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Information, Connection and Signposting Services (ICSS) Update

ICSS update

A little while ago I was approached by someone else that shares an interest in the subject of Information, Connection and Signposting Services (the so-called ICSS), about which I have previously written on Trefor.Net.

As a brief reminder, someone will buy up all the Google Ad-words (or, I suppose, the Yahoo equivalent if they’re still a thing) for “British Gas Customer Services” and variants thereof, and show a revenue sharing phone number, such as 0844 (which can be upto 7 pence per minute plus your phone company’s access charge) which they then translate to the actual customer service number and pocket the difference.

Since I last wrote about this, the Consumer Rights Directive was transposed and the Financial Conduct Authority implemented a similar requirement to outlaw the use of “premium rate” calls when contacting a company in connection with a contract.

Firstly, some pedantry from me. The term premium rate is bandied about far too often by everyone. It has a very distinct legal meaning, which is based in the Ofcom Premium Rate Services Definition. Broadly, that means it has to be more than 7 pence per minute in terms of the Service Charge element; and as the National Telephone Numbering Plan (given force by virtue of General Condition of Entitlement 17) prohibits the use of anything above 7 pence per minute to just 087x and 09x ranges, then 084 numbers and 03 numbers are not Premium Rate by definition. Hopefully some sub-Editors for the Daily Mail shall take note. Incidentally, the numbering plan doesn’t prevent 087 being used below 7 pence per minute – in the changes to the non-geographic call services market in the summer of 2015, many operators set a service charge of 1-2 pence per minute for 0870 numbers to maintain the status quo. This means they are not “premium rate” despite the fact the next number block in sequence might be 13 pence per minute.

So, now we are all up to speed, why the renewed interest? Well, PhonepayPlus intervened in the ICSS market where the Service Charge element was over 7 pence per minute (i.e. premium rate where they have jurisdiction). They set a prior permission regime, which denoted ICSS has high risk, but then softened this to Special Conditions along with the rest of the prior permission regime in an update to the PhonepayPlus Code of Conduct. Their intervention wasn’t a smooth one, with some ICSS operators seeking a judicial review of their intervention. That will give you an idea of what the market is worth – a view supported by the growing number of entities apparently offering such a “service”. I have a list broken down by year and it has demonstrably been growing over time.

I cannot think of any direct PhonepayPlus censure of an ICSS provider; however, the Advertising Standards Authority has intervened in a couple of cases. The first brought to my attention was in 2014 whereby the ASA ruled against them on the basis it wasn’t clear it was a connection service. Interestingly, in a case in 2015, they went further, discussing that customers looking for a number for customer services wouldn’t go into detailed small print. This is heartening as it means the ASA is almost going further than PhonepayPlus and is a useful alternative body to make complaints to.

Unsurprisingly, the Fair Telecoms Campaign made a suggestion that all ICSS should be treated as Premium Rate Services (i.e. under Phonepayplus control) in their response to the Ofcom consultation on the latest Phonepayplus Code of Conduct. Ofcom dismissed this in their Statement due to a lack of consumer harm being evidenced, which is a stock Ofcom answer for “not important enough to warrant our resource or attention yet”.

That Ofcom position also correlates with me having made representations on behalf of some financial institutions who were rather aggrieved at being passed off (which is still the advice I give people – treat it as impersonation more than a telecommunications regulation issue).

So, it’s clear there’s still a problem, and potentially one that is growing. Where do we go from here?

Well, it is heartening that a Google search I have performed for a few private sector companies people may wish to call (including those I referenced in my original piece) has them in the top couple/three hits with ICSS at least being less obvious and less baiting then I recall, although they are still there. This of course doesn’t get around the natural human instinct of just dialling the number that’s there at the top, of course. However, I cannot say the same for government departments who appear to be subject to it, and, in terms of Ofcom’s statutory duties, should have them pay more attention as it presents services used by the more vulnerable in society.

I believe that the ASA has broader power and is clearly more disposed to using it in situations where ICSS is misleading. The problem here is two-fold though. First, it is a lot harder for a commercial entity to make a complaint to the ASA (something I found out when ITSPA were going to refer EE for its “shed load of data” advert a couple years ago). Secondly, there is a balance between offering a service at a premium taken willingly by lazy consumers (the economists would say “reducing their search costs”); just like being put through to a number given to you by the guys in moustaches at their 118 rates, ICSS can be argued to have a legitimate role in society.

That means we need to have a debate, which is where Ofcom should come in. They are the subject matter experts and have a wide range of powers available for them to research and intervene as they feel appropriate. So, I think my advice needs to be updated as follows;

  1. Complain to the ASA. It is easier for it to be given attention if the consumer does it as opposed to the passed off company.
  2. Be in control of your search engine results and outspend the ICSS people if needs be. I haven’t experienced it myself as it isn’t my area, but one ITSPA members tells me Google are receptive to  companies complaining they are being passed off, so that should be something done as well.
  3. Complain to Ofcom. Google “Ofcom contact us” and pray I haven’t been mischievous and bought the ad words for it and translated an 0908 number to their 0300 to fund an Aston Martin. In all seriousness, their details are here.


My experience from dealing with fraud, net neutrality and other issues that various agencies want to try and ignore is that once there’s a clear weight of evidence, in fairness to those agencies, they do start to act. So let’s get the evidence to them and break the vicious cycle of “no action because no reporting” and “no reporting because no action”.

Business Mobile mobile connectivity

Wholesale Mobile Access – a tonic for our industry?

Wholesale Mobile Access – a primary concern of the Competition and Markets Authority in its review of the proposed BT/EE transaction.

It has been an exciting couple of months for those of us with an interest in the regulation of the telecommunications industry.

We’ve had the publication of the much anticipated first “consultation” in Ofcom’s Strategic Review of Digital Communications. Those that have already grappled with its 180ish pages of Ofcomese will know it doesn’t exact contain much that hadn’t been known or floated by various stakeholders in the past. That said, Ofcom have, separately, proposed a dark fibre remedy on BT, which, given the completely woeful predecessor that was Physical Infrastucture Access was a welcome move by them.

What has been going on though, slightly away from Ofcom, is the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA’s) investigation into the proposed acquisition of EE by BT. Last week saw popcorn-worthy scenes between TalkTalk and Vodafone played out in the industry press about Vodafone’s status (or not) as a wholesale provider of mobile services to Mobile Virtual Network Operators.

The amicability of TalkTalk and Vodafone’s divorce in isolation is one thing, but a review of all the documents submitted to the CMA so far, conversations had at conferences, articles in the industry press and whatnot, all point to one thing. That there is a firm belief that the market for wholesale mobile access is not as optimal as some would like.

To me, this is reinforced somewhat by what I consider to be some fawning over the market by Ofcom in the Strategic Review of Digital Communications – there’s a paragraph in there implying there are more than 20 operators with access at the radio layer – so-called “thin MVNOs”. I will personally buy a pint for the first person that manages to list them all in the comments section below. My wallet is safe because I am pretty sure this is a sleight of definitions used to try and paint a rosier picture of what happened on Ofcom’s watch than really did.

All of this is irrelevant though, because the CMA has honed right in on this as being one of the primary concerns in its review of the proposed BT/EE transaction. Yes, there’s other stuff in there about mobile backhaul and quad play and yada-yada-yada, but, like the Eye of Sauron, they have had an immediate laser like focus on what we all know to be an area of concern in our industry.

We’ve been here before. We’ve seen a bottleneck of assets like the radio access network as recently (or as far back depending on how old you feel) as the late nineties with the introduction of carrier pre-select (CPS). We had indirect access before then – we still do of a fashion – but this was the first truly economically enlightened breaking of the BT monopoly I can think of.

CPS enabled an end user to permanently have BT program the local exchange to route their outgoing calls to an alternative provider, negating the need for a little magic box adding an indirect access code or dialling digits manually. The alternative providers would build their networks out to these exchanges to collect the calls. The rates for all of this were heavily regulated and they made profit by arbitraging the regulated rates versus their own efficiency in building a network.

Fast forward a few years and we have (and still do) one of the most competitive markets in the world for outbound calls from a premises, even before the advent of over the top communications. All this came about from a simple technical remedy to allow other, competent, operators to interconnect deeply in the BT network to offer a competing service.

What’s more is that every single CPS operator I can think of offers its own wholesale service – it doesn’t provide CPS just for its own retail operations, but to resellers and dealers and whatnot; each level of the supply chain is adding its own value to the proposition and before you know it you have hundreds, if not thousands, of “telcos” offering fixed voice services to residential and business users.

If we have a look at the mobile equivalent, this is not what you see. Granted there is a decent “alternative” market for mobile originated voice calls to international destinations, but thereafter, if you think about it, the market is rather foreclosed. GiffGaff is an O2 subsidiary, Sainsbury’s Mobile is, for all intents and purposes, rebranded Vodafone, Asda Mobile is rebranded EE and so forth. The Mobile Network Operators, I would say, in economic terms, are presenting a classic risk of being an oligopoly. This is not good for competition and not good for consumers or our industry if those risks are realised.

The CMA has some work to do on some of the more esoteric points on backhaul and on the issues of competition in pay-TV that have been around before BT and EE started to cosy up to each other; Ofcom are taking the structural separation of Openreach question into the Strategic Review, but there’s one very simple thing that can be done here and now to create a far more optimal market in mobile; which is wholesale mobile access.

Undertakings from BT/EE as part of the proposed transaction to create a CPS-like remedy to allow operators with their own Home Location Registers and what not to interconnect with the EE radio network for the conveyance of signals to and from handsets on charge controlled terms would mean all the major fixed networks could invest with certainty to offer services; to the outside world they would look just like a mobile network operator, not just a rebranded service that merely mediates some billing records for the end user. Just like CPS, there’s no reason to suspect they wouldn’t offer variants of this to the next level of the supply chain, all of whom could add value to the market. Next thing you’d know is we’d truly have one of the most competitive markets for mobile telephony in the world, not just one driven by a race to the bottom for Apple-upgraders.

But don’t expect good in-building coverage, because virtually all the lower frequency spectrum is held by the others…. that’s a subject for another time/discussion about Three and O2, but for now, there’s growing interest in the definition of wholesale mobile access and a narrow window of opportunity to get a decent form of it with evidence on why it is required and how it would help in front of the CMA.

Note from Tref. Peter Farmer is Head of Regulatory Affairs at Gamma Telecom and a pretty prolific contributor to this blog. Read some of his other authoritative stuff here.

Business Legal ofcom Regs

Ofcom. It really isn’t an all powerful deity.

Aladdin: You’re a prisoner?
Genie: It’s all part and parcel, the whole genie gig.
[grows to a gigantic size]
Genie: Phenomenal cosmic powers!
[shrinks down inside the lamp]
Genie: Itty bitty living space!

Aside from the comic genus of the late, great, Robin Williams, the Disney classic “Aladdin” reminds me of conversations I often have with people in our industry.

Telecommunications is regulated; heavily regulated. Sometimes we can be forgiven for forgetting this, because of the “General Authorisation” regime. Courtesy of the various European Directives which ultimately govern many facets of our industry, anyone is presumed to be a “fit and proper” person to run a network/reseller and provide a communications service. Compliance with the rules is presumed until otherwise demonstrated, or in the rare few cases where ex-ante regulation such as charge controls is imposed.

I have many conversations, often with smaller operators, but not exclusively, where a sentence like “Why doesn’t Ofcom do something?” comes up. Be that in the long-running net neutrality debate, something ITSPA members will remember, where Ofcom’s Chief Executive went before a Select Committee and invited more powers to deal with issues, through to perceived abuses of various legislative, moral or ethical codes (I would say number portability ticks all of those boxes).

Whilst Ofcom, in delivering taxpayer value, has slowly exited several floors in Riverside House, to the extent, for those that have had the misfortune of being summonsed into the inner sanctum, will know it truly is an itty bitty living space, many also seem to think that Ofcom has, or expects it to use, “Phenomenal cosmic powers!”. Aside from the obvious issue of how often it is currently found to have erred by the Competition Appeal Tribunal and how worrying such unmetered discretion could be, Ofcom is simply not an all-powerful Genie. Its powers are very limited, derived (in voice and data telecommunications at least) from a handful of European Directives, Recommendations and Regulations, with a little thrown in via the Communications Act 2003, Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 and a few competition and consumer-right centric pieces of legislation. Yes, Ofcom has the power to set retail and wholesale price caps, but only after going through an exhaustive exercise of consultation and demonstration that such regulation is necessary and proportionate; the presumption in the regulatory construct of the day is one of deregulation and light touch regulation.

Various layers of jurisprudence have layered on top of this and reinforced the non-interventionist approach, such as last year’s Supreme Court judgement which essentially says that there has to be actual demonstrable consumer harm before Ofcom can exercise certain dispute resolution powers, not just uncertainty whether it will be caused or not.

Increasingly, Ofcom expects its stakeholders to tell it what powers it has and how it should exercise them; maybe they just like trolling me, but it is certainly increasingly my experience that you have to do the heavy lifting for them and point to regulatory and legislative provisions before they’ll entertain acting, if they can at all. In fact, I think my most uttered phrase in industry meetings is “Ofcom doesn’t have the power to do what you ask”. On top, they don’t expect things they publish or consult on to necessarily be the first a regulated telco hears of something – last year’s drop in fixed termination rates was a journey that started with the adoption of a Recommendation by the European Union in 2009, for example.

All of this conspires together to create an environment where there has to be a grave injustice with a well constructed legal argument as to why there’s an injustice and why/how Ofcom can act. For small operators, this could be tantamount to investigating crimes committed against them and prosecuting their burglar themselves!

Let’s just say that David does defeat Goliath and Ofcom takes action against an alleged injustice; well heeled and deeply resourced Goliath just throws some barristers at the Competition Appeal Tribunal and has the entire injustice reheard. If Goliath doesn’t like the Tribunal’s answer, it can go off to the Court of Appeal – right now I believe there’s one application in progress and there’s been 3 judgements appealed in the last few years. Then there’s been further escalations to the Supreme Court and also the constant risk of a reference to the European Court of Justice.

Ofcom is far from a genie, hardly a powerful wizard either. Perhaps a wise and battle scarred druid would be an appropriate analogy? Its decisions have no certainty until after the window to litigate expires (2 months from the date of the decision) and I would suggest it is becoming increasingly litigation weary – a sense I get from the current nature of its decision making.

I write this in response to Tref’s request for something to inform debate before the parliamentary purdah; Parliament’s wings are clipped here too – various European Directives explicitly prevent it from directing Ofcom in certain affairs, however, there are two things I would suggest they could strongly hint that Ofcom do (although one is really pushing it in relation to the non-interference directive) to ensure the sustainability of our highly competitive and vibrant telecommunications industry, assuming they aren’t too distracted throwing more public money at BT’s FTTC roll-out. Oh, and a third thing they can do outright.

Firstly, number portability is a farce. We used to be the world leaders in this area having one of the first truly open and competitive markets, only to have been lapped by Yemen. I strongly believe Ofcom does have the power to implement the appropriate European Directive in a more rigorous way to deal with some or all of the shenanigans we endure daily, but won’t.

Secondly, without boring you all (unless I am requested by popular demand) with a lecture in economics, the way that BT’s charges are controlled afford it the ability to subsidise its quad-play offering and Premiership football rights acquisitions courtesy of your business – its regulated weighted average cost of capital is calculated by Ofcom with reference to its near-junk status bonds and its beta of equity which are both influenced by its extra-curricular activities and artificially inflate your charges.

Finally, there was a government consultation process on streamlining the post regulatory decision making process to make things more, in part, accessible and to address some of the issues I refer to here. That seems to have stalled and/or died in a ditch, so would be worth dusting off and pursuing to a conclusion.

Three, relatively small,  relatively simple things would address two grave injustices; fibre rollout (premises or cabinet), net neutrality, data protection, Openreach structural separation, privacy and snooping, nuisance calls – all great and important topics for politicians and ones I am sure will be covered this week; but these two would be a decent, easily administered shot of adrenaline for us all.

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
Domhnall Dods on Electronic Communications Code reform
James Blessing Says “No matter who you vote for…

See all our regulatory posts here.

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

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.

broadband End User internet Net

Openreach Profit Incentive in Action

Openreach’s sub-contractors may not all be so bad after all.

I finally had BT Infinity installed a few weeks ago. Having watched the installation of Huawei DSLAM at the end of the road some time before that with much anticipation, I pondered how badly BT Openreach and its subcontractors would botch the job and ruin the frontage to our community, while also yearning to finally break beyond the 14 Mbps glass ceiling I have endured for 3 years.

With regular broadband I have been fortunate, being on brand new copper and only 100 yards from the primary connection point with a short run thereafter to the exchange; thus I’ve always had the top end of the advertised broadband speed. My problem was with up, though, not down. Regular readers will know I am a home-based professional nomad, and as such uploading documents to file servers etc. in a timely manner is rather important. 1 or 2 Mbps just doesn’t cut it.

I had done my research and knew that an Openreach engineer would have to visit to install Infinity II. Forums and blogs were full of details about cable models and data extension kits and Openreach engineers having to run new cables through peoples’ houses. In this industry, we would hardly trust them to dress themselves in the morning half the time let alone undertake works in our nicely decorated hallways. I was scared.

Turns out though that the BT Homehub 5 has an integrated cable modem, so that problem went away (and I note it has better in-house coverage for WiFi than its predecessors — I have been fortunate enough to have had a Homehub 2, 3 and 4 and a Businesshub 3 to play with — and it didn’t nerd up VoIP with SIP ALG either). Also, as the cabling in the house is only 3 years old and to modern standards, the engineer felt no need to run a new line or change face plates — useful as it is a large integrated one that includes TV aerial, satellite, etc. — and just plugged it in. The entire installation took about 20 minutes, including the jumpering in the PCP and DSLAM.

What struck me most about my Openreach install was that my neighbour was also having it done in the same installation slot. The engineer visited both premises and did what he had to do onsite, and then visited the PCP/DSLAM to do jumpering just once (i.e., he simultaneously did both jobs). Furthermore, he called me on my mobile from the PCP/DSLAM to check if it was working, thus negating the potential need for going back and forth. Turns out the sync speed is virtually the advertised 76Mbps up down and 19 Mbps down up, with the reality not far off (up is almost dead on, down hovers around 50/60 so far).

The engineer was a sub-contractor to BT Openreach, working for Kelly Communications. These sub-contractors are often derided for cherry picking easy jobs, making out that the customer wasn’t present when they were, so they can complete as many of the low-hanging fruit as possible to boost their profit margins.

I am not sure whether Openreach Direct Labour would’ve had the initiative to simultaneously perform two installations, thus, ultimately, reducing lead times and increasing customer satisfaction. I do know that Openreach Direct Labour, upon realising that there was insufficient copper in the ground between a PCP and the exchange to install a new line in a colleague’s home, had to get another engineer to pull it through and then that engineer couldn’t just provision the line, they had to get another one to do it (no doubt you can imagine how long that sorry saga took). If that job had been sub-contracted, I wonder whether it would’ve been done more efficiently and ultimately to a better level of customer satisfaction?

The incidents we have all endured at the hands of Openreach are many and would shock anyone. Anne Robinson and Watchdog even did a piece on it. Many of these incidents involve sub-contractors, however I think we are in danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater here as clearly the profit incentive is doing some good in certain circumstances….. it may even work to overcome the inherent moral hazard in the way Openreach’s prices are calculated (i.e., the industry often pays for inefficiency, directly through the charge controls and indirectly through non-Openreach brand damage). Surely, the real challenge is how to we promote the positives and negate the negatives.

Lots of posts on t his site re BT engineering visits – check out this one on BT engineering visit lottery

Bad Stuff Business Mobile

EE Priority Answer – A Tempest in a Tea Cup?

Priority answer service introduced by EE causes twitter outcry but Pete Farmer disagrees

Surfing the Telegraph website in recent days my interest was caught by an article on EE Priority Answer, a new initiative from our friends in Hatfield that offers you the option to jump to the front of the customer services queue (during working hours) in return for the consideration of fifty pence. The resulting Twitter storm (aka The Hamster Wheel of Outrage™) was somewhat predictable:

Sundip Meghani tweeted: “Everything Everywhere, but not Everyone. Disgraceful that EE doesn’t treat everyone fairly.”

Matt Woosie said he would “definitely leave EE” at the end of his contract because of the charge.

John Masters tweeted: “EE, disgusting that you’re charging for priority on query calls. Everyone should be treated equally.”

I haven’t spoken to Mr Meghani, Woosie or Masters on the subject, of course, but I am guessing that there is a basic British principle of queuing that has been offended by EE Priority Answer. I have a great deal of sympathy with that view, after all, as we Brits proudly enforce the custom on a daily basis at the taxi rank or Post Office. It’s also easy to bash EE. I recently delighted in it an open letter to Olaf (their CEO) regarding mid-contract price increases; Voice over IP trade body ITSPA came close to referring them to the Advertising Standards Agency over a Kevin Bacon advert. They also top the leagues in terms of the complaints they receive. In this case, though, despite their being close to my ranking them my “arch nemesis” I don’t think we should be so hasty.

The UK telecommunications market — especially mobile— is rather saturated and very competitive. Thus, a premium product for a premium service at a premium price (like Priority Answer) is a natural evolution of their businesses. And the notion of Britishness I mentioned earlier is becoming somewhat archaic. For instance, EasyJet has offered Priority Boarding for years, and nightclubs theme parks have VIP lanes in which members or others can jump the queue. Our time is becoming increasingly valuable to us, which is why Sainsbury’s deliver in one-hour slots, British Gas services boilers in two-hour slots and, heck, even the Jurassic aged BT Openreach has floated narrower appointment windows. A million more people in the UK now employ a cleaner than did ten years ago, there are apps like Orderella to help jump bar queues on a night out….. First Class carriages on trains always arrive in London first (ever notice that?). I could go on forever.

The crux of it is that many people are willing to pay a premium to save time, jump a queue, or have an easier life, and this has been the case for many years. Others want the cheapest possible way to get a product or service and happily trade their time in return for a reduced price – getting a later train to avoid paying the Anytime rate or rejigging your schedule to get an Advance ticket is no different. We really shouldn’t pretend otherwise. What we should do is welcome innovation, be it technological or in service delivery. The market (consumers voting with their feet) will ultimately decide whether EE’s move is right or wrong.

I suspect today’s Twitter storm over Priority Answer will soon be forgotten.  After all, Easyjet survived the introduction of Priority Boarding and Alton Towers is still going strong despite offering Fastrack tickets. There’s that, and their pedigree in 4G services is still stronger than the competition, which I believe is of far more importance and relevance to one of their key markets than an optional charge for jumping a queue.


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 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!


Regs surveillance & privacy

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.

Business End User ofcom Regs voip

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.


VoIP Week Posts:

Business Regs

Scottish Independence

The debate on the subject Scottish independence rolls on, and I don’t really have a personal view other than that the peoples’ right to self determination should be upheld and respected, however I am thinking  about the ramifications right now as I train back from Glasgow.

We presently live with different rates regimes and other devolved affairs running networks between England and Scotland, but the consequences for independence are high. Will Scotland join the European Union, or will they have a special relationship like Jersey? This is important as the former protects travelers and those living on the border from roaming charges whereas the other does not (Jersey isn’t subject to the EU caps, for example). And what about VAT? What about a hosted PBX installation to an office in Scotland and one in England? How do you account for that under one contract, especially if there’s a different currency? Will there be a different Country Code and numbering plan? Jersey, Guernsey, and Isle of Man all use the UK code despite having substantial telecommunications sovereignty. Could BT and Vodafone’s nexus of Nortel DMS 100s and System Xs handle such a situation?

If there are call centres in Scotland but no EU membership, data protection legislation becomes interesting in terms of passing EU citizens data outside the EU for processing.

BT’s regulated assets are averaged out across the country, and they are less concentrated in Scotland. Thus, if an independent Scottish regulator applied the same charge control logic in Scotland we could see increases in Scottish consumers prices for broadband and WLR, and a commensurate reduction in English (and Welsh and Northern Irish) consumers.

The mind boggles once you really get in amongst the practical issues, and if there’s a “Yes” vote later this year I shall write substantially more on the subject as that would no doubt ring in a exhilarating and very interesting time for all in the sector.


Bad Stuff End User fun stuff Mobile ofcom Regs scams

An Open Letter to Olaf Swantee, CEO of EE

Hi Olaf.

I hope you don’t mind the informal start to my letter as, after all, your company’s recent one to me regarding an increase in the price for my package from EE was as equally informal (I’ve popped a copy of it in the gallery below, though I’m sure you already know all about it).

Before I start, I will admit that you have a contractual basis from which to make the change detailed in the letter, and can mount a robust (albeit one open to challenge) argument about regulatory compliance. That isn’t quite the point, though.

First, I’d like to draw your particular attention to the line that says “RPI (Retail Price Index) is a measure of inflation, which directly affects the cost to run our service.

Interesting. And I’d like to point out a few things to you which would suggest that you are mistaken.

  • RPI, as a measure of inflation, is now largely discredited. Anyone in the know, including your sector’s regulator, the Office of Communications (Ofcom), is migrating to the use of the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Have a look at Ofcom’s discussion in paragraph 3.155 onwards of the Wholesale Local Access Review.
  • Some debate exists on whether wages over the last 12 months have tracked CPI (which is lower than RPI, by the way); it somewhat depends on which decile you find yourself in. Considering this data from the BBC, I suspect you and your executive are OK but a substantial number of EE staff may not be. Unless, of course, you gave them all a CPI-busting wage increase of the RPI figure. Did you?
  • A substantial part of your business is your mobile phone customers calling landlines: 01 and 02 numbers. As a result of a European Union Recommendation some time ago, Ofcom lowered the termination rates on 1st January 2014 for these calls by around RPI (this review was started before the Office of National Statistics drove the final nail into the RPI coffin) minus 87% — a net 84% reduction in that cost to your business. Funny, but I don’t recall getting a reduction in my line rental or other charges, so I assume you’ve kept this windfall, yes? See Table 1.1 of the Final Statement in the 2013 Wholesale Narrowband Market Review for information.
  • The Treasury estimated that the 4G spectrum auction would raise around £3.5bn. In reality, it raised £2.34bn, so there’s a £1.1bn saving there for the mobile industry against a reasonable market expectation; thus, rationally-speaking, EE must have forward-priced its 4G services expecting to outlay a market value for spectrum, resulting in further savings on your part. Is this true?

I am sure you can see at this point why I have a problem believing you when you say that RPI (or CPI) has had a direct affect on your entire business; unless in spite of what I have cited above there is a cost that has risen so disproportionately high that it means the average cost increase is the same as the RPI? What could that cost be…perhaps Kevin Bacon’s fees?

End User fun stuff gadgets mobile apps phones wearable

Cycle Gear

A long time ago I used to cycle everywhere; then I learned how to drive……. then I learned how to drink and how to hail (and afford) a taxi….. then I moved to the countryside with idiot drivers like me that didn’t really look out properly for cyclists….. then I moved to the Surrey / London border and the quack told me to stop abusing my joints.

But now, I have an all clear and the realisation that there is some epic cycling country around here. I write this, for example, after following National Cycle Route 4 pretty much from home to Tower Bridge this morning, through Richmond Park and substantially along the river (including past Craven Cottage, home of the mighty Fulham Football Club). I am now editing it a few days later after a 25 mile blast from home to Richmond Park to say hi to the deer.

Of course, being in telecoms means such a venture cannot be undertaken without some degree of geekist equipment. So, I have my bike, a Specialized Crosstrail. Hybrid, obviously, because (1) I don’t want to be associated with the LycraLouts that ride two abreast on main roads and (2) becasue there’s no way a roadbike can handle tow paths at speed.

There’s the Moon LED lights that charge from a microUSB socket, which is incredibly useful. They have a multitude of settings, which I cannot master despite them having only one button. Oh, and they’re bright, which I suppose is the main thing. There’s also the generic Chinese reverse engineered wireless speedometer, which is essential for knowing just how fast the idiot BMW driver that missed you with a nanometre clearance was going relative to you…. and, more importantly, how far it is to the pub for pie, chips and ale.

Which pretty much just leaves some form of mapping solution. And for that, I have two essential pieces of kit. The first is my iPhone; the second is something to put it in – for which I have this handle handlebar bag. It is importantly water resistent (to be fair it only gets mildly moist even in a monsoon downpoor). It’s large enough to hold a wallet and a battery pack (essential for mobile mapping, for reasons I have previously written about) and has a clear plastic cover on top and a pouch for your iPhone (apparently other devices are allegedly available). There’s also a neat slot for a headphone cable, though I for one would rather hear the idiot in the BMW coming than listen to my playlists.

Regs surveillance & privacy

European Court Rules European Data Retention Directive Unlawful


Judgment was handed down today in a long running campaign brought by Digital Rights Ireland against the European Data Retention Directive* (transposed into domestic law in The Data Retention (EC Directive) Regulations 2009). In short, the European Court of Justice has overturned the Directive, saying “[it] entails a wide-ranging and particularly serious interference with the fundamental rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data“.

Broadly, the Directive required telcos to store certain data for a minimum of 6 months and a maximum of 24 months. The UK transposition mandated 12 months which is consistent with other legislation). The natural consequence of this is that our own transposition will need to be repealed, which has obvious consequences — directly, and indirectly as a result of the court’s decision — for law enforcement and the security services, as well as telcos (the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, or RIPA, predates this, as does the Data Protection Act).

Watch this space!

* Strictly known as Directive 2006/24/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 March 2006 on the retention of data generated or processed in connection with the provision of publicly available electronic communications services or of public communications networks and amending Directive 2002/58/EC.


Related posts:

internet mobile connectivity net neutrality ofcom Regs

Net Neutrality update

Regular readers will remember my piece for Trefor.Net last September, where I defined what the average VoIP telco wants from an open internet. I know this article had a readership of at least one, because I saw someone brandishing a print out in Ofcom. Yay me!

Anyway, things have moved on. We had Ed Richards, Ofcom’s CEO, saying they weren’t “waiting for Europe” when Philip Davies MP pressed him on the issue at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee last year (for which Philip earned a nomination as ITSPA’s Members’ Pick at the 2014 Awards) – but Europe aren’t waiting for them earlier.

Last week, the European Parliament voted in favour of the so-called “telecoms package” which includes, amongst proposals regarding a Single Market I have previously slated here and the abolition of roaming fees (which I shall slate below), proposals on Net Neutrality. Before we get too excited, this was only the first reading. The College of Commissioners is about to be disolved, along with the European Parliament for elections and who knows what political landscape will be returned to Brussels in May. It’s not likely to receive much more Parliamentary time until the end of the year now at the earliest, which makes their December 2015 implementation date seem optimistic.

The European Union’s proposals mirror, largely, what ITSPA and the VoIP community would accept (in my view) as a legislative intervention. ISPs cans till offer specialised services to protect business critical applications, or prioritise video on demand, but would not be able to do so to “the detriment of the availability or quality of internet access services” offered to other companies or service suppliers, except for traffic management measures which are “transparent, non-discriminatory and proportionate” and “not maintained longer than needed” to protect the integrity of a network.

This is a good step, but I for one, along with ITSPA colleagues and others aren’t waiting for Europe like Ofcom – watch this space for a progress report soon!

Abolition of Roaming Charges

The European logic is rather federalist; it says you should be able to use your phone for the same rates anywhere in Europe for the same price as at home. Aside from the age old rule (which also applies in next generation telecoms – distance is still a factor in signal regeneration, rateable value of fibre etc) that the further a call is conveyed the more it costs, it is wholly illogical to be able to call next door with your mobile for the same rate as calling it from Lithuania, you cannot ignore the basket effect. 26% of socioeconomic group D and E households are mobile only. The reduction of roaming profits to mobile operators leads, in part or in whole, to a waterbedding…. (I almost wrote waterboarding, as that’s what it feels like to deal with a mobile operator’s customer services sometimes)… other products and services will increase in price to compensate for the foregone margin.

So, in short, one consequence of the EU’s proposal is that those that cannot afford to go on holiday in Europe, or those businesses that don’t trade in person in Europe, shall subsidise those that do. That just doesn’t seem right to me.


End User fun stuff nuisance calls and messages ofcom online safety Regs social networking


I’m not a lawyer. This is something of which I am proud. Nor am I a chartered accountant, this is something of which I am equally proud.

People that are in Regulatory Affairs (telecoms or otherwise) often individually present a real Heinz 57 of backgrounds, abilities and skills. As far as I am aware, no-one leaves school thinking “I want to be in Regulation!”. You sort of fall into it, from a carrier in the faculties of law, economics, accounting or the commercial arena – and have to be able to hold your own, at a high level, in all of them. In all cases, you need a desire and drive to get under the skin of the regulator and former incumbents alike; those that know me know I revel in this sort of protagonism.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I have an academic background in Finance and Management and a professional background in commercial affairs and compliance, hence my ultimate arrival in Regulatory Affairs. 18 year old Pete Farmer would’ve laughed if anyone suggested this is where I would end up.

So, this isn’t legal advice. It isn’t to be relied upon. It’s to be taken on an “as-is” basis as a way of stimulating debate and discussion around a subject of which I am as passionate about as annoying the Office of Communications; food.

Believe it or not, in my spare time I run a foodie

Business gadgets

I have the power….. (now anyway!)

I’m a professional nomad.

I neither work from home, nor from a specific office. I live from my rucksack – in fact, my Swiss Gear laptop job, thanks to the slimness of my laptop, is sufficient for me to travel for 4 days without anything else. OK, so the shirts get a little creased, but no more so than on the daily commute, and before anyone asks, there’s always daily clean underwear and shirts.

It’s not uncommon for me to go 12 hours in London between umpteen locations for meetings and never touch a desk. This poses a problem; modern electronic equipment, such as the branch of Dixons in my rucksack (two phones, iPad, laptop and a MiFi) seems to have gone full circle with battery life. The first Motorola mobile phones lasted for just a few minutes…… then Nokia in the late 90s appeared to have produced a hydrogen fuel cell by accident as the 6110 and its ilk would last for what seemed like years, even playing Snake constantly. And now, I am lucky to get 2-3 hours full use out of the Apple equipment and maybe 4 out of the laptop with the extended life battery.

If Shakespeare wrote Richard III today, I am sure the famous line would be “A socket, a socket, my Kingdom for a socket!”.

I know you can eek out more life by using more Wifi over 3G/4G, or disabling 3G/4G and relying on 2G/Edge and disabling push email/notifications and lowering screen brightness, clearing background apps and whatnot. That essentially, with each step, reduces the smartphone more and more back towards its Nokia 6110 ancestor and, for the professional nomad, makes life more and more difficult.

I’ve long known about portable battery backs, things to give a quick boost in charge to a phone; brilliant if you’re broken down at 3am on the side of the road, but an extra 20% wouldn’t cut it, not in the slightest. I then discovered there are packs out there that (in technical lingo 14000 miliamp Hours in capacity) can charge the devices that demands 10W/2A outlets, like the new iPads. Not only that, some can charge another device at the same time, albeit at the lower rated output used by older devices. In layman terms, 14,000 mAh is about 7 full iPhone 5 charges, or just short of one full iPad 4 charge.

This was a godsend of a revelation; not only could I do a full 12 hours out and about without a socket, I could do another day too. Best of all though, it gets over the fact that almost every Premier Inn in the country doesn’t have a socket by the bed, which is infuriating for the average smartphone user.

It also has an unintended side effect. Despite the model I chose being brickish and garish white, it attracts attention. On more than one occasion pretty ladies have inquired as to what it is at the bar; so it seems I have somehow lucked upon the modern day equivalent of a Gucci filofax!


More good reads:

Disappointing news re mobile charger power consumption.

Business net neutrality ofcom piracy Regs

The Copyright Enforcement Enigma

When I was on a panel at the Eight Parliament and Internet Conference last year, I was approached afterwards by an academic – Monica Horten. We had a chat about a few things regulatory (notably ITSPA’s work in the field of Net Neutrality) and she mentioned she had written a book on copyright, called the Copyright Enforcement Enigma.

I eventually sourced a copy and then eventually read it (it took a while as there were quite a few on my bookcase I hadn’t read that had military hardware on the cover, you see). It’s quite an excellent romp through the beginnings of copyright, from printing presses and State censorship all the way through to recent European pronouncements on piracy and counteracting it, along with comparing and contrasting different national approaches to intellectual property.

I’ve always found that the view on copyright, intellectual property and piracy  generally correlates strongly with political views. These range from “you can’t own an idea” on one end of the scale through to basic property and contract rights saying you should have the right to protect and exploit your creations. Obviously the debate around piracy tracks the political leanings with the preferred sanction often generally correlating with that political niche’s view on criminal sanctions and it is good to read a balanced and non-partisan approach to the topic; if it raises its head again I would suggest this book as a good refresher.

In any event, the primary legislation focusing on this issue today in the UK is the Digital Economy Act 2010, which covers the obligations on Internet Service Providers to restrict access of (or even disconnect) some users or some content depending on the will of the court at the time in the face of an army of barristers from various large entertainment companies. BT and TalkTalk sought a judicial review of the legislation as it had been accelerated through Parliament as a general election had been called, but lost. Then lost the Appeal. So there we have it, Ofcom are now front and centre in managing a lot of this stuff.

There’s one out though; if you are an Internet Service Provider with less than 400,000 subscribers, as it stands, you are not in scope for much of the legislation. I am surprised that so far this gaping loophole has not been exploited; after all, surely you could charge a substantial premium for Napster Broadband? A high bandwidth service that guarantees it will never exceed 399,999 subscribers? I am sure the regulator would soon move to close the loophole, but that takes time. And on that note, I am off to find some seed capital 😉


Business Regs

Openreach structural separation – a call for inputs

trefor_thumbI happen to be writing a paper. It will probably never see the light of day…. though maybe in an archeological dig of Esher in 2,000 years time there could be some interesting head scratching going on if it were uncovered.

The subject is, broadly, “Arguments for and against the structural separation of BT”. In a nutshell, should BT’s Openreach subsidiary be wholly separate, or should we have the status quo….. or maybe some hybrid in between.

The arguments against I have largely got to grips with – one only has to look at the railways to see the issues generated by Network Rail’s status against the train companies which I would suggest is a potentially analogous situation for a future structurally separate Openreach….. but I could especially do with some inputs on what you all think for the arguments for might be.

Feel free to comment away!


Business online safety Regs social networking

Edward Snowden – Facebook charges its users!

Facebook charges its users!

A dramatic byline….. ostensibly it hasn’t broken its vow that it is “free to use and always will be“, and there isn’t a pay-wall being erected around it. That said, with the hefty price tag it just paid for WhatsApp, it may well have to consider things!.

But Facebook has always charged, as has Twitter, and Google and so on. So it hasn’t had a Direct Debit mandate, but they have taken something you have freely offered in return for perpetual use of the site for free, and have marketed that. Your most valuable information; your preferences, your search history, your favourite band, most checked in pub, your beach snaps, all of this adds up to a data-miner’s paradise.

A quick calculation on Facebook’s market capitalisation just prior to the

Business ofcom Regs

Mid Term Price Rises

The implementation date of Ofcom’s recent foray into mid-term price rises has now been and gone.

If you were the recently discovered Pacific castaway, then, briefly, Ofcom were concerned that Communications Providers were advertising fixed term contracts at a price and then increasing that price during the contract

This went through one stage of Ofcom intervention, when they introduced (via General Condition of Entitlement 9) the “materially detrimental” test. Which was to say that if an Communications Provider during a fixed term, to a domestic consumer or a small business (the usual sub-10 employee rule) made materially detrimental changes to the terms, the contracted party could have a penalty free exit from the contract.

Don’t ask me what materially detrimental meant. I once spent

charitable End User

Donating Stem Cells (Part III)

It’s finally over. 8 million of my little stem cells are now on ice awaiting transplant.

The harvesting procedure itself is done on an outpatient basis and is relatively simple as I’ll describe shortly. The hard work is done in the build up to it. 16 injections of granulocyte colony stimulating factor (or GCSF) are administered over 4 days to get the bone marrow into stem cell production hyperdrive to ensure enough are in the blood for harvest.

These injections are done 4 at a time; in my case, two in the belly and one in each arm. They can be done in 8, but you have a choice – 4 relatively painless injections a day, or 2 slightly more painful ones. I opted for the former. These are administered by a nurse that visits you at home or work and who has to take your pulse, temperature and blood pressure before and 30 minutes after to ensure all is OK. In my case, 2 days were in the Supreme Court and I remain thankful to the help the staff extended in finding a room for this to happen.

I have been mulling over whether to tell the “no holes barred” truth about the process, or

charitable End User Regs Weekend

Donating Stem Cells (Part II)

It’s the final countdown.

I am writing this expecting my first of four daily injections of granuloycte colony stimulating factor, or “GCSF” anytime soon. A nurse appointed by the Anthony Nolan Trust will seek me out in London / at home and administer a drug which will get them stem cells moving out of my bone marrow into my blood stream ready for the aphoresis machine to filter them out for the adult lady with leukemia who is in desperate need of them.

Unfortunately, on that front, apparently she now has an infection, so they’ve had to stop her build up to treatment. This faced the medics with a bit of a Sophie’s choice apparently. They can cryogenically preserve my stem cells until she’s fit and well enough to receive them (and risk some of them being damaged in the process), or delay the harvest but hope all the planets align with the timings – not just my availability but a 6 day collection cycle which given predictions of narrow windows of opportunity when she may be well enough had to be traded against the slightly more optimal nature of the procedure.

The medical boffins went with the latter, so I am about to be injected and will still donate on Wednesday/Thursday.

Fitting this around work is interesting though……. well, I mean it’s fine Saturday/Sunday, I am just waiting on a nurse to pitch up, but when you are lead in your company for a litigation and the court hearing is on the Monday and Tuesday before the donation, things get interesting.

I know I, and others, can sometimes get down on the former incumbent in our industry….. and its regulator, and sometimes even the judiciary. In this case though, I have to express my extreme gratitude to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom for making the “Robing Room” available for the injections and BT offering their break-out room for the same if need be.

Many of you will have read the first article on this I posted here; and many of your have made or pledged financial support to Anthony Nolan Trust via JustGiving or otherwise. Importantly though, I am pleased to say that this story has encouraged at least 2 people so far to register themselves as potential donors – in amongst all this, and especially amongst the worrying news about the recipient, it’s truly heartening!


charitable End User Regs Weekend

Donating Stem Cells (Part 1)

For those expecting some deep regulatory insights, alas, they will come in due course ….. But today I am hijacking to talk about my experiences to date helping someone suffering from leukemia.

There’s an adult female out there somewhere, afflicted with this cancer . Alas, that’s all I am allowed to know for 2 years….. and if she wants anonymity I’ll never know any more.

This time last year I had a phone call from Anthony Nolan, the charity that runs the UK’s largest register. I signed up in a moment of philanthropy 15 years ago…… And despite near misses before, this time I was supposed to be a proper bona-fide match.

More blood was taken (all the samples are done by your local practice nurse) and I kept getting holding emails thereafter. The recipients medical team where unsure whether or not to proceed. Then, two weeks ago, all of a sudden we were go…. and in a hurry.

I’ve now had my medical – this was 3 hours of poking and prodding and X-Rays and ECGs in a special unit in University College London Hospital. All apparently seems fine but I await the result. Assuming that’s OK, a week Wednesday I shall be in to donate.

In most circumstances, it’s allegedly complication free. Simply involves 4 days of injections to get stem cells moving out of your bone marrow into your blood, and then 5 hours on a special “dialysis” machine that centrifuges your blood and separates stem cells from the rest. Sounds like a very long blood donation, though involves bigger needles and one more of them.

This is nowhere like the general anaesthetic and excavation of the pelvis prevalent when I signed up….. and easily fitting around work – the injections are administered by a nurse wherever you are that day …… Though that operation may still have to happen yet (if enough aren’t collected). And for some recipients that is the best way of doing it, medically speaking.

I’ll let you know how it goes on the day; I might even live tweet it on the hospital WiFi. In the meantime though, there’s a shortage of donors, especially from ethnic minorities. If you’re between 16-30, you can sign up with Anthony Nolan here – read it all carefully and be sure before you commit!.

If you’re over 30, or it isn’t for you (there’s no shame in that), can I encourage you to give to the Anthony Nolan here via my JustGiving site, so they can continue to do their life saving work…… tissue typing isn’t cheap, and nor is the procedure. That, and they’ll have to keep me in coffee for a day!

PS. People have said that I’m brave – I don’t consider myself that…..the brave one is the anonymous adult woman battling this disease. That said, I will be teetotal for a week or so, which is probably, for me at least, the bravest bit!


Business ofcom Regs

Non-Geographic Villainy

Unless you’ve been in Outer Mongolia, on the Moon, or unconscious for the last few years, the trials and tribulations of the non-geographic numbering regime won’t have escaped you.

We’ve had the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (“BIS”) implementing the European Consumer Rights Directive which mandated the use of basic rate (don’t ask what that really means) numbers for post-contract queries. This came with a list of exemptions so long and complicated it’ll be beyond many on the coalface advising service providers on their telecommunications. The initial drafting also made it unlawful to use a freephone number for around 9 months between June 2014 and March 2015. Thankfully, BIS has recognised this as an issue and has apparently changed the drafting to say that you can use a higher revenue sharing number than just free to caller, geographic or 03 (the original proposal) but you have to offer a refund if you used a higher one. I am yet unclear whether that is a refund on just Ofcom’s proposed Service Charge or the combination of the Access Charge and Service Charge in the new regime coming into force in 18 months (more on that in a second).

We’ve also had PhonepayPlus intervening in requiring signposting services

End User fun stuff

Christmas Cards and Carbon Emissions

A title that conjures many eclectic images of what I might be writing about, I am sure.

In true “Bah, Humbug” style, I don’t send Christmas Cards. This started as a charity payment in penance for my apathy but the more I’ve reflected upon it over the years the more it seems like a chore. A relic of a pre-digital age. More latterly, I sat down and calculated (by extrapolating a BBC News piece) that the carbon emissions of the Christmas card making and despatching industry in the UK alone is equivalent to sending a laden jumbo jet around the world 280 something times.

Quite incredible that – a handful of posted cards multiplied up over the population reaches such a CO2 emission figure.

Which then leads to the emissions in telecommunications. I once heard that BT consumed 1% of the nation’s power. I have no reference for that but given the number of System Xs still around the network I can half believe it. We even recently went through a time when carbon trading was rapidly becoming a serious prospect for even moderate sized telecoms operators ….. thankfully that has at least been postponed unless you use more than 6,000 MWh on half hourly meters.

But what worries me is that the powers that be (pardon the pun) think we needed a stick to be more efficient. With rising energy prices, and 1kW of power needing, as a rule, 1kW of cooling, we are very well incentivised as an industry to minimise this cost. Regardless of what people may think of the climate change debate, energy efficiency reduces costs and improves profits (providing the capital investment is proportionate of course), which in our highly competitive industry we are all very focussed on.

The former incumbent has perverse incentives to cash cow inefficient legacy technology created by the regulatory construct; the rest of us have been on the case for years. Green levies on energy are just another barrier to incentivising the investment in technologies the Government is desperate to encourage, just like business rates which I have discussed before.

I sincerely hope that the rhetoric of the government of the day plays out, because I fear the alternative to achieving the ends they desire would be subsidies. And we’ve seen where they’ve ended up before.


Business internet ofcom Regs

Business Rates

In the Autumn Statement, Chancellor George Osborne gave small businesses an early Christmas present with some relief on business rates. Welcome news, I am sure, for all of our high streets and favourite independent hostelries.

However, when you start to look into the rates regime in telecommunications, things starts to get a little more confusing. Yes, they are due on our data centres and our offices and whatnot, just as we would expect them to be if we were a bank, a pub or a newsagents. But they are also due on fibre and ductwork. Worse still, one council or unitary authority (specifically one in England & Wales and one in Scotland) is often the beneficiary of the whole liability regardless of its potentially national coverage, which defies logic, but that’s a story for another time.

I have a problem with how fibre and duct can be rateable in the first place. Keeping the receipts and expenditure method of valuation (otherwise known as the “profits basis” out of it for a minute), to my simple mind, a factory has a rates liability – i.e. the bricks and mortar, but the machines inside don’t attract it. After all, tax is levied on their product (value-added tax, for example, or other duties in the case of alcohol) and the company producing them is also levied taxes on their profits (corporation tax, or income tax for a sole trader). It would seem somewhat akin to “two bites of the cherry” to tax the machines…… of course that argument could apply to the building itself as well, though I would suggest that as business rates are meant to pay for local services, a building is a fairer demarcation than counting widget machines for example; one could say fairer than some duct in a field.

Anyway, that can all be debated ad nauseum. What I want to get across here today is that when we talk about incentives to develop telecommunications, say 3G coverage to address those so-called “not spots”, or dealing with the issue of slow speeds in rural broadband, one of the critical factors facing a telco in deciding whether or not to build masts, unbundle exchanges (those taking BT Openreach Access Locate space have to pay a room licence fee, which is code for “their share of the rates bill”) or dig up fields to lay fibre out to a rural community with dial-up speeds on their ADSL is how much that activity will increase their rates liability. Seeing as fibre in rated on a sliding scale per pair per kilometer (contiguous in your network) basis, and given the distances that can be involved, it can soon add up.

We have high profile government initiatives such as BDUK, to deliver rural broadband, but I wonder…… instead of spending to “stimulate commercial investment” for telecos to expand into these areas, how much could be achieved through some simple manipulation of basic levers such as business rates? After all, if it were profitable for a telco to expand into such an area (be it a 3G mast or high speed broadband), an economically rational profit maximising entity would’ve done so already. One can only assume the investment appraisal delivered a negative net present value…. perhaps, just perhaps, it may have swung the other way if the rates regime in telecommunications was different.

As ever, very interested in all of your views.


Business ofcom Regs

The Single Market

At the recent Eighth Parliament and Internet Conference, at which I was privileged enough to be speaking on a panel extolling the virtues of an open internet for ITSPA, one of the preceding presentations had been by the European Commission Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (that mouthful is colloquially abridged to “DG Connect“) promoting the Commission’s new idea for a single market for telecommunications.

A slide was shown, seemingly promoting the United State’s competitive landscape of 3 major operators, alongside China’s similar landscape, against the European Union’s 250 major operators. The Commission’s proposals, in summary are “aimed at building a connected, competitive continent and enabling sustainable digital jobs and industries.“.

Hang on a second. I thought the European Economic Community established a single market for goods and services? I thought the Common Regulatory Framework introduced in 2002 harmonised telecommunications regulations and a general authorisation regime across Europe, negating the need to be “licenced” in each country (though as Skype recently found out, it doesn’t prevent “registration” necessarily)? Bluntly, today, if Deutsche Telekom wants to buy Jazztel, it can, subject only to the overarching rules of mergers and acquisitions and competition concerns common to any member state and any industry.

Yet they haven’t. All of these hundreds of telecommunications companies branded “major operators” by the European Commission are economically rational profit maximising entities. That’s regulatory/economist speak for “they’ll make decisions in relation to their resources that will always maximise their profits”, in other words if buying Jazztel was the best thing for Deutsche Telekom to do, that means they would’ve done so already.

We live in an era where mass consolidation led to “too big to fail”. The Banking industry is a shining example of how such growth through acquisition can go horribly wrong; but yet we seem to be promoting a regulatory and legislative framework to repeat it in telecommunications.

Theoretically, consolidation should lead to efficiency savings for the benefit of both shareholder and consumer, but there is empirical proof it didn’t in telecommunications; look at the cost of broadband in New York versus London. Take a moment to compare mobile tariffs across different countries on Google too. Within that article is a quote from a presidential adviser on technology;

We deregulated high-speed internet access 10 years ago and since then we’ve seen enormous consolidation and monopolies, so left to their own devices, companies that supply internet access will charge high prices, because they face neither competition nor oversight.

Instead of thinking that having 250 major operators is a weakness in our competitive landscape, or instead of thinking there are barriers to consolidation, maybe the European Commission should embrace what has been created under the framework we already have and the US and China should be looking to them for guidance, not the other way around.

These proposals, to me, are worrying. Unless I have missed the point (which, in all fairness wouldn’t be the first time) they seem to be a solution hunting for a problem. Ill-conceived and rushed (they are trying to get it through before this EU parliament ends) legislation rarely ends well. This is why I was heartened to hear Ed Richards, the Ofcom CEO, challenging this during the conference and have heard rumblings of concern in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Of course, there is always room for improvement…. and there are issues with the regulatory landscape across Europe today, but nothing insurmountable – certainly not beyond the odd evolutionary tweak as opposed to a revolutionary approach.

That said, this pack of proposals also contains the proposed Regulation on an Open Internet, a subject close to my heart, so hopefully that at least will survive the legislative process! What does everyone else think – interested in your views, but be kind on my inaugural proper guest post!