Business internet

Digital Britain Final Report delayed until end of June

A very interesting ISPA Legal Forum session this afternoon yielded quite a bit of bloggable stuff, some of which has already been covered in posts earlier this evening.

The Legal Forum format was based on a panel session that included Clive Gringras as Chair, Simon Persoff, head of Regulatory Affairs at Orange, Steve Rowan of the International Policy Directorate and Daniel Sandelson, Partner at lawyers Clifford Chance.

Firstly the Digital Britain Final Report which was meant to be out in mid May is now likely to be delayed due to the “purdah” that is applied to such publications during election times – there are both Local Government and European elections in the forthcoming months.

Secondly the formation of a Digital Rights Agency, touted as part of the initial DB Report now seems to be far from a done deal. Many of the stakeholders involved thought theRights Agency was a bad idea. The ISP industry thinks it could be ok provided it steers clear of enforcement (of the law against copyright infringement by illegal downloading).  The Music Industry thinks it is a good idea provided it only focuses on enforcement.

ISPs say that the Music Industry is trying to avoid being seen as the bad guys by getting the ISPs to do the dirty work by terminating the broadband connections of (allegedly) guilty parties. ISPs don’t want to be seen as the bad guys, say that switching off broadband connections is disproportionate and if forced to do would want to fully recover their costs from the Music Industry. 

Because Copyright Infringment is a civil offence any costs incurred in the enforcement of private commercial rights, which is what the Music Industry wants the ISPs to do, can be recovered.  In this case by the ISPs from the Music Industry.  The Music Industry is saying it won’t pay. 

This is all looking like a right buggers muddle and I can’t see how it can end amicably. All this when a Government survey (in Glasgow for what it is worth) suggested that illegal P2P downloading is rife, nay becoming mainstream.

It isn’t possible to fully distill two hours of intense and useful discussion into a short blog post but I will finish by saying that it seems to me that the Music Industry is onto a loser and needs to reinvent it’s business model which at the moment it seems incapable of doing.  In going after the ISPs it is picking the easiest target. Is a search engine (Google?!) equally responsible becasue it helps transgressors find out how they can break the law? 

As an experiment try searching on Google for “how to download free music albums”.  You will find 48,900,000 links on this subject. The cat is out of the bag and isn’t getting back in.

Business internet

Music Tank Report on P2P Music Piracy

I just got a copy of the Music Tank report on the illegal P2P filesharing problem that has been widely debated in both the music and ISP industries.  I even get a mention in it!

The authors have requested that instead of providing a copy of the report I provide a link to their sign up page which seems reasonable to me.

It is definately worth a read if you want to understand what is happening in this space. It expands on some of the stuff I have been posting on the subject.

Business internet media piracy

ISP and Music industries meet at UK Summit

At the board room of the Performing Rights Society in London today the great and the good of the UK Music industry met with representatives from the mainstream ISP community for an open discussion on how to handle illegal P2P music downloading.

Organisations represented included UK Music,  BAC&S, PPL, PRS, MMF, MPA, MU, MCPS, MPG, Timico, ISPA, O2, Orange, AOL, Yahoo, BT, GlobalMix, LINX, Playlouder and KCom. I’m sure I’ve missed some out and you will have to work out for yourselves what some of the acronyms stand for.

I was essentially there on behalf of the Internet Service Providers’ Association to represent the smaller ISP community who have been left out of the talks up until now. Whilst the “big six” largest ISPs probably represent over 90% of the market the other ISPs, of which there are easily in excess of 300, do represent a “significant other”.

As much as anything the meeting was a “getting to know each others’ perspective” session but a few points in particular stuck in my mind.

  1. We were not allowed to discuss commercial issues and there was a lawyer sat in the corner who interrupted whenever the conversation moved towards this area – the concern being that nobody wanted the meeting to be seen as price fixing. I understand that any initiatives up until now have failed because the Music Industry can’t agree on prices that will allow ISPs to make money out of offering legal music download services. 
  2. It was suggested by yours truly that to make the whole business model work there needed to be a wholesale provider that would make it easier for smaller businesses to participate.  This wholesale provider would have sorted out the rats nest of copyright and licensing issues. Some larger ISPs had 5 corporate lawyers in a department exclusively dedicated to this area. What hope the rest of us!

There is clearly some way to go to get to a working solution although there was general agreement around the table that  everybody wanted to help.

ISPs present were asked whether P2P traffic caused problems for them on their network. I stated that typically B2B ISPs did not throttle P2P traffic  and customers were provided with a high quality experierience for which they paid a premium.

In the consumer space customers seem not prepared to pay for quality and thus in order to try and preserve a reasonable experience for “ordinary” applications such as browsing and email  it is often standard practice for ISPs to throttle P2P traffic. In fact in fairness some ISPs publish these policies on their website. This touched a nerve with one Tier 1 ISP who avoided the word throttling using, instead,  “traffic management” as a less contentious phrase.

Business internet

Anti-P2P Piracy Regulation Likely To Be Imposed On ISPs?

The UK Government has stirred up the industry today with a press release by the Department of Business, Enterprise And Regulatory Reform (BERR) that intimates it’s intention to regulate ISPs into assisting the music industry to combat illegal downloading.

BERR is saying that last year’s consultation with stakeholders (ISPs and music industry) showed that there is no consensus on how to address the problem and the suggestion is that it sees regulation as being necessary. The whole subject matter, however, is riddled with complexity.

In 2008 the music industry, under a new representative body known as UK Music, run by former pop star  Feargal Sharkey, began discussions with what are known as the “Big Six” ISPs. These are the large branded ISPs that actually represent the majority of the consumer broadband customers in the UK. These discussions were held in private and the rest of the industry has not been party to what was actually being said. My understanding is that the discussions centred purely around enforcement and have not gone particularly well.

The problems centre around being able to prove who is doing the downloading and what is being downloaded – most ISPs can’t tell and have no interest – this surely is a privacy issue. Then there are the costs of policing and finally the fact that none of the ISPs want to lose customers.

At the ISP Conference in London last November I sat on a panel with Feargal Sharkey to discuss this whole issue. At that time we arranged to meet again in the New Year so that the other , smaller, UK ISPs, represented by the ISP Association of which I am a council member could participate in the discussion. That meeting is scheduled for 9th February. So the position taken by BERR is in my view somewhat premature as discussions between stakeholders do not yet appear to me to have  finished.

The nature of talks now is centred around licensing and revenue models. There have been some high profile announcements recently where some big consumer ISPs have severed their contractual relationships with music content providers. This is being done because the existing business models do not work. For example music streaming is licensed on a per stream basis. As the number of streams grow ISPs have to increase their capacity to measure and account for them and the cost of doing so soon outweighs the income derived from selling access to the music. 

So they have to look for an alternative. The strong rumour is that a big UK ISP has already negotiated a deal whereby it can sell unlimited access to music for a fixed monthly fee per subscriber (word on the street is that this is  BT though there has been no offical acknowledgement of this fact).

The meeting on the 9th February is likely to centre around how other ISPs can adopt the same model to everyone’s mutual benefit. From the ISP industry perspective it makes more sense to make music easy to access legally than to drag everyone into complex legal processes which will only benefit lawyers in the long run.

BERR is also now saying that this subject area is also now going to be taken under the wing of the Digital Britain Review, the interim report for which is due out at the end of this month. I am not convinced that this interim report will show much progress. The likelihood is that another consultation will happen in the summer with a target date for legislation in the autumn.

This timetable, I believe, does not really provide enough time for sensible consideration of the legislation and if I were the Government would not want to be getting into an unpopular debate with industry in the run up to the election. There is a feeling on the ISP streets that the government is now looking to come up with some good news stories to take them through 2009 and into a notional spring General Election in 2010.

Time will tell, and soon enough. I will continue to report and comment on this subject. This post is a little longer than usual but there is a lot to talk about.

Business internet

ISP Conference Notes – Illegal P2P Music Downloads

As heralded I spoke at the Annual ISP Conference in London yesterday. An amazing mix of organisations were represented including ISPs, content providers, mobile operators, security companies, NGOs, charities, government departments and universities. I’m sure I’ll have missed out some group :-).

My session was with Fergal Sharkey, erstwhile lead singer of the Undertones but now CEO of UK Music and representative of the music industry in the UK. In a nutshell the ISP industry has not hitherto concerned itself with what is going on with illegal P2P music downloading, other than in some highly publicised and much criticised cases of throttling the ADSL connections of heavy users.

The mood is changing with both music industry and ISPs getting together to try and come up with a solution that suits both parties. This is the scoop:

  • It costs money for ISPs to police illegal downloads.
  • Legal music downloading removes some of the distribution costs that used to exist in the record industry
  • There must be a way of recompensing ISPs for their work in assisting the music industry.

This process began recently with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the largest six ISPs and UK Music. The “big six” represent a high proportion of UK broadband consumers. The concern amongst the other ISPs that actually represent the majority of the service providers, if not the largest subscriber base, is that the big six will opt for a solution that is good for them but not actually sensible for smaller organisations.

An example would be if they decided to implement technical approaches that suit larger organisations but may be impractical in smaller ones.

The upshot is that Timico was invited to participate in the debate along with the Internet Service Providers’ Association to represent the smaller stakeholders. More as it happens…