experts should come from the internet industry itself – and by that I mean people working not just for the government’s current favourite internet giants, whether that be Google or Facebook, but the small, cutting edge operators who make up the membership of ISPA. They should come from the hacker community – people who write the code itself. They should come from academia – from the computer science departments of some of our excellent universities, from law departments such as the one I work for myself, from social sciences and so on. They should come from civil society – the expertise of groups like Privacy International and the Open Rights Group should be an invaluable resource.

The panel of advisers should be consulted at the earliest stage, not consulted about a policy after the policy has, effectively, already been decided upon. All too often over the last few years particularly, the wrong decisions have been made for the wrong reasons behind closed doors, before the people who really understand the issues, the technology and the potential impact of the policies have a chance to explain just why they’re misguided and won’t work.

Of course accessing this kind of expertise would require a step of humility that seems beyond most politicians. They would need to be honest enough to say ‘we don’t know’ and to ask for help. If they are brave enough to do so, they could actually get something done, which surely must be a goal for most politicians.


Paul Bernal is a lecturer in IT, IP and Media Law at the UEA Law School, the author of Internet Privacy Rights (published by CUP in 2014), tweets as @paulbernalUK, and spends a lot of time blogging about the internet, law, privacy and politics. His blog can be found here. He would be a good adviser for next government internet policy.

Other political week posts on

James Firth on why government should stop looking to big corporates for tech innovation

Gus Hosein on Data Protection Reform and Surveillance

The Julian Huppert crowd funding campaign here

See all our regulatory posts here.

Business Legal Regs

Help Julian Huppert get re-elected

Julian Huppert crowd funding

Julian Huppert is, unsurprisingly, fundraising for his election campaign and has a crowd funding page for donations.

Now I, believe it or not, am not a political animal but I do take an interest in matters parliamentary that affect the industry that I work in. Subjects such as the Digital Economy Act and the Snoopers’ Charter have been covered in depth on this blog.

Julian Huppert is one of the few MPs in Westminster who knows what he is talking about when it comes to internet related matters and government. Julian was on the Parliamentary Select Committee for the Snoopers’ Charter (that won’t be it’s actual name) and was one of the voices of sanity and reason that was listened to when the Bill was killed off postponed for another attempt on another day.

ISPA Internet Hero of 2013 Julian has featured a number of times on this blog and last year I organised a fundraising dinner on his behalf. How Julian is trying to raise more money as part of his drive to be reelected.

The Julian Huppert crowd funding campaign “We’re backing Julian” can be found here. Help if you can. You don’t have to be in his constituency to donate.

Coincidentally this is a week of political posts on in which guests discuss technology regulatory issues that they feel should be addresses by the next government. Other posts this week include:

James Firth on why government should stop looking to big corporates for tech innovation

Gus Hosein on Data Protection Reform and Surveillance

See all our regulatory posts here.

Business End User Legal Regs surveillance & privacy

Reform or go quietly – data protection and government surveillance

Gus Hosein data protection reformData protection reform – Government should stop promoting industry and government interests at the expense of protecting citizens says Gus Hosein of Privacy International

You can tell it is almost election time. All the discussions with anyone in the policy sphere quickly moves on to the ‘next parliament’, and questions arise about who will be the next Minister, and probably more important, Committee Chair. And there is more talk of manifestos than positions on key pieces of legislation and policies that should be discussed today. Instead, everyone would rather wait for some indeterminate amount of time into the future where we know not when these issues will again find their day on the policy agenda.
In the meantime, the government departments and agencies continue their work to dismantle privacy.

It’s a sad state of affairs. After all, the coalition agreement of the current government declared, in heady and idealistic days of May 2010, very strong ambitions around privacy protections — deleting databases and discontinuing surveillance programmes, including communications data retention. Yet in the past five years we have seen repeated policy attempts and intense politics around expanded surveillance powers. And in the past five years, we’ve seen government resistance to stronger privacy protections in the form of data protection reform.

Despite all the news about lack of consumer confidence, data breaches, hacking, court decisions protecting privacy, and yes, over-reach by intelligence agencies, the UK Government can’t stop being the bad-boy of the western world on surveillance. And it continues to drag the rest of the world down, as it insists on expanding surveillance and retreating on privacy.

So what hope is there for the future? To be honest, despite past performances by all, I’m quite optimistic.

1. Data protection reform
At the moment, the Government is actively obstructing data protection reform. Neither the Ministry of Justice nor BIS want to see strong protections of privacy. The EU has spent the past five years trying to build a new legal regime to replace the outdated Data Protection Directive, and thereby the 1998 Data Protection Act here. But in recent years the UK Government has been active in promoting industry and government interests, at the expense of protecting consumers and citizens. This just can’t continue. Eventually the UK Government has to recognise that stronger data protection rules are essential to consumer confidence, civil liberties, and the marketplace. And if it doesn’t care about protecting UK consumers and citizens, then it would be best to get out of the way. And the emerging instruments will again set the example globally.

2. Reform surveillance law
It’s not just that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 was given royal assent nearly 15 years ago, before the spread of wifi, mobile internet, social networking. It’s not just that Parliament had to approve under duress, and under a Home Office manufactured ’emergency’, legislation that is due to sunset in 2016 requiring continued data retention despite a very clear European Court of Justice ruling declaring it unlawful. It’s not just that the Home Office is rushing through a consultation on when the Government should be able to hack computers. It’s not just that getting companies in other jurisdictions to cooperate with requests from UK law enforcement and intelligence agencies should require a higher standard of authorisation than just a ministerial warrant or a self-authorised request by police agencies. Rather, it is that the case for surveillance law reform has become so clear that we now have the opportunity to make UK law the standard for the rest of the world.

The UK can stop being the bad-boy of the western world. And it can be within the next Parliament.


Gus Hosein has worked in the field of technology and human rights for over fifteen years. He has advised international organisations and institutions including UNESCO, UNHCR, OSCE, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Terrorism and Human Rights. He has held fellowships at the London School of Economics and Political Science and the American Civil Liberties Union. As Privacy International’s Executive Director he coordinates work advancing the protection of privacy across the world, with a particular emphasis on developing countries.

This is a week of political posts on in which guests discuss technology regulatory issues that they feel should be addresses by the next government. Other posts this week include:

James Firth on why government should stop looking to big corporates for tech innovation

See all our regulatory posts here.

Business Legal Regs

Hey, next prime minister, stop looking to big corporates to solve UK tech innovation challenges!

James FirthJames Firth – Agile young start-ups challenge the incumbents and stop the market from getting lazy. Government innovation bods take note

In 2010, part-way through my “career break” as a lobbyist representing UK tech start-ups I ambushed the then green Business Secretary Vince Cable after a lecture he gave (on fiscal stimulus, a lecture he’d agreed to before finding himself Secretary of State) to ask him one question:

How will you support smaller UK tech companies, and in particular companies selling into government?”

Given the chance I’d ask the question slightly differently on the 8th May. I’d ask why so much of the outgoing government’s innovation strategy seems to have been delegated to, and in many ways benefited, large established tech corporations; and what are you going to do about it!

To be fair to the coalition there have been several inroads in improving the imbalance faced by small tech firms, from the mandated preference for open source (inherently favouring smaller businesses over the proprietary solutions of the global giants), to a centralised Contracts Finder designed to make contracts easier to find, and initiatives through the Technology Strategy Board and other agencies to fund innovative UK-based growth businesses.

But towering over the many and varied initiatives to help UK growth companies are the likes of Google, Facebook, Microsoft and BT.

It’s not the contracts won by the big boys, but the way the government appears to have outsourced a large portion of its innovation strategy to the current market incumbents.

From the billion and a half of public money handed over to BT to speed-up deployment of “fibre” broadband, to the millions invested” in innovation centres such as London’s Silicon Roundabout – investment often structured as tax breaks for the large firms spearheading the initiatives.

Surely if just a fraction of this money had been targeted directly at small UK businesses it would have yielded better results. I mean, look at what B4RN has achieved on a shoestring!

And it’s not just that the public money might have been better spent by smaller UK-based companies.

Think about it for more than half a second and you realise it makes no sense to delegate innovation to large companies.

Innovation is important for two reasons – the obvious being that society benefits from improvements in technology.

But the second reason is more subtle: innovation is regeneration and renewal in the market.

Consumers benefit from competition – it keeps costs low and prevents the kind of profiteering possible wherever there’s a monopoly of supply.

But after a while the market can get lazy, with none of the established players motivated to fund product improvements or find new ways of providing products and services more efficiently, and hence more cheaply, to the customer. The lazy incumbents get fat at the consumer’s expense.

That’s where innovation comes in. Agile young start-ups challenge the incumbents and stop the market from getting lazy. And market competition is not just about providing cheaper services – it’s also about providing better services; in the world of tech better could mean being more careful with our private data or showing me social media posts that are actually relevant to my life…

So the strategy that sees Facebook, Microsoft and Google fostering UK innovation is in my view like inviting a pride of lions to make sure your herd of young gazelles get all care and support they need.

Placing UK tech innovators under the wing of a multinational tech company not only gives that company early access to a wealth of new ideas – something companies used to fund themselves in departments called Research and Development – it puts them in a perfect position to acquire the successful companies at the lowest possible price.

Put yourself in a the shoes of a UK start-up with offices in Microsoft Ventures Accelerator or Google Campus having developed a successful product that runs on cloud services provided cost-free by your benefactor. Your product may even rely on social data or some other asset that your benefactor controls.

Once your company has proved the tech and the market, at great effort and cost to you and your early-stage investors, one potential suitor is in the driving seat when it comes to acquisition.

In fact your benefactor may make it near-impossible for one of their rivals to buy you, driving down the value in your business and allowing them to maintain their market dominance by swallowing services that threaten their own business and acquiring innovative new products and services on the cheap.

Yes of course industry partners have a very important role in shaping the next generation of technologists: call this education, training, or skills development… But please, stop calling it innovation!

The next generation needs to challenge the incumbents, not grow up in their shadow.

James Firth is CTO of Comprobo, a UK-based tech start up ( He left Motorola in 2005 to start his first tech business, creating an innovative budget management programme in use on public-private highways maintenance contracts, and founded the Open Digital Policy Organisation in 2010 to lobby on behalf of UK technology start-ups.

Next up this afternoon, Gus Hosein of Privacy International on “Data protection reform – Government should stop promoting industry and government interests at the expense of protecting citizens says Gus Hosein of Privacy International”

Business End User Legal Regs

Next week is political week on

Technology regulatory issues next week on

Yo all. Just a quick announcement that next week is political week on I have invited a number of high profile bloggers, academics, activists, MPs and regulatory experts to share their views on what internet and communications related laws they think the next government should be enacting or not enacting (works both ways).

We start first thing on Monday so keep yer eyes open. At first glance we have a very diverse set of posts. I’ve been careful not to prescribe any particular subject.

This is all part of the coverage of technology regulatory issues in the run up to the general election. Whilst any noise we might make is not going to have a material effect on the result of the election it does not harm to remind ourselves of the issues being faced by both the internet industry and our customers.

I’ve written a lot of posts on regulatory related subjects over the years. They can be found here. Next week I’m hanging back and leaving it to the guests. I’ve confined myself to adding bios where the guest has been particularly modest, and correcting a huge number of speling mistaykes and gramaticul errors. Only joking.

Y’all come back next week now.

Business End User piracy Regs security

Unknown Roku streaming stick on network, Virgin Media, DEAct & Spotify

Roku streaming stick

Interesting one this. A Roku streaming stick has to be plugged into your TV. It’s a bit like a Chromecast but different. One assumes that Joel knows that he hasn’t got a Roku streaming stick plugged into his TV. It must therefore be plugged into somebody’s else’s TV hanging off Joel’s network.

This does bring up the issue of wifi network security and the fact that other people may be making use of others’ broadband bandwidth. Who hasn’t had a look at their wifi settings when in a strange place to see if there are any open networks there. There often are, at least in public places.

This issue to me is further highlighted by the fact that we are coming up to the next general election. At this time 5 years ago the Digital Economy Act was rushed through just before the election. One of the many points landed on the deaf ears of government by protesting voices at the time was the very fact that it was difficult to prove who was actually doing the downloading/copyright infringement.  The rogue Roku of our introductory Tweet reinforces this. The DEAct has still not properly been enacted.

The issues that rights holders where highlighting in pushing for the Digital Economy Act have of course not gone away. I was talking yesterday to a 21 year old recent graduate about where he got his music from. He said it was all downloaded free of charge from online sources. This was despite the fact that his broadband provider Virgin Media has a block on access to specific sites associated with this activity. He said that that none of the people that he knew ie 18-25 demographic, paid for their music.

The blocking orders imposed by the courts on ISPs are not working. I did ask him about proxies and he was very familiar with the technology.  He was very familiar with proxies and had used them. However many were also blocked by ISPs but because sites such as Pirate Bay morph very quickly into similar sites and the kids know how to follow them they never have a problem accessing music.

I asked him what he thought about the fact that if nobody paid for them there would come a time where there would no longer be any record labels. His answer was that bands seem nowadays to make more out of their live shows than they do the out of selling music.

Whatever you think about the rights and wrongs of the situation, it is what it is. I have a Spotify Premium account. It’s a great service.  For the 21 year old concerned £10 a month is actually quite a lot of money. Rob, the developer, is a little older at 24. Rob has Spotify Premium. Rob also pays £6 a month for Netflix and doesn’t see why at £10 the music service is more expensive. He has a point maybe.

Now I’m not here to defend anyone’s business model, have a go any ones business model or anything else to do with business models other than to say that business models do change. Clearly the music industry is in the middle of a period of change that they’ve been struggling to come to grips with. Whether this is to do with legacy deals, royalties payable or cost base who knows.

We do hear of bands withdrawing their music from Spotify because the live streaming service doesn’t pay enough for the privilege of carrying their stuff. One wonders what proportion of Spotify’s royalties actually go to the band as opposed to the record label. I took a look at SpotifyArtists but it was either too complicated for my small brain to get around or it just wasn’t obvious.

We ain’t going to solve an industry’s problems in this blog post but I can only say that the efforts and the money spent on fighting online copyright infringement don’t seem to be working, at least based on my own local evidence.

PS I’d never heard of the Roku Streaming Stick before I came across this tweet. I’d get one and do a review except I already have a Chromecast in the port the Roku would use and the kids use it a fair bit.

End User security surveillance & privacy

Pretty graphic reaction to ISP porn blocking

Thought I’d slip this one in – adult content filter eh 😉

adult content filter

I don’t know John Harvey but he seems a fairly forthright kind of guy. From Yorkshire maybe.

It’s not so much that you are telling your ISP anything when you opt out of the adult filter, or whatever it’s called. We doubt that any human intervention is involved in the process. It’s the likelihood that the information that you don’t wish adult sites to be blocked is leaked or hacked. That’s the issue.

If the information isn’t there is can’t be hacked. If this was an opt in that would sort it, aside from the fact that these filters aren’t renowned for their accuracy.

As an aside I assume that this site will henceforth be blocked by these filters. Probably already is. Parents don’t want their kids to know that they go to parties like trefbash or the pissup in a brewery. The blog was once blocked by the Timico firewall as “social media” sites were frowned upon by whoever set the policy in place (not me – I used to spend all my time on social media – I had a different set of permissions:).

The question is would Twitter be blocked. There’s a lot of graphic language on Twitter. I once unfollowed someone because of his non stop use of swear words. Not my kind of thing. Would be interesting to hear from anyone who has adult content filtering in place to see whether Twitter was visible or not.

Looking on the positive side, if you have opted out of the adult content filter, and are therefore “down on the list” you can always say it’s because you wanted to read posts on;)

Effin read it first on wtf!

Read this highly popular and relevant post on the consequences of allowing government to monitor our online habits here.

Bad Stuff Business ecommerce Engineer internet online safety Regs security surveillance & privacy

A quick guide to problems that will arise if we implement further internet surveillance measures

Snoopers Charter revisited

The aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo murders has lead to goverment and opposition calling for more internet surveillance. Here are a few points for your consideration.

  1. Storing this data will inevitably result in it being hacked, left on a train/taxi on a laptop/memory stick and details of a government minister affair with another MP being made public. Example here (29 Jan 2015)
  2. The overhead associated with having to gather and store the data in a secure way will be proportionally huge compared to the size of the business and to the number of customers for smaller ISPs. This will result in the government deciding not to force these businesses to store the information and settle just for the biggest 7 ISPs aka the Digital Economy Act. The consequence will be that potential terrorists will just use these smaller ISPs for their internet services leaving a big hole in the “surveillance net”
  3. The resources required to make this happen will be huge. The French government already knew about the Charlie Hebdo killers. They just lacked the feet on the street to keep tabs on them. Diverting staff to managing the data gathering project will mean even fewer feet on the street or divert cash from adding more feet.
  4. The technical challenges with managing sender and receiver data for email clients is not small due to the hundreds of different clients out there with non standard formats.
  5. Most email is in any case encrypted these days and is run on platforms that are not necessarily owned by UK businesses. The difficulties associated with extracting these data will not be small (if not impossible). Ditto social media platforms.
  6. Forcing these platforms to provide a back door into the encrypted data (assuming it will be doable) will erode trust in areas of the economy that also rely on such encryption such as banking and ecommerce.
  7. Businesses will move away from the UK. It will be the start of the rot and leave us with a reputation akin to China et all when it comes to “surveillance society”.
  8. Terrorists will move deeper into darknets and continue to kill innocent people.
  9. On balance I’d spend the money on more feet on the street.

The rush to call for the snooper’s charter to be implemented would result in a bad law that will not have had adequate scrutiny. My wife and one of the kids were in the audience during last night’s BBC Question Time filmed in Lincoln’s Drill Hall. I watched despite it being well after my bedtime.

None of the panellists or the audience really had a grasp on the issues which reflects its highly complex nature. It’s very easy for MPs to support this type of legislation. Most right minded people will agree that it’s a good thing to stop terrorism. It’s just that they don’t understand the implications.

Check out other snoopers charter type posts here.

broadband Engineer engineering net neutrality

ISP traffic management policies

An overview of consumer ISP traffic management policies

ISP traffic management in which some types of traffic may be prioritised over others has been the subject of an ongoing debate. This is particularly the case amongst the Internet Telephony Service Provider (ITSP) communities but also elsewhere. NetNeutrality is the issue (look it up) and is extensively covered on this blog.

This post is a simple one. It takes a look at the biggest six ISPs, tells you if they traffic manage and provides a link to the ISP’s own pages on the subject.

ISP Do they traffic manage? Comments
BT No Fair play to them
EE Yes Lots of contractual stuff
Plusnet Yes Looks complicated to me
Sky Yes and No Sky Connect only – Unlimited and Lite packages are free of Traffic Management
TalkTalk No Except to prioritise TV packets which is fair enough
Virgin Media Yes Also looks complicated

It is generally the case that if an ISP does traffic manage they generally prioritise time sensitive packets such as VoIP and gaming. Traditionally this has been done to save bandwidth costs at peak times. However I will say that if TalkTalk who are traditionally seen as a pile it high sell it cheap ISP who you might think would need to conserve bandwidth costs,  can manage without traffic management, so to speak then there should no reason why all the others can’t follow suit. BT and Sky (mostly) do.

It could be down to their having older core networks that require investment but I can’t say for sure. Whatever the reason, bandwidth is cheap and ISP traffic management needs to be seen only in the rear view mirror. It is outdated.

This does to a certain extent come down to scale. The bigger your network the cheaper the bandwidth on a per unit basis. 1Gig connectivity is more expensive per gig that 10Gig etc etc etc

If you need more details on ISP traffic management click on the links in the table. Lots more stuff also on this blog here.

Ciao amigos.

Business security surveillance & privacy voip

Why are the Major Telcos Afraid of encrypted voip?

A significant disconnect exists between the reality of today’s IP communications and the security concerns and needs of the customer (read encrypted voip). welcomes VoIP Week guest contributor Peter Cox, UM Labs Ltd. Founder and CEO.

One of UM Labs’ long-standing customers is using our product to provide encrypted VoIP connections from remote users (mostly home workers) and to encrypt calls they make and receive on their SIP trunk. Their motivation is simple: They are in the USA and their business makes it necessary for them to work closely with federal government, a connection that subjects them to security and compliance requirements. This customer’s view is that applying encryption to all VoIP calls — including those made and received on their SIP trunk — is an essential step towards meeting these requirements. Even if some SIP trunk calls are then relayed in clear text, as is the case for PSTN calls, the encryption applied on the connection to their trunk provider protects their network and ensures the confidentiality of SIP trunk calls on the connection between the service provider and their office. This effort demonstrates that they are taking all reasonable steps to secure the network connections under their own control and is thus a significant step towards meeting the compliance requirements.

Recently, our customer’s existing service provider announced that they were considering discontinuing encrypted SIP trunk connections, and being unable to find an alternative they asked me for some alternative service provider recommendations. I posted the question to the SIP Trunking & Enterprise VoIP LinkedIn group and received a number of helpful replies. My question also sparked some interesting discussion. A number of the participants gave spurious reasons why encryption was too difficult or not needed on a SIP trunk. What surprised me most was that representatives of two very large and well known telcos weighed in against encryption. One claimed that providing an encrypted SIP trunk connection was incompatible with legal intercept requirements, while the other tried to claim that since enterprises trust their data on “private” networks shouldn’t they trust their voice as well?

Addressing the claim that SIP trunk connections are not compatible with legal intercept requirements, I submit that when properly implemented and with the appropriate systems encrypted VoIP does not prevent legal intercept or call recording for compliance purposes. What it does stop is unauthorised call monitoring. The risk of unauthorised call monitoring is not confined to VoIP, as there is a significant risk to calls on cellular networks (see my recent blog at Encryption also has a role to play in controlling other threats, including call fraud.

Regarding the comment about enterprises trusting their data on private network connections to service providers, this I found even more surprising. I have spent many years in network security and this is the first time I have heard a connection to a 3rd party service provider classified as sufficiently private to trust for data transmission without some form or additional security. While connection to service providers may be more controlled than the open Internet, they are not private. Most enterprises will naturally want to protect their data with a VPN, so it makes sense to do the same for voice.

Part of the problem is that part of the telecoms industry is stuck in the past, back in the days when the phone companies owned and operated the networks. Things have moved on, and a significant proportion of all communications now runs on IP networks, much of it on the Internet. The move to IP has spawned new applications such as presence and IM and is the driving force behind convergence. The use of IP networks, and specifically the Internet for voice and UC, is a big step forward, but we must recognise that a different set of security rules apply. We have the knowledge and technology to address the security issues. Rather than finding reasons to avoid implementing VoIP and UC security technologies, the industry needs to embrace them and promote their implementation.

I won’t name the two telcos, but if you are interested in seeing them incriminate themselves you can follow the full LinkedIn discussion at

This is a VoIP week post on Check out other VoIP themed posts this week:

Why are major telcos afraid of encrypted VoIP? by Peter Cox
Emergency calls and VoIP by Peter Farmer
VoIP, the Bible and own brand chips by Simon Woodhead
Why the desktop VoIP telephone isn’t going away by Jeff Rodman
Small business VoIP setup by Trefor Davies
VoIP fraud-technological-conventionality-achieved  by Colin Duffy

Legal ofcom Regs voip

Emergency Calls and VoIP

Emergency Calls and VoIP have always been a contentious issue, but the need for ever increasingly innovative and cheaper ways of communicating means the tensions are getting worse than ever.

Despite what many of you may think, Regulatory Affairs is fun. Bear with me for a second. This isn’t quite like a train spotter defending a book of carriage numbers as fun (though for them I am sure it is). Regulatory Affairs is a truly multi-disciplinary job. Each day, I have to be a little bit telecoms engineer, lawyer, accountant, economist, lobbyist, salesman, compliance officer, and more. My work this year has taken me to documents in the British Library regarding the 1984 privatisation of BT that were pertinent in a dispute being argued at Ofcom, and I am currently working and planning on charge control periods for 2016-2019 and beyond. Every day you get to be at the leading edge of technological environments, helping businesses understand the regulatory environment and coming across some wonderful problems and innovations.

That fun gets drained, though, when it comes to 999 (or 112 for our European brethren…and I think we can all safely say we know 911 is America). Lives are at stake, and it is rightly a very important topic, however much I despise having to deal with issues arising from it.

There are two pieces of history that tie on to why we have the 999 environment we have today. The first one, serious and sombre, is that the foundations of the regime today came about following the 1986 Hungerford Massacre where the local exchange couldn’t handle the volume of calls as Michael Ryan perpetrated his horrific crimes. There were only two lines into the 1986 equivalent of a call handling authority for Newbury at the time. The second is more interesting than serious, that being that the design of pay phones in 1925 was such that the dial was fixed but the number 9 and 0 could be used — the former thrice for emergency services and the latter for the operator — without having to put money in to release the dial. The urban myth is that it was chosen in the pulse dialing days because overhead wires could touch in high wind and send a 1 pulse … if done three times in a certain period would make a false call. The avoidance of this was simply a fortunate consequence of the pay phones.

More recently, in the late nineties, we have had significant improvements to location information databases, we’ve had the rise of mobile phones and the location information therein, and we’ve also had the ability to text 999 (pre registered users with special needs as I recall). In amongst all of this we have VoIP, one of the most important innovations in telephony for a generation. Today I can sit in a hotel in Brazil and make calls presenting my UK 0208 number. More importantly, I can make such calls from an app via a smartphone connected to a switch/PBX/platform in the UK that doesn’t even know I am abroad.

So what on earth happens when I dial 999?

That instance is simple; apps should probably just let the handset deal with it natively so as to pass on all the relevant information….. but what if I sign into a hosted PBX in my colleague’s home office and something goes wrong? I’ve been a good boy as a homeworker and the call handling authority would see the address of where I am most often – my own home office. Thankfully, Emergency Calls are presented to the call handler in two ways, based on a prefix the originating network places on the call — there’s one for old school legacy TDM fixed network that says “reliable address” and there’s a second one that says “unreliable address” used for roaming VoIP. Cutting a very complex story short, that triggers a different script for the operator to follow. The mobile world is somewhat different and their location information plans regarding GPS chips etc. will undoubtedly save lives. We’ve managed like this for coming up to a decade, since Ofcom made its last pronouncements on VoIP and Emergency Calls. All well and good.

The legacy broadband superimposed over narrowband copper voice world has a short shelf life now, though. Various government bodies and Ofcom are consulting and whatnot on how to deal with Emergency Calls when we can’t rely on the BT Exchange to power the line (the narrowband voice at least) should the wider electricity supply be compromised. Right now if there’s a power cut at home I will lose broadband and my phone. I can, however, go to the garage, dig out an old phone and plug it into the master socket and knock myself out. The current regulatory/government consensus is that data-only/wires-only/naked services should have at least one hour battery backup to remove this potential problem.

Wow. 1 hour.

Essentially then, in a VoIP only world (or strictly VoIP or other technology over naked DSL or somesuch), if someone wants to axe-murder me during a power cut I am in deep trouble if nPower cannot get their ducks back in a row within 59 minutes and 59 seconds.

According to Ofcom’s own research, 26% of socio-economic group DE households are now mobile only (16% in other groups if you are interested). They are relying today purely on whether they’ve remembered to charge their phone and/or Apple have invented a hydrogen cell, as opposed to the usual offering making you reminisce for an old Nokia and that the local masts have sufficient backup power in a prolonged outage too. I suppose, in my alluded to axe-murdering power-cutting thunderstorm I would also have my mobile, but everyone knows I have to carry around a 14000mAH battery pack because I always forget to charge my phone! This situation in itself is why I am surprised that the fixed requirement is just one hour…… after all, we are familiar with the snowmageddonwe endure each winter, with communities sometimes cut off for days.

At times I get the impression (and I have some sympathy with this position) that some VoIP companies would like to be able to just have a disclaimer that says “This device/service cannot be guaranteed to be able to make Emergency Calls” or somesuch. With the growth of VoIP and our need to have this technology widely accepted and embraced by the populace — and our desire to not pay for the line card and metallic path to the voice processor in the exchange — I don’t think that just making it someone else’s problem will wash….. you can just see the Daily Mail headlines now.

That all said, the solution isn’t a room UPS for every household, nor is it a hot-standby generator for every street. We also cannot avoid much longer the roaming VoIP location information issue; a return to the pre 1998(ish) situation of the caller having to give their address would be retrograde. That will make it interesting, and for once, I may not actually hate dealing with Emergency Calls in Regulatory Affairs either.

This is a VoIP week post on Check out other VoIP themed posts this week:

Why are major telcos afraid of encrypted VoIP? by Peter Cox
Emergency calls and VoIP by Peter Farmer
VoIP, the Bible and own brand chips by Simon Woodhead
Why the desktop VoIP telephone isn’t going away by Jeff Rodman
Small business VoIP setup by Trefor Davies
VoIP fraud-technological-conventionality-achieved  by Colin Duffy

Bad Stuff Business ofcom scams security voip

VoIP Fraud — Technological Conventionality Achieved

VoIP has reached the mainstream. We know because the fraudsters are coming after us. welcomes VoIP Week guest contributor Colin Duffy, CEO of Voipfone and ITSPA Council member.

VoIP merges two of the largest industries in the world: Telecommunications ($5.0 trillion) and the Internet ($4.2 trillion). It is big business.

Estimates of VoIP market size vary, though they are universally large. For instance, Infotenetics Research estimates the global residential and business VoIP market to be worth $64bn in 2014, growing to $88bn in 2018. Visiongain, on another hand, puts the 2018 value at $76bn. WhichVoIP (Bragg) has it as $82.7bn by 2017, and also claims that VoIP calls account for 34% of global voice traffic – 172bn call minutes. And then there is the United States Federal Communications Commission, which estimates that “In December 2011, there were 107 million end-user switched access lines in service [ the USA and..] 37 million interconnected VoIP subscriptions.

And with opportunity comes the thief:

ICT Recent Scenarios: VoIP Week: Colin Duffy
(Corporate ICT)


(You have to love that New Scotland Yard hack…..)

But it’s not confined to big organisations; perhaps a little closer to home:

“A family-run business says it has ‘nowhere left to turn’ after hackers rigged its telephone system to call premium rate phone numbers — racking up a bill of nearly £6,000. ‘We reported it to the police, but we were told there was very little likelihood of them catching anyone so they wouldn’t be able to investigate’, she added.”                               

— Lancashire Telegraph

The Communications Fraud Control Association publishes a global fraud loss survey, and in 2013 they estimated that the global telecommunication industry loss to fraud was an enormous $46.3bn, which included:

  • VoIP hacking ($3.6bn),
  • PBX hacking ($4.4bn),
  • Premium Rate Services Fraud ($4.7bn),
  • Subscription Fraud ($5.2bn)
  • International Revenue Share Fraud ($1.8).

Over 90% of the telephone companies included in the CFCA’s survey reported that fraud within their company had increased or stayed the same since the last report.

Globally, the top emerging fraud type was identified as Internet Revenue Sharing Fraud, with Premium Rate Service Fraud (both international and domestic) also in the top five. Of the top five emerging fraud methods, PBX Hacking was the most important with VoIP Hacking at number three.

Who’s doing all this is a big and interesting topic, but here’s a starter:

Top Ten Countries where fraud

Top Ten Countries where fraud

East Timor

CFCA, Global Fraud Loss Survey, 2013

What can be done?

Earlier this year a customer of Voiceflex was hacked to the tune of £35,000 when over 10,000 calls were sent to a Polish Premium Service number over a period of 36 hours. The customer refused to pay, which resulted in a court case that the telco lost. Now the industry is looking to its terms and conditions for protection, but it’s clear that this isn’t enough – the cause needs addressing.

The best approach would be to cut off the money supply – if Telcos could withhold payments for known fraudulent calls, the activity would end. But this solution requires changes to inter-operator agreements and cross-jurisdiction interventions.

“We are currently in discussions with our fellow EU regulators about steps that may be taken to address cross-border [Dial Through] fraud and misuse. It is important that companies using VoIP systems take steps to ensure both the physical and technical security of their equipment in order to avoid becoming an ‘easy target’ for this type of criminal activity […..] We are approaching the NICC and relevant trade associations to ensure their advice is updated to help businesses better protect themselves against newer types of dial-through fraud that have emerged as technology has developed.”

— Ofcom 2013

For once I agree with Ofcom. The industry needs to work harder at target-hardening. We need to be making this industry safer for our customers.

There’s a lot to be done but a good start is to read and apply the guidance issued by ITSPA – the UK trade organisation for Internet Telcos.

I’m taking a close personal interest in VoIP fraud and security, and I invite anyone who has more information or who wishes to discuss this in more detail to contact me at email

A naive user asked me, ‘why can’t you just make safe telephones?’ Well, why can’t we?

End User net neutrality

Namecheap promotes Net Neutrality in USA

Namecheap Net Neutrality video simplifies the message to the man in the street.

Net Neutrality as a subject could provide enough posts for a stand alone blog. Probably does somewhere. There are certainly enough posts on the subject on this site including this recent one from Pete Farmer. Was chatting to Matt Russell of  hosting and domain name co Namecheap (and this morning who mentioned that a Namecheap Net Neutrality video was going live this afternoon. The above YouTube video is the outcome.

The Net Neutrality debate has to a large extent been the demesne of industry. Network operators and content providers in the main. This Namecheap video is a very good attempt to get the message about Net Neutrality across to the man in the street who probably doesn’t understand the issue. The issue, if you are one of those men in the street, is that telcos want to charge content providers for delivering their content reliably to you. Telcos want to do this because delivering an ever greater amount of content is costing them money. There is a very recent example where OTT video provider Neteflix has had to pay telco Comcast to provide sufficient bandwidth to meet their streaming needs.

This was not a very good precedent but Netflix were caught in a difficult position.  They needed to be able to guarantee a certain quality of picture to their customers. Comcast also provide their own video services so arguably this could be seen as being anti-competitive. The point of course is that the customer, in this case of both Comcast and Netflix is already paying for the bandwidth.

The biggest issue is that this could be just the tip of the iceberg. We could end up with a multilayer internet where some people who can afford it get a better service that others. This is certain to stifle innovation in internet services where start-ups might be unable to pay to guarantee the delivery of their product.


End User internet Legal net neutrality

Consumer Rights and Net Neutrality

Consumer Rights is a far less toxic term than Net Neutrality.

I’ve previously written for Trefor.Net on the subject of Net Neutrality and what it means to members of the VoIP community. And I think it’s high time for an update, but this time considering consumer rights.

After a promising start the European Union went off the rails, passing a first reading of a text that essentially outlawed 4G services. VoLTE requires prioritisation. Hard line elements on the subject of “net neutrality” managed to convince a strange coalition that it was a good idea to promote their ideological definition just before an election. It was spun as a vote winner, this despite that fact that 999 calls would no longer be treated differently. Consumer rights being protected, were they?

Unforeseen consequences at their worse, which is why I believe that net neutrality is now a toxic term and should be avoided. In fact, I’ve worked on briefing documents that are four pages long that completely avoid the term. I also try to avoid “Open Internet” for similar reasons, as both — as I’ve written before — mean different things to different people.

That’s where consumer rights come into play.

What we want is a level playing field. We want a distribution system for content that doesn’t discriminate against certain types of lawful content for vested reasons. Most of all, we don’t want people misled, and we want consumer rights upheld.

If you ask the average consumer on the street whether Skype and YouTube are part of the internet, anyone other than a recent immigrant from Outer Mongolia that would no doubt answer “no”. By extension, I defy you to find anyone, other than hardcore employees of EE and Vodafone, who would suggest that internet access does not include access to Skype, YouTube, or similar services.

Remember the outrage when people were buying 15 burgers for 99p and it transpired that those burgers were made from horses? It’s the same thing. It’s a basic principle of consumer law that you don’t mislead at the point of sale; be it overtly or through trickery in the small print. Consumer rights need to be protected.

This is why I was so heartened to see Philip Davies MP (Conservative member of Parliament for Shipley) build upon his great performance sticking it to Ed Richards (Ofcom CEO – 40 minutes into the video on the link) on the subject by tabling an amendment to the latest consumer rights bill. This amendment basically just said that you can’t call something “internet” unless it complies with the spirit of everything I’ve said before. For those who are interested, the amended stated;

A term which has the object or effect of permitting a trader to block, restrict or otherwise hinder the access of a consumer to any lawful Electronic Communications Network or Electronic Communications Service on the basis of an unreasonable or unusual definition of “internet access”, “data”, “web access” or similar word or phrase. Nothing in this prohibition shall affect filters for the purpose of child protection.

Electronic Communications Network or Electronic Communications Service shall have the same meaning as in the Communications Act 2003.

tn_own_consumer-rights_tweetPhilip Davies MP is a libertarian Conservative and as a result is one of my favourite MPs. This means he’s often at polar opposites to Her Majesty’s Opposition and an uncomfortable bed fellow with their coalition partners. That makes it even more incredible that the amendment was gladly supported by both the Shadow Minister, Helen Goodman MP and Julian Huppert MP (Liberal Democrat Member for. Cambridge and a good advocate for the technological community). A rare moment of cross party backbench support that, alas, was defeated without Government support, which is still backing the self regulation horse.

All the amendment sought to do was to ensure that the likes of Vodafone and historically EE would be unable to call a spade anything other than a spade and that consumer rights would be upheld. As such, defeat was a great disappointment.

In any event, word on the street is that there may soon be new signatories to the Broadband Stakeholder Group’s Open Internet Code of Conduct. The amendment may get re-tabled in the House of Lords. And The Council of Europe may well get its ducks back in a row.

The battle is one that is very much being fought on three fronts, however the momentum is now behind those of us who just want a level playing field to compete on. Who knows, it might even be over by Christmas.

Bad Stuff Business Legal Regs scams

The ethics of non geographic numbers and information, connection and/or signposting services

Information, Connection and/or Sign Posting Services (known as “ICSS”, subtly different from the topical ISIS, though many will put them into a similar “scourge” pigeon hole) at their core are simply a number translation service on non geographic numbers overlaid with advertising.

The idea is that ICSS providers make it easy for you to locate the phone number you are looking for, or, to put it another way, they are better at Search Engine Optimisation that the companies you may be looking for. In one sense, it’s a Directory Enquiries service via Google as opposed to dudes with moustaches.

But like all things, they can be abused. If you Google “British Gas Customer Services”, thankfully you’ll see official bona fide entries at the top, with their plethora of freephone numbers. A few entries further down is this;

British Gas ICSS
British Gas ICSS


What’s that? An 0844 number at 5ppm (plus call set up fee) from a BT Landline and probably more from mobiles? It’ll translate through to their 0800 numbers, netting the value chain for this service circa 5 pence per minute margin to share around between them. There are two sides the argument on the ethics of this – be it paying a premium to reduce your notional search costs and revel in your own laziness (ultimately this is no different to why I employ a cleaner) versus exploitation of the naive.

I don’t take a view on that here; and nor did PhonepayPlus when they intervened in this market on 09 numbers and 0871 numbers (6 pence per minute and higher) last year. Essentially, they laid down the detailed and comprehensive ground rules to ensure that such services were only used by people on the left hand side of the ethical spectrum I outlined before.

But 084 numbers aren’t included in the Premium Rate Services Definition and aren’t covered by the Code of Conduct and all the requirements therein. That means they are more open to being used on the right hand side of that spectrum. And that’s when I start to get concerned. A few years ago, the Department for Work and Pensions entered into negotiations with major mobile networks to make their freephone numbers genuinely free to their users. Ofcom’s own research says that around a quarter of socioeconomic group DE households (the most vulnerable) are mobile only which makes their move, surprisingly for government, well targeted.

But if you Google “ESA contact number” as in Employment Support Allowance, this is what you get

ESA ICSS example
ESA ICSS example


Another 5 pence per minute 084 number, an ICSS hidden in a void of regulatory oversight, which could be argued to be exploiting the most vulnerable and least able to pay (noting that historically some mobile phone operators have charged upto 75 pence per minute for an 084 call, with many tariffs still at 40 pence per minute). Is this ethical? I’ll leave that for you to reach your own personal conclusions, but in the mean time, I hope to raise awareness of the issue after someone I know was caught out.

End User Regs spam

Electoral register online makes opt in to open register default

Electoral register online makes opt in to open register default – they are trying to make money out of spammers

I have just finished filling in my  details for the electoral register online.  I don’t know why I have had to do this. Kid3 has also had to but Wife1 and Kid2 have not. Wossthatallabout? The bumpf they sent says “For all sorts of reasons, some people will not match against existing records (!?) and therefore cannot automatically be transferred automatically to the new register. For example, they may have moved home since the record was last updated, or there may have been a difference in the spelling of the two records“.

Well I haven’t moved home for 17 years – since Kid3 was born and it isn’t as if Huw Trefor Davies is an uncommon name, innit?!

It didn’t take me long to fill out the electoral register online stuff but it would appear that you do have to take care when it comes to the government. They set as default that you want to join the open register. In leaving the box unticked you are giving them permission to sell your details to anyone who wants to spam you.

This is not setting a good example. No wonder the Telephone Preference Service  doesn’t work when you have your own government making it easy for people to get hold of our details and to say that you opted in. I didn’t give them my phone number or email address as contact info. If they want to send me something they can do it by mail. I don’t trust them to not give these data to the spammers as well.

Loads of spam related stuff on this site – follow the spam category here. Also check out this post on Tesco spam more expensive than ham. I like the meat variety of spam.

End User Legal Mobile ofcom Regs

What is a Mobile Number?

What is a mobile number – bet you thought you knew!

Seems like a simple question doesn’t it? You would be surprised how many people will answer “07”. Just like some schoolgirls on a bus I overheard once, this presumption can have costly consequences. 070 is designated as Personal Numbering – the old follow me services now largely overtaken by soft clients, VoIP and the ilk, and 076 is radiopaging (yes, apparently they still exist!). Unfortunately, both of these ranges do attract an element of the cheeky through to the fraudulent and criminal with high termination rates…… and the perception of some people that a missed call from an 070 most-definitely-not-a-mobile number is genuine and needs to be called back…. at fifty pence per minute. That’s what happened to the schoolgirls. Perhaps I should’ve warned them, but at the height of the Saville affair I probably would’ve been arrested!

Anyway, by extension you will now have guessed that 071-075 and 077-079 are mobile numbers (strictly speaking Mobile Services in the National Telephone Numbering Plan), and you would be correct. Our friends at Ofcom define this as:

‘Mobile Service’ means a service consisting in the conveyance of Signals, by means of an Electronic Communications Network, where every Signal that is conveyed thereby has been, or is to be, conveyed through the agency of Wireless Telegraphy to or from Apparatus designed or adapted to be capable of being used while in motion;

Wireless Telegraphy has an equally simple definition, offered in Section 116 of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 as (paraphrased): electromagnetic signals not exceeding 3,000 gigahertz and not transmitted over a physical medium. Aside from the fact that whoever drafted the bill could have used “terahertz”, the conjunction of the two definitions (and some other basic statutory references) defines a Mobile Service as a telephony or data service capable of being used in motion where part of the media path is transported at upto 3THz in the ether. Simple.

There is the obvious elephant in the room, which is that my mobile network’s voicemail and call diversion services could be viewed as unlawful; think about a fixed call to voicemail or my mobile diverting to my desk phone – no Wireless Telegraphy would be involved in an efficient design. Actually, the get out is my desk phone is a Cisco 525 and operates over WiFi, so EE can breathe a sigh of relief.  WiFi works under 3THz (though the super fast variants are knocking on that ceiling). But that get out is important in considering that the definition of a Mobile Service is in fact very broad. A laptop is portable. So a VoIP client used over WiFi (or doubly so, over a 4G MiFi) would fit that definition, let alone a soft client on a smartphone. This is why the Internet Telephony Service Providers’ Association (“ITSPA”) has growing concerns about Ofcom’s apparent reluctance to provide these recognisable numbers to its members for the purpose of developing innovative and competitive new services. ITSPA is taking action on this and has formally written to Ofcom seeking clarification — unfortunately as legal recourse is still potentially an option, I can’t go into more detail at this time lest it is prejudiced, but I promise to update’s readers as and when I can!

In the meantime, though, I think we should have a Trefor.Net competition. The winner shall be the reader that comes up with the most entertaining/outrageous design for a Mobile Service that technically fits the definition of Wireless Telegraphy. The greater the stretch, the better, of course, with bonus marks for involving an elephant. The prize is temporary glory, so don’t delay…the comments section below is now open!


Bad Stuff broadband End User fun stuff Legal Net piracy

Geo Restriction Means a Pirate’s Life for Me…

Accessing the whole of creation…what is available in my “region” of it, that is.

A regular contributor to, we are as always pleased to present insight from James Blessing, the current Chair of the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) UK.

Once upon a time in the west, a man sat and contemplated the state of the world and the marvels that now existed upon his doorstep. With a simple gesture he could now access the whole of creation, every song that’s ever been sung, every work of art painted or love poem written in a moment of teenage angst. And the cats, don’t forget the cats…

Maybe that’s the future, it’s almost the now, but there is a problem that means that “every” gets dropped on the floor and is replaced with the slightly less poetic “everything that we could managed to get the licensing conditions approved for in your country right now, but maybe not next week” and that problems is lawyers.

When I started to think about this article I was going to focus on the benefits of the Internet and broadband, and then I tried to watch a clip from the late show…and then I changed tack. This isn’t the first time — and it won’t be the last — when content isn’t available in my “region”, where geo restriction has reared its head and made it so that if I want to watch content I have to either fire up a VPN to the “right region” and watch the content from there, or I will have to  head over to a friendly Pirate resource and unleash a p2p application. Do you want to know the worst bit about this? The content was being pushed to me by the DailyShow itself.

Sorry, but this video is unavailable from your location

And it gets worse. Wil Wheaton has written a blog about this very topic, in fact, as he’s seeing an ever increasing number of people using bittorrent to download his new show, and he is worried that if it continues the show won’t be renewed. It even pushed me into writing a quick email to Syfy UK (the network that produces the show in the US), but even they can’t get the show:

We instigated proceedings to acquire the UK rights, but a number of legal complications surrounding differences in UK and US clip clearance legislation, have unfortunately prevented us from doing so.

Now here is something that needs fixing. I have no “magic bullet” solution, as there are too many vested interests that won’t have a sensible conversation unless someone waves a stick at them and the politicians seem to be too scared of big media to unleash their sticks. There is an election next year, though, and it sure would be nice if one (or all) of the parties could commit to making an effort to resolve this issue…your local MP could be an excellent place to start!

Editorial note – check out our new site – BroadbandRating.







Bad Stuff broadband Business Net ofcom

…Superfast Broadband That

In moving into a world of affordable cloud-based services and versatile mobile devices, the way in which we consume Internet access and connectivity will rely on ISPs that can provide a solid, consistently fast and reliable service. once again welcomes Zen Internet and ISPA Council Member Gary Hough to the page. Superfast Broadband This…, the first part of Gary’s “Broadband Week” post, ran yesterday, and readers wanting a more comprehensive understanding of the piece that follows (and a wee bit more of Gary’s biography) will want to start there.

At the ISP who I work for, we are expecting a real boom in the adoption of superfast broadband over the next few years. In fact, we believe it is likely that 95% of UK households and businesses will take up such offers, though of course this depends massively on the network coverage and rollout of suppliers who can deliver it. And this is where my dilemma lies, because we’re now moving away from the home PC, desktop, archaic server networking that we’re all used to and into a world of very affordable cloud-based services and versatile mobile devices. All of this will become the norm as time goes on, of course, and the way in which we consume our internet access and connectivity will rely more and more on ISPs that can provide a solid, consistently fast and reliable service. Our economic success at the local, national and international levels will become dependent on superfast broadband, without which we all lose out in some way, be that education, business, trade or indeed leisure.

As more and more customers come to enjoy the benefits of faster Internet content delivery, and more businesses discover new and indeed cheaper ways of using the Internet to improve on or enhance their commercial performance, managing bandwidth-hungry customers becomes more and more difficult, especially for the larger ISPs like Virgin Media (the one I employ at home). Based on my own experience, I believe these larger ISPs are likely to continue throttling on the fly to cope with the demand and their network capacity issues, and that the impact on you and I will very much depend on your post code area of residence.

It is unfortunate, but up until quite recently I have been unable to utilise the benefit of a free staff account on fibre from my employer, this due to my local exchange not being fibre-enabled. Now, though, I can at last avail myself of this perk, which gives me one heck of an advantage as my company doesn’t traffic shape or manipulate their broadband services like so many do. Sadly, however, most ISP’s customers don’t have the advantage of a free account nor can they simply switch at the drop of a hat, because typically they are tied into a lengthy contract period. In part, this is because BT charges the ISP heavily for the first 12 months, and this charge gets passed on. As such, on fibre at best the customer is looking at a 12-month minimum contract, which can be quite dire if the service is bad.

Ofcom are partly to blame for this situation, because they really do need to look at the wholesale price charged to ISPs that restricts them from providing an alternative and cheaper service. That said, some ISPs (including Zen Internet, I am glad to say) continue to invest heavily into improving access and ensuring that they can provide the best possible service. To me, this shows a real commitment to existing customers and potential new customers alike, who need to know that the longevity and speeds paid for will be delivered.

With ADSL the market competition was less of an issue, as the biggest providers slugged it out for market share and monthly contracts were easier to come by, but as lengthier contracts remain in place for superfast services the budget you set and the reliability of the service you choose will become far more important.

There is no harm in summing up, though by this point you can probably guess which approach I’m going to take. A strong commitment to providing a better service for discerning customers, along with consistently high speeds and excellent support, as well as a years-long track record of continual investment will see me move my fibre broadband service away from Virgin Media to one supplied, ironically, by my employer.

You should think long and hard about which ISP is really going to be committed to you and your fibre broadband service needs for the next 12, 18 or even 24 months. After all, you’re paying for it and you will no doubt be quite tied to it for the foreseeable future.

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Ofcom to Cut Openreach Prices: Will it Increase Fibre Broadband Take-up?

Openreach’s wholesale prices to drop dramatically, but will it make a difference in fibre broadband adoption? welcomes guest contributor Julia Kukiewicz, Editor of, a consumer site focused on UK broadband (among many others).

Later this year Ofcom will force Openreach to radically cut the wholesale cost of installing a fibre line, from £50 to £11. The regulator says that this price cut, which is currently waiting on European Commission approval, will promote competition among the ISPs that resell BT fibre. That’s BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Plusnet, Primus and EE, among many others.

How big a difference, though, will an Openreach wholesale price cut really make to consumers?

Let’s consider how the ISPs pass on these wholesale prices today by looking at a sampling — three of the biggest providers, and three substantially smaller — of how much they are currently charging new customers to sign up for fibre broadband:


£30 (free with up to 76Mb)










Free (£50 without Plusnet home phone)

Almost all of the ISPs are already incorporating part of the wholesale fee into their monthly fee or just eating it, with the expectation that their customers will buy extra services and/or stay and pay beyond their minimum contract term. Even with that concession, though, the fees could be a significant barrier to standard broadband households that are considering making the leap to fibre broadband. Psychologists call this ‘the pain of paying’: it’s unappealing to make a big upfront payment for a service, even if you feel that the monthly price is pretty reasonable. Similarly, almost all of the listed ISPs offer fibre only on an 18-month contract (Sky being the exception, offering a 12 month tie-in), which is a big commitment for a household looking to switch. Thus, at face value, reducing the wholesale installation fee and contract length for fibre (Ofcom want Openreach’s fibre contracts to go down from a year to a month) looks to make BT FTTC more attractive, as long as the cuts are passed on. In the case of fees, at least, that certainly seems likely. It is expected that the effect will be less pronounced with contracts, because there are a lot of other pressures encouraging ISPs to offer long contracts, but even 12-month fibre contracts would be an improvement in terms of encouraging fibre switching. However, although price seems like an important barrier to signing up households to fibre, the level of that factor’s importance is far from assured.

Let’s pause here to consider the current rates of fibre take-up. As of March 2014, about 14% of UK households who have a fibre service available actually take it. Take-up has been growing over the past few years — just a year before the rate was just 10% — but it is still pretty low. At the same time, infrastructure availability is growing fast. BT FTTC is now available to around 70% of UK premises, and will soon be available to many more as it rolls out services on behalf of the local councils that awarded it BDUK money. Based on current projections, fibre broadband penetration could exceed 90% by the end of 2015. In this environment, price barriers like fees and long contracts may be stopping households from taking up fibre, but taking the popularity of pay TV services as an example, the ‘pain of paying’ explanation can clearly only take us so far. Logo

In a 2012 report entitled Strategies for Superfast Demand Stimulation, the broadband monitoring group Point Topic suggested that the focus needed to shift from building infrastructure to building customers that actually want it. Successful fibre broadband network areas — that is, areas where take up was high, giving companies a return on their investment and hence more impetus to continue expanding the network — were not areas with the most coverage and the lowest prices, according to Point Topic, but instead were places where real and active support from local people made people enthusiastic and excited about signing up for better broadband. And we are already seeing this in some areas with broadband champions, and even more strongly in communities which have taken the initiative to work with a local ISP, such as Frilford, Oxfordshire working with Gigaclear and Forest of Bowland and the Lune Valley, Lancashire working with Broadband for Rural North (B4RN)*. The bigger ISPs, though, haven’t taken the initiative to really stimulate demand in this way, and unless they do we may be waiting a long time for fibre take-up to really increase, even with Ofcom’s cut in wholesale costs.

Business gadgets Legal Mobile phones

Fruity Simulation

Watching the World Cup matches over the weekend I was struck not for the first time by the lightning-quick tendency on the part of the players to flop to the turf at the slightest contact with a member of the opposing team.

“That guy’s elbow touched my arm. I am gravely injured and in need of a Free Kick!”
    “His foot tapped my foot, which means I was tripped! Owww! Bring the stretcher out! Rev up the ambulance! Alert the hospital that we may soon be on our way! Yellow Card that serial tripper!”
    “I fell to the ground when so-and-so ran by me in front of his goal, which means he violently knocked me down, and therefore I deserve a Goal Kick!”

Nothing unexpected, of course, as even the most casual fan of the so-called “Beautiful Game” has come to expect an abundance of ugly on-the-pitch acting antics. I didn’t expect, though, to flash so easily to the parallel of Apple’s hair-trigger propensity to sue any competitor that wandered into their path (usually Samsung), claiming an assault on their design and utility, “original” though it may be.

No Diving

“Rectangular mobile phones with rounded corners…that was our idea! We deserve billions of dollars because your phones are also rectangular with rounded corners, and you should not be allowed to continue making phones with that form factor!”
    “A main button…that was our idea! We should get billions of dollars because your phones also have a main button, and your phones should be prohibited from having a main button!”
    “Little square pictures that users can touch to open apps (which is our word for “applications”)…that was our idea! You should pay us billions in damages for having little square pictures that users can touch on your unlawfully integrated touch screens to open applications on their unlawfully shaped phones!”

Extract tongue out of cheek.

Of course, one good turf dive deserves another, and the non-Apple entity in all of this (usually Samsung) has proven fast to counter-sue. All of which just leads to more suing and counter-suing, and so on and so forth…hey, just like the players do in association football (Americans out there are invited to read that as ‘soccer’)!

By this point players of association football — henceforth, I will just write ‘football’ and assume my American readership is sharp enough not to lose the plot — have not just accepted flopping as a reality of the game, but no doubt consider it to be a skill worthy of serious practice (rehearsal?), one that they may be called upon to perform without hesitation at any time or may even be asked to condition themselves to do in certain circumstances. And this goes not just for those playing footy/footie at the highest levels, but through the ranks, all the way down to the kiddie leagues. Really, I mean, does it get any cuter than those five-year-olds rolling to the ground holding their shins and screaming for a Red Card?

Five-year-old behavior. Yup. That rings just about right. Players participating in 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil and the C-Level officers at Apple and Samsung alike…

Fair play? If it ever was it certainly isn’t today, when instead it is gamesmanship that is so often revered and celebrated. It matters not nearly as much how the gooooooooooal was achieved as the fact that it was achieved. Your opponent has gathered up a lethal storm of momentum? Flop to blunt the tide. Need a breather, to regroup? Dive, grab knee, and scream for justice. Innovating not and iterating plenty and wanting to avoid notice of such? Cry out to a referee…er, judge to stop the other guy (usually Samsung) before he can catch up to and stop you.

Now you might be thinking, “OK, Kory. Clever. Bit naïve, though. Football is all about the sport! Competition! The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat! ! Business is just about money!

And I am the one being naïve?

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So Long 084 and 087 (and Thanks for All the Fish)! welcomes guest contributor Alex Kinch, Founder and CEO of Ziron.

The game is finally up for many ‘rip-off’ 084 and 087 numbers. Thanks to the EU’s Consumer Rights Directive – and the corresponding UK legislation (The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Payments) Regulations 2013), as of 13-June-2014 customers will not pay more than the “basic rate” when calling a wide range of businesses for customer service, complaints, renewals and cancellations. Hopefully by that point the majority of businesses will have already swapped their numbers, however what is really interesting is the reason why this change is taking place and what the impact will be.

Alex Kinch

I may be showing my age, but I remember when the 084/ 087 numbers hit the mainstream at the start of the millennium. For businesses the advantage was clear: profit resulting from the call charges. Understandably, though, this didn’t make consumers very happy, and you can see their point. After all, who wants to be charged a premium rate whilst waiting an age listening to “Greensleeves” on repeat?

Mobile operator Three estimates the cost to consumers at half a billion pounds a year with research and testing company Which? pitting the figure at £385 a year, per household, which is not really small change by anyone’s standards. Thus, it’s no wonder that 67% of the consumers surveyed by Which? thought that these high-rate numbers were being deliberately used to discourage people from calling them.

So with Which? and other consumer rights groups complaining to the government to take action, it is great that something is finally being done to end this ‘rip off’. As with everything, however, there is a catch: certain types of companies are exempt from the legislation, including financial services, gambling, construction, and property sales and rental. There is hope, of course, that the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) will put pressure on their members to voluntarily comply.

All of this has been good news for the numbering market, as demand for 03 numbers has gone through the roof. It feels as though consumers get that 03 numbers are ‘national’ numbers, but that they are billed like a geographic call. The real question, though, is how this will affect call volume and whether businesses will find other ways to recoup their lost revenue. I guess we will find out next month…

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Connected Like a Peasant

On a recent trip to France, I spent a day and a half in Chartres. I toured the cathedral there. I think there are strong similarities between the way we relate to technology today and the way people once related to technology in medieval Europe. This applies to emerging technologies, such as augmented reality and issues of net neutrality.

While in Chartres I learned that the latin word cathdra means seat. Thus, in medieval times the religious centers were the seat of power, which is how those domed buildings that housed the centers of power came to be known as cathedrals. We retain the same sense of the word when we refer to a seat of government, or a county seat – other places where domed buildings house the centers of power. These seats are the places where decisions are made on the behalf of other — is that enough foreshadowing on the net neutrality issue?

I picked up this etymology lesson from an old codger…er, scholar named Malcolm Miller. Or, rather, Sir Malcolm, as the gentleman has been knighted. Twice. Sir Malcolm is a British tour guide — a living legend, really — who has been working at the Chartres cathedral for 57 years. I didn’t know he was a living legend before I arrived in Chartres, however after spending 90 minutes listening to him talk I can see why he is so revered.

The nature of Sir Malcolm’s tour is to tell stories and he did just that, telling us about the meaning of the pictures in the stained glass. He explained that we can approach the elaborate stained glass like we would approach a modern day library. (Remember that the guy is 80 years old. He still thinks libraries serve a vital function. We let it slide. Library…Internet…same thing.)

Sir Malcolm began the tour by asking, “Would you go into a library and say, ‘Let’s meet for an hour and read all the books?’ No, of course not,” he continued, “and so to read all the history just in this church would likewise take a lifetime.”

He was explaining that the church was both a seat of power and a center of learning. That is, in a time when most people did not read or write, in a time when paper did not exist, the sculptures and stained glass of the church were the historical record of society. And who interprets the historical record? Of course, those who hold the money to sponsor the building of that historical record.

Chartres Map

By the end of 2014, according to Cisco research, the number of connected devices will exceed the world’s population — more than seven billion. Imagine that, a world in which digital devices on The Network outnumber humans. And how about this tidbit…by end of this year, 864 million phones and 103 million cars will support augmented reality (AR).

We are becoming more connected to information through our devices. Well, duh.

But is this new? I mean, sure, the mechanics of the digital devices are new, but I mean is it new to have society so interconnected through a mainstream channel of information?

Consider this: Today I can slip Google Glass on my head, hold up a can of creamed corn to read its bar code, and…voila! Google Glass will tell me the story of that can of corn (well, some unnamed database will tell the story). Calories, ingredients, nutritional value, etc., all that metadata tells me a modern story regarding that little piece of the external world. It’s metadata on the real world; the same as a stained glass window was, once upon a time.

I know it is one serious leap, comparing a web site or an Internet-enabled app to a stained glass window in a cathedral, but isn’t it the same relationship? Do we not look at all this metadata and information as stories of the “real” world? Isn’t that what modern technology is trying to provide us now – a way to better understand the world? That, and a means of connecting and communicating with people? That’s the modern version of stained glass in a cathedral.


On the tour, I also learned something about how that stained glass got into those cathedrals. Sir Malcolm pointed out a couple of important features, such as the marks in the stone below each 30-foot high piece of colored glass — marks similar to logos — that identified who paid for that particular piece. Furthermore, our trusty guide said that the story told in each glass was the story that the sponsor wanted to have told. For example, the cobblers of the region paid to put in a stained glass that told the story of the Good Samaritan as well as the story of Adam and Eve’s fall from the Garden of Eden. The cobblers, for some reason, were trying to make a link between those two stories. Sir Malcolm explained that the story in the glass was a commentary on the Bible stories, providing material with which the clergy could instruct society. The commentaries were a way of informing society of two important things: (1) What was in the Bible, and (2) How people should behave, based on what was in the Bible.

So we see that it was not solely the church that interpreted reality. The merchants who worked with and built the church also had a say in the stories being told. These sponsors included guilds of cobblers, water bearers (think municipal water system), bakers, wine makers (think of all that wine purchased for the sacrament), cheese makers (blessed are the cheese makers), etc.

The church of medieval Europe was big business. He who told the story in those seats of power, called cathedrals, controlled the social structure.

Augmented reality? Net neutrality? Some big issues are on the horizon, matters that will change the basic structure of human society. Perhaps we can learn something from the history of the medieval church. Maybe, just maybe, we can take the time to recall the importance of the Golden Rule. You remember the Golden Rule, right? Go look it up — at the library.

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Privacy International versus GCHQ on PRISM

Since I last commented on the Edward Snowden affair, the inevitable has happened: the issues exposed have been raised in a judicial body in the United Kingdom.

Privacy International, a charity that campaigns to protect citizens’ privacy, has filed a case against the Foreign Secretary and GCHQ for the snooping alleged in the Snowden files (for those interested, the full case has been made public.

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal is the first and last judicial body in which such cases can be heard — there is no right of appeal to the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court or any other such body, only to the European Court of Human Rights — which means we are in this one for the long haul as such cases are rarely expeditiously dealt with.

Prima facie, there’s nothing new in the case that we haven’t heard about from the Guardian newspaper or various media outlets, and therein lies the crux of the whole thing. Where’s the smoking gun? (An idiom invented by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for the etymologists among you). The case appears to rely in great measure on revelations from Snowden in the press and doesn’t seem to provide, for example, a laptop with the alleged malware on it. The accusations are second hand — powerpoint presentations referring to capabilities, not a Flickr stream of unwitting selfies from usurped webcams. Essentially, in fact, the entire case is hearsay. In America, depending on the exact implementation in the specific State, it is generally inadmissible in its entirety, but following reforms of the UK judicial system in 2003 with regard to both civil and criminal cases, hearsay is admissible under certain criteria (which are not strenuous — the focus on what weight the court should give the evidence and not the admissibility). And, no doubt, that is a substantial factor as to why Privacy International chose to file a claim in the UK as opposed to the USofA.

Without writing an essay on the subject, and noting that I am not a lawyer but a regulation guru that spends a lot of time surrounded by them, it appears to me that the Edward Snowden revelations have a good chance of meeting the admissibility of hearsay criteria — good news for Privacy International, and bad news for GCHQ in terms of the first hurdle at least, with one notable exception. In order for it all to be admissible, the inability for the Defendants or the Claimant to call the Claimant’s key witness (Snowden) would have to meet certain thresholds.

Edward Snowden, to our knowledge, is not yet dead nor is he unfit to testify as a result of mental illness of physical disability. Whilst he is outside the UK, you can argue, it is not unreasonably practicable to secure his attendance because there is an extradition treaty with the Russian Federation where he is alleged to be currently residing (which takes care of the “cannot be found” argument too). Also, on the face of it, Snowden could be alleged to have been complicit or guilty of carrying out criminal acts under UK jurisdiction covered by the treaty. Thus, only “afraid to testify” remains, which is a valid concern, given how extradition might work with the USofA should Ed step foot on these shores to be cross examined or prosecuted.

I can’t help but wonder if this action by Privacy International is a double edged sword. Clearly it’s a strong attack on the UK government for their alleged involvement in Prism et al and it is good such actions and potential criminality is heard fairly in court, however its weight is somewhat compromised by the lack of a smoking gun and star witness. Regardless of your leanings on the subject, it is certainly something to watch.

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VoIP not working over your broadband connection? We may have the explanation.

VoIP over broadband not working? It may be the router.

Routers provided by some major ISPs are preventing their customers from using VOIP services such as Skype.

For some time now members of the Internet Telephony Service Providers Association have been keeping a list of routers through which VoIP doesn’t appear to work. The routers themselves include functionality or elements of firmware that are either not user configurable or there are elements of the ISP service that mandate their router without an obvious means of using an alternative. This means that if a customer wants to use Over The Top VoIP services such as those provided by ITSPA members they usually can’t.

Unfortunately whilst this may well not be a deliberate act of anti competitiveness on behalf of the ISP it has the same effect as if VoIP was being blocked in the ISP network – interesting considering that some of these ISPs offer VoIP services of their own.

If you have such a router you probably can’t use Skype or any other VoIP service offered by the 100 or so independent providers in the UK. Whether this is deliberate or not is a moot point. The end result is that the ISP is affecting your ability to use the broadband service you pay for.

Most major ISPs are signatories to the Broadband Stakeholders’ Group Code of Practice and have undertaken to respect what is known as Net Neutrality or the promise not to favour any one type of traffic over another. This is a fundamental principle of how the internet works.

If an ISP provided routers over which 3rd Party VoIP services did not work whilst their own VoIP service continued to work perfectly well they would be flouting these principles. Effectively they would on the one hand be saying they are “good guys” which comes with obvious PR benefits whilst in practice being “bad guys”.

Dan Winfield, CEO of VoIP provider Voxhub says:

“This is an ongoing problem. It can affect customers that work from home at any time even if they have things up and running. A new update is shipped out by an ISP and effectively wipes out their phones. You can see the roll outs happening over a period of time as people call for support. The worse side of this is that customers get angry with us and we cannot do much. We cannot guarantee our service will work on home broadband as a result. When we roll out to offices, we always supply routers to get round the problem but this doesn’t work for home users.”

Not all ISPs are affected. It would be interesting to hear from any reader who has a broadband service but over which VoIP will not work.

net neutrality voip

The Smoking Rooms of Net Neutrality welcomes VoIP Week contributor Dan Winfield, Co-Founder and CEO of Voxhub and 2014 ITSPA Council member.

Net neutrality is a hot topic amongst those in the VoIP industry and something all VoIP providers have had to deal with in one form or another, usually looming its head in the land of large network providers and mobile networks. Did you know, though, that there are many places in the UK where you are not free to use your favourite VoIP provider? No joke, as difficult as it is to believe, there are still places in 2014 that judge based on the protocol. And these places are on every block, every city and are allowed to openly discriminate.

Yes, I am talking about serviced offices.

VoIP services are about flexibility, and ironically this is what serviced offices are supposed to offer. So why do I put my head in my hands when I hear that a client is moving to a serviced office? In my experience, Voxhub customers making such a move typically have to leave because they are not allowed to use our service or they cannot do so due to firewall blocking. Also, much stress is generated during such ‘events’ due to customers becoming annoyed with the situation and, in the case of blocking, are often caught between two parties with no service! Of course, at Voxhub we do our best to find a diplomatic solution for any customers wanting to move to a serviced office, but it isn’t a task we like to undertake.

Before going any further I should say that I am fully aware of the financial dynamics of serviced offices, and the fact that they often have to invest in telephony for whole buildings in advance and figure out how to somehow repay this investment.  The grey area in all of this — and where the real problem lies — is that all serviced offices supply ‘Internet’ to their customers. Thus, as ‘VoIP services’ are synonymous with ‘Internet’, such services should not be blocked on the grounds that they compete with the in-house telephony VoIP or otherwise.

So why do I care? Let me quote Bender, that wise robot from the much loved cartoon “Futurama”:

“This is the worst kind of discrimination. The kind against me!”

I’ll explain. I have spent much of the last 6 months looking for office space for our Voxhub team in London, and as such have been forced to enter the underbelly of the office world as a potential customer. We sought our own office, but also investigated the serviced office option. Normally I would cross the road when I see a serviced office for fear of being jeered at, but there is a disturbing new type that dress themselves up as modern, fun and ‘Internet’ savvy. They even have high ceilings, wooden floors, unfinished walls and random furniture in corners of rooms. I was fooled, enough at least to give the concept a chance.

In one case, I was actually quite near to signing up with one of these new breed serviced offices. Naturally, I had asked questions about using our own phones, but I always had a sneaky feeling that they didn’t understand. At the very end of the process, in fact, they asked me how many of their phones I would want, and they even went as far as to increase the quoted rent costs when I said they could keep their phones because I didn’t need them. They tried to concede, but then stupidly said I had to pay an extra charge based on the number of phones in the room. Anyone who has seen our desks knows that this is a dumb thing to say, as during service development or trials we often have upwards of three or four phones on a single desk! Of course, I told them to stuff it.

I decided to make one last set of enquiries for serviced offices to see if my prejudice is correct. Sadly, it only made it clearer in my mind that these businesses need to be slapped into shape when it comes to understanding net neutrality.

  • All advertised Internet but gave no warning that certain services were not allowed.
  • Many very clearly indicated that I could not use VoIP telephones.
  • Some said I could use Skype but not the Voxhub service.
  • Some didn’t know anything but told me I had to direct my question to their telecom provider.

I had a very colourful call with one lady that highlights the problem. She told me that for our service I was allowed to use a software phone like Skype, that I wasn’t allowed to use a hardware VoIP phone, that I was allowed to use a laptop with a headset (and if the headset looked like a phone handset, that was also OK), and that I wasn’t allowed to use a laptop that looked like a phone with my headset from the previous question that looked like a handset.

VoIP Serviced Offices

As you can no doubt imagine, at this point I was trying not to laugh and the woman was probably wishing she hadn’t spoken to me. I snuck in one last question about using a phone that looked like a laptop, but I think by that point she realised something was going on and made an excuse about me needing to speak to someone more technical.

In all seriousness, by the end of the process I felt that not only was VoIP effectively blacklisted, but that my business wasn’t even allowed to trade in a serviced office without using someone else’s phones or paying danger money for being there!

A serviced office, in my opinion, should be considered a service provider and be included as part of any regulatory requirements and / or best practices, especially if they have outsourced their operations to a service provider that in any other environment would not operate this type of practice.

At day’s end, I am extremely glad that we were pushed away from taking a serviced office. Voxhub has now been accepted as a member of TechHub (we love hubs) and we are moving into our new studio space in Old Street today!

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Net Neutrality and Telephony

Net neutrality and VoIP telephony – thorny issues the industry needs to negotiate welcomes “VoIP Week” contributor Rob Pickering, CEO of ipcortex.

Most folks who work in the VoIP industry have at some point been subject to a casual horror story from a new acquaintance about evil VoIP and how they tried it once and that it nearly brought their business to its knees. My heart sinks whenever I realise that this is the direction in which the conversation is going, at which point I usually find myself wishing I’d said that I did something less controversial for a living…like writing computer networking software! I listen, though, nodding politely, already forming a conclusion — after all, it would be unlikely that the problems experienced were due to a fault in their equipment or termination provider, both of which are probably perfectly reliable. No, a lack of a suitable quality of service (QoS) between their premises and termination provider is almost always the culprit in such circumstances.

The UK service provider industry has developed lots of solutions to the QoS problem, and things are far better now than they were just five or ten years ago when the market was in its infancy. The quality and availability of last mile circuits, particularly in metropolitan areas, has massively improved with successive advancements such as LLU, FTTC, FTTP, and cost-effective, high bandwidth Ethernet IAD type circuits. There has also been a trend towards integrated providers delivering the whole service — access circuit, Internet and telephony — as a single package. Behind the scenes, this may or may not translate technically into a full end-to-end in-house QoS-managed solution, depending on the provider and sometimes the geography of the customer. It does, however, assign commercial responsibility for delivering a fit-for-purpose solution to a single party, and this can only produce a better quality outcome for the customer.


Such an approach is certainly not universal. The US market has developed differently, for instance, and most VoIP termination providers don’t get deeply involved in provision of access circuits, instead opting to rely on decent low loss, low jitter transit or peering arrangements, and their customers’ own commodity access circuits. Often they will do a bit of automated “connection testing” as part of their signup process, however in general customers on unsuitable circuits tend to weed themselves out.  This does produce some benefits for customers, including more transparency with regard to costs, as well as a bit less lock-in as there is no commercial linkage between access and over-the-top (OTT) voice service. Today, in fact, several of those US suppliers are entering the UK market with this same business model.

Which brings us on to Net Neutrality. Whenever this subject comes up, we tend to think about its obvious effects on consumer entertainment services. The future development of the telephony industry is, however, intimately linked with this issue. Whilst the raw, per-consumer bandwidth requirements of a VoD service like Netflix is greater, the network characteristics required to deliver a reliable telephony conversation of at least ISDN quality are in some ways more onerous. Though buffering can always be used to counter horrible jitter on the underlying path for a video stream, and content caches are already used to reduce transit requirements, neither of these methods can be used to reduce the pain on a real-time voice conversation. If telephony providers can no longer get good, zero-packet loss, low jitter transit, or peering with many leading access providers, then an entire business model may very well be frozen out.

How do you think the industry will develop? Vertically integrated one-stop shops for network access and telephony, or universal OTT providers? I’d love to know your thoughts.

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A VoIP Spring

A regular contributor, Peter Farmer is the Commercial and Regulatory Manager at Gamma, as well as an ITSPA Council member and Chair of ITSPA Regulatory Committee.  We are pleased to present his “VoIP Week” post.

So, Trefor asked me to approach an article for “VoIP Week” from a commercial perspective as opposed to regulatory…. took me a while, but sunstroked approaching Havant cycling from Esher to Portsmouth, it dawned on me.

We’ve had our VoIP Spring. We just don’t realise it yet.

Last year, there was much furore around Ofcom’s decision (enacting an EC Recommendation) to reduce geographic termination rates to the Long Run Incremental Cost (“LRIC”). These rates were previously calculated using Fully Allocated Cost (“FAC”). Very roughly, FAC is 5x LRIC in this market, so 0.3 became 0.06 pence per minute.

All the views espoused on that subject were valid, especially as we have a diverse industry with many niche interests and many unbalanced portfolios of net termination and origination. In the same market review, however, Ofcom transferred — for BT at least — the foregone common cost (the difference between LRIC and FAC, attributable to costs such as your CEO and Finance and HR teams, etc., and not directly to each incremental unit of what you are selling) in the termination market to the origination market. Granted, this had the perverse effect of reducing the cost (through the Significant Market Power Condition that governs non-geographic out-payments), but what it did to was virtually double the per-minute cost of the origination leg of Carrier Pre-Select and Indirect Access. Granted, again, this nets off against calls to UK geographic and non BT terminating non-geographic (why BT itself is exempt is a very long story that I will tell another day), but means that calls on legacy ISDN30 estates to mobiles and international numbers increased. Markedly. We are now in a situation where the direct cost of getting a call from the Network Terminating Equipment (“NTE”) over the Local Loop to the Digital Local Exchange (“DLE”) is five times that of getting it from the DLE to a mobile in the US of A. Seriously.

If you’re an over-the-top provider, your cost base just went down. You don’t have to worry about that leg from the NTE to the DLE. Your voice traffic is ones and zeroes encoded in packets of data over broadband frequencies, not analogue on narrowband frequencies. The per minute cost of providing the service to any caller has plummeted, relative to an ISDN2 or 30 or even a single WLR line.

And that right there, Ladies and Gentlemen, was our VoIP Spring. Let’s make the most of it.


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