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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”.

End User Legal

Stay or Leave – the results of the poll

EU Referendum Poll result

At last tomorrow is the big day and I thought I’d share my own EU referendum poll result.

Stay in the EU 170 51.8 %
Leave the EU 158 48.2 %

It’s very close. Quite gratifying in one respect as this would appear to match many bigger and no doubt more expensive polls to run.

328 votes is quite a nice level of participation. There were a few duplicate IP addresses – they have been weeded out but by and large there were as many in each camp and I think they don’t represent attempts to skew the result. People probably expected to see the results of their vote and this plugin doesn’t seem to support that. At least the way I had it set up

It matters not. I’m hoping that the real poll tomorrow will be a far more definite result – to stay in the EU. It will be a lot easier to put the subject to bed if this is the case. A close result would do as long as it was the right one although I sense there will be trouble if it is close. There will probably be trouble whatever happens.

I’m not sure I’ve seen anything bring out the bad side of people in this country as much as this referendum. The leave campaign has been run with very misleading messaging that I have found extremely objectionable. I don’t trust the politicians involved.

The remain campaign, which we must remember is supported by a large majority of MPs and most global businesses, institutions and political figures, has been forced into playing the same game.

In the meantime tomorrow I’ll be heading for my usual morning swim before going around the corner to vote. I’m then in London for the ITSPA council meeting so if you are around maybe catch a beer? Friday is going to be an interesting day…

PS you will still be able to vote in this poll but I’m going to consider this post as drawing a line underneath it. Remain wins.

Follow the referendum here on the BBC.

Business Legal security

House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee report on Cyber Security

House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee report on Cyber Security and all that jazz

Email came through from ITSPA this morning regarding the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee report on  Cyber Security: Protection of Personal Data Online Contents

In general, the report focused on the need for increased consumer awareness of cyber security breaches and recommended that the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) should have a robust system of escalating fines to sanction those who fail to report, prepare for, or learn from data breaches. It also stated that Government need to urgently address the huge amount of data that will be created by the Investigatory Powers Bill and how this will be secured from data breaches.

I’ve listed the key recommendations together with my own comments below:

  • Companies should report their cyber security and data protection strategies to the ICO

This is somewhat naive. How many companies are there in the UK? The ICO would be swamped and in anycase to have the resources to do anything with the information.

  • The ICO should have additional powers of non-consensual audit, notably for health, local government and potentially for other sectors

More red tape and you have to question the efficacy of this. I can understand auditing the public sector but private industry???

  • The Government should initiate a public awareness-raising campaign on cyber security
  1. Waste of time though. For a campaign to be effective it would have to be prolonged, permanent even, and cost a fortune.
  • It should be easier for victims of a data breach to claim compensation

Seems like a good idea if likely to be somewhat complicated and difficult to do.

  • All relevant companies should provide well-publicised guidance to customers on how they will contact customers and how to make contact to verify that communications from the company are genuine

What makes a company relevant? In principle this sounds sensible but it is red tape.

  • All telecommunications companies should take steps to ensure that compliance with data protection rules and Cyber Essentials are key criteria when selecting third party suppliers

The more I think about this is its interference in private industry.

  • Cyber security should sit with someone able to take full day-to-day responsibility and who can be fully sanctioned if the company has not taken sufficient steps to protect itself from a cyber-attack

Cost. Overhead.

  • To ensure this issue receives sufficient CEO attention before a crisis strikes, a portion of CEO compensation should be linked to effective cyber security


  • The vulnerability of the massive new data pools that will be created by the Investigatory Powers Bill needs to be urgently addressed by Government

I’ve been saying this for years but all you will get is lip service.

There you go. The UK approach to cybersecurity. I’m not saying it isn’t an important subject and that we all need to be cyber secure. I’m not sure that more rolls of red tape is the way to do it.

My thanks to the ITSPA secretariat for their contributions to this post (which is most of the post apart from my comments)

Business Legal Regs

Should I stay or should I go?

In out shake it all about

The EU Referendum poll on this blog is picking up momentum thanks to all the background publicity the BBC et al have been giving it. The referendum not my poll 🙂 I realise it’s an important decision but personally I’ve been turned off by al the hype and switch off anytime it appears on radio or TV.

I’m not going to tell you the numbers until shortly before the 23rd. Also I will need to sanitise it as one or two people have tried gaming the system. Thought I had the controls in place to stop it but those votes won’t count in any case.

The community in which i live and work is largely an international one. The talk is as often as not how many more tier points you need to make gold, or even the couple of steps you can make it above that. Personally I’m not prepared to spend most of my life on a plane to do that. I digress.

My point is that I’d expect most people in the internet industry to vote remain because the nature of their lives is international and not parochial to the UK. You will have to wait and see the results.

You can still vote – see the sidebar underneath the camper van hire ad (still some slots available if you want to go to a festival this summer).

The one thing that has annoyed me more than any regarding this referendum is the total bullshit brought out by some of the politicians. They are only interested in getting simple one line messages out designed to sway the waverers. This is normal politics but this politics is getting dirty. Outright deception.

All I can say is that the UK is going to be littered with the bodies of dead political careers after this summer is out. The conservative party is likely to never be the same again. The knives that over the last few years have been gripped tightly but have hitherto remained in their sheaths are now being brandished. Their steely blue blades will be bathed in blood before the druids have returned to their homes from the solstice (thought i’d get a poetic bit in:)

I don’t think you can ever get a perfect politician. They are by definition imperfect animals. They can only really attain such a status in the eyes of other politicians. Probably the best a politician can do is not be seen to have cocked up too much. Tony Blair for example will be admired by his peers for his staying power and political skills but not by many of the general public.

It’s looking like a huge cockup on the part of David Cameron. The referendum is only being held because of internal Conservative Party strife. Let hope the polls got it as wrong as they did in the last General Election and we have an emphatic win, one way or another.

If we vote for a clear remain then at least we can kill off a few political careers and get on with life. If we vote to go god knows what’s going to happen.

Business Legal

Brexit – in or out? Get your vote in now!

Have your say over Brexit

With the media frenzy now in full flow over Brexit I thought it would be a good idea to have our own opinion poll regarding whether the UK should be in or out of the EU.

This won’t be representative of the population as a whole but it may be somewhat representative of the tech community.

It’s a simple question. In or out and all you have to do is vote in the poll in the sidebar. Only one vote per person. Let’s see how we get on.

Anyone can vote and voting is anonymous. There is obviously quite a whole before the 23rd June polling day. I’m likely to be in Dublin on that day so will have to make sure I get a postal vote.

Feel free to leave a comment if you want. I think the most important thing over the next few months is to try and see  through all the hype. It’s very difficult to actually quantify the effect of leaving – what we really want to see are details. Costs. Jobs created or lost.

I doubt anyone really knows so we are being asked to vote on the basis of gut feel. Maybe you can chip in with some numbers that will stand scrutiny?

My own view is that we should probably stay in the EU. In an ideal world we would have the common market but without all the single superstate nonsense. I can see why mainland European countries might see the latter to be attractive. No more intra European wars for example.

My gut feel is that getting out of Europe would be a backward step and that we should stay and make the best of it from within the system. There you go. Have your say and vote in Brexit the poll in the sidebar on the right of this site.

End User Legal security

Snoopers Charter Revisited – here we go again

Gets tedious doesn’t it, this constant battle to introduce defend against the Snooper’s Charter. You will all have seen from the Queen’s Speech (gawd bless ya Ma’am) that the Comms Data Bill (Snooper’s Charter) has been reincarnated into the Investigatory Powers Bill (Snooper’s Charter).

Page 64 is what you are looking for. Details yur if you can’t be bothered to look.

The purpose of this legislation is to:

Provide the police and intelligence agencies with the tools to keep you and your family safe.

Address ongoing capability gaps that are severely degrading the ability of law enforcement and intelligence agencies ability to combat terrorism and other serious crime.

Maintain the ability of our intelligence agencies and law enforcement to target the online communications of terrorists, paedophiles and other serious criminals.

Modernise our law in these areas and ensure it is fit for purpose.

Provide for appropriate oversight and safeguard arrangements.

The main benefits of these clauses would be:

Better equipping law enforcement and intelligence agencies to meet their key operational requirements, and addressing the gap in these agencies’ ability to build intelligence and evidence where subjects of interest, suspects and vulnerable people have communicated online.

Maintain the ability of our intelligence agencies to target the online communications of terrorists, and other relevant capabilities.

Provide for appropriate oversight arrangements and safeguards.

This will respond to issues raised in the independent review by the Independent Reviewer of Counter-Terrorism legislation, which is due to be published shortly.

The main elements of the clauses are:

The legislation covers all investigatory powers including communications data, where the Government has long maintained that the gap in capabilities are putting lives at risk.

The legislation will enable the continuation of the targeting of terrorist communications and other capabilities.

On the face of it none of this text is controversial. The problem lies in the detail. My guess is it is unlikely to have changed materially from its previous incarnation although the bit that says “This will respond to issues raised in the independent review by the Independent Reviewer of Counter-Terrorism legislation” is an attempt to smooth things over.

It’s the snoopers charter revisited. Our problem this time around is that the Lib Dems aren’t around to stop it happening. We may be in for a fight.

For a general read around this subject see the multifarious blogs on this site here. For a more specific list of issues see here.

Business Legal Regs

Sharing data in a Digital Single Market

lyndsey burton digital single marketLyndsey Burton comments on Digital Single Market

The European Commission announced details of their plan for a Digital Single Market in Europe. With it, they’ve outlined a “free flow of data” proposal. Unfortunately it’ll be another wait before we know exactly how they’ll do this – a detailed proposal won’t be ready until 2016. A Digital Single Market has been on the cards for years – earlier this year, the European Commission pushed forward plans for “protecting an open internet” and changes to mobile roaming rules. These were small steps toward more cohesive regulation. But the single market is set to go much further, with far more shared regulation – as the name suggests, the idea is to scrap Europe’s digital borders, creating one big, Digital Single Market.

Reforming data protection rules

To create a Digital Single Market though, a host of outdated policies need modernising first – among them, and the first thing to change, is a long awaited reform of the European Union (EU) Data Protection Directive 1995. The reform – first proposed back in 2012 – could finally be in place by the end of the year. The Commission’s approach is to: improve clarity and coherence of the rules; strengthen individual’s rights; and reduce administrative formalities.

Facebook’s recent experiences with EU national regulators highlighted the kind of red tape the Commission hope to avoid – after meeting Ireland’s data protection rules, the Netherlands and Belgium proceeded to take issue with Facebook’s data protection, and lock Facebook in a regulatory spiral. If the Commission’s plans go ahead, companies would have just one set of data protection rules to abide by in the EU, compared to the 28 they now grapple with. This would make it both easier and cheaper for companies to do business in the EU, and hopefully encourage new digital business in.

Benefits for consumers?

For consumers though, data protection reform is all about building trust, something many agree is lacking at present. Under the reform, we’ll be able to decide how our data is used; we can more easily access our data; we’ll have the right to know if our data’s been hacked; and we can choose to have our data deleted for good.

Overall, the Commission want to “strengthen individuals’ rights, and at the same time reduce administrative formalities to ensure a free flow of personal data within the EU and beyond”. That’s all great – in the UK, our Data Protection Act 1998 could probably do with an update too. But aside from modernising the law, the real point of the EU reform is to get the right rules in place so every EU member state is working under the same regulation ahead of other big digital changes.

Big Data and the Digital Single Market

Of all the uses reliant on data protection reform, there’s possibly none so obvious as the use of personal data for Big Data analyses. In their Digital Single Market strategy, the Commission say Big Data is a “catalyst for economic growth, innovation and digitisation across all economic sectors”. It’s a huge money-spinner. But the seeming contrast between Big Data and an individual’s right to keep their information private won’t be lost on most. How can we maintain control over our personal information, yet allow companies easier and freer access to it?

By March 2018, all new built European cars must have automatic emergency call devices as standard. This is an excellent example of technology that relies on Internet of Things (IoT) – simply, the cars will call up emergency services if there’s a crash, sharing some information about the crash in the process. Technically this isn’t a part of the Digital Single Market but it’s given us a glimpse of the kind of control we could keep over our data as more and more IoT services are introduced throughout Europe. Thanks to rules introduced in conjunction, automatic calls made after a crash would only give the minimum amount of data for the service to be of any use. This would include the type of vehicle, fuel used, time of the accident, the exact location, and the number of passengers. The information couldn’t be passed to any third party without express consent, and later the data would be fully and permanently deleted.

It sounds a logical and fair balance between an innovative, helpful service, and the need for companies to access our data to deliver that service. Let’s hope then, the Commission follows this same logic and doesn’t get too “free” with our data. The Digital Single Market will give us easier access to goods and services – who wouldn’t want that? But it’ll rely heavily on getting data protection right if its benefits are to really outweigh any consumer worry.

Lyndsey Burton is founder of Choose, a consumer information site covering personal finance, home media and retail.

Business Legal Regs

Digital single market strategy

EU Digital Single Market Strategy

The ITSPA secretariat have published a summary of issues that concern the Internet Telephony Service Providers’ industry in last week’s Digital Single Market Strategy. I’m sure much will be written on this subject in the coming months. In the meantime the ITSPA summary is a good little crib sheet of the issues:

Last week the EU Commission published its Digital Single Market Strategy. In the document the Commission sets out 16 key actions which it intends to complete by the end of 2016 based upon the three following pillars:

Better access for consumers and businesses to digital goods and services across Europe

Creating the right conditions and a level playing field for digital networks and innovative services to flourish

Maximising the growth potential of the digital economy

The DSM Strategy also included the following specific actions of particular relevance to ITSPA members and the telecoms industry:

Present legislative proposals to reform the current telecoms in 2016

the Strategy includes a pledge to overhaul the EU’s telecoms rules, including more effective spectrum coordination, and common EU-wide criteria for spectrum assignment at national level.

creating incentives for investment in high-speed broadband

ensuring a level playing field for all market players, traditional and new; and

creating an effective institutional framework.

Perform a comprehensively analysis of the role of online platforms (such as search engines, social media, app stores, etc.) in the market.

Reinforce trust and security in digital services, notably concerning the handling of personal data. Building on the new EU data protection rules, due to be adopted by the end of 2015, the Commission will review the e-Privacy Directive to ensure that it is aligned with the reformed data protection legislation.

We in the UK have big challenges over the next few years in respect of internet and tech related legislation. Not least since the General Election wiped some tech talent off the parliamentary map. I’m thinking in particular of former Cambridge Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert who was heavily involved in fending off the Snooper’s Charter.

It’s a bit of a worry when I see some of the text in the Digital Single Market Strategy. The worry comes in two guises. Firstly yes some of these areas need looking at. The role of search engines etc. We don’t want them forcing unfair practices.

Secondly I’m not sure I like the idea of government interfering. This is somewhat counter to my first point. If nothing else, governments rarely have the expertise required to get involved.

We aren’t going to solve it all here and now but certainly look out for more content in this space in the coming weeks and months.

End User Legal Regs

The Politics of Digital

dave levyIn this broad ranging article, Labour Party member Dave Levy talks digital policy and includes repeal of the Digital Economy Act as one of his reforms for the next parliament.

The issues raised by the digitisation and virtualisation of society by the internet can be seen as broken into two classes of issue, citizenship in the digital age and the digital economy.

It’s not going to be easy to predict Labour’s policies until the manifesto has been published but as a Labour Party Member and a subscriber to the Open Rights Group I am hopeful that on citizenship Labour’s promises will be better than expected by the LibDem led civil liberty lobby. Labour has also thought hard about its digital policy and published the Digital Government Review.


On citizenship the pressure group @LabourDigital has called for Labour to support the EDRI charter of Digital Rights and a number of Labour’s MEP candidates signed up for the charter’s voting exchange.  The charter has 10 points addressing the issues of democratic participation, privacy, equality before the law, and asserting citizens’ rights in intellectual property law. I proposed its adoption on  here, if you can go there and vote it up, that’d be great.

When considering Labour historic record, it must be recognised that it was a Labour Government that passed the Human Rights Act and the Freedom of Information acts,  key statutory rights for the defenders of civil rights and liberties. Labour has come under attack by a number of civil libertarians, not all of it fair in my opinion since their preferred champions, usually Liberal Democrats have an unenviable record to justify over the term of this parliament, the introduction of secret courts, the restriction of legal aid & judicial review and the passage of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers (DRIP) Act.

Privacy & Security

Yvette Cooper in her speech to Demos last year, on Privacy & Security, expressed a balance that  many libertarian critics of the last labour Administration would not expect. She emphasised

The digital age generates every second new and amazing opportunities that we should seize. But we cannot duck our responsibilities to face up to the difficult challenges it poses too – to make sure that the digital age serves the public and our democracy, and not the other way round.

Some other aspects of the citizenship debate are hung up on copyright reform where the voices arguing that the content industry’s definition of legitimate copyright and enforcement is a threat to civil liberties and democratic participation are scarce and weak. Intellectual property laws should protect the interests of the creator and of those who are inspired by the creation together with an overarching public interest. They must support the creation of derived works as well as so-called original creativity. The UK’s laws are amongst the strictest in the world and do not meet these goals. The proposals, made law in the Digital Economy Act legalising strong enforcement, private surveillance and industrialising the court process act as a constraint on freedom of speech, the right to fair trial, and continue the moves towards the privatisation1 of investigation and prosecution of crime. The European Union rejected this approach and we should remember David Martin, a Scottish Labour MEP’s role in killing this law at the European level since it wouldn’t enhance the legal rights of the citizens of Europe. The reason that the DE Act has not been back to parliament for confirmation is that now that the copyright holders have to pay for it, they don’t want it2.

Copyright & Innovation

The PLP Leadership have been captured on Copyright by the Musicians Union. For the record, there is no public interest argument for the current copyright laws. At the heart is an unjust duration, and an egregiously prohibitive exceptions policy. Harriet Harman spoke of the resurrection of the Digital Economy Act at Labour’s last conference and Labour’s culture team have been captured. They can’t get it through their heads that now that the Music Companies have to pay for the tribunals and IT to pursue fans, they don’t want to. They also need to get it through their heads that this isn’t about Google vs. European culture; if it’s between any two corporations it’s between the US Datenkraken and the big three content companies, (Sony, Universal and Warner Brothers) non of which are headquartered in either the UK or the EU. However, again, the parliamentary opposition to ACTA in the EU and the Digital Economy Act in the UK was led by Labour MPs. Labour’s National Policy Forum has said nothing about copyright; I expect the manifesto commitment to be poor.

There is also a cretinous populism in Parliament, which Labour shares about more e-voting despite all the evidence and expert testimony that it’s dangerous since it opens a huge risk for tampering and other older forms of corruption.


On Privacy the record of the Labour Party is better,  with the European Parliament’s formidable defence of the rights to Privacy being led by Labour’s Claude Moraes and the majority of those MPs who voted against the emergency scheduled “Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act” being Labour MPs. The commitments to the sunset clause and civil oversight board would not have happened without Labour’s awkward squad and possibly without David Blunkett publically recognising that the Labour Government’s RIPA has insufficient judicial input leaving politically supervised police to authorise search warrants. If clever, this could be a differentiator between Labour and the Tories since Cameron seems to be happy with a politically authorised warrant, one would hope that might be picked up.

The digital economy

On the broader economic issues and on government projects, Chi Onawurah MP, the only engineer in the House of Commons and Labour spokesperson on Digital Government has commissioned a review and is developing a series of policies for Government. The review focus very much on the Government as a consumer. The key differentiators between Labour and the others will be on the issues of ownership and inclusion.  On technology as a macro-economic growth engine, Labour has the strongest policy and understanding, addressing explicitly digital skills, local authority partnerships, commitments to open data and proposing small steps towards public money buying access and usability, the need for an ethical government data management policy and the centrality3 of open standards & licenses (again). The proposals for an Investment Bank and the reduction of tuition fees are also knowledge economy issues.

My four critical proposals are for reforms that

  1. Ensures that public money buys public domain2
  2. Supporting a strong right to privacy against both the Government and private companies
  3. Law must be transparent, and so the law’s code must be open and subject to public scrutiny in a court of law.
  4. Incrementally implement a fair copyright law, limits and exceptions need to offer certainty and be reasonable. The Hargreaves Review and consequent laws are a first step. We need to consider implementing a more robust fair use regime and we need to reduce copyright duration on a worldwide basis.

In addition I’d argue that the Digital Economy Act should be repealed. It’s unworkable, the music companies no-longer want it now they have to pay for it. It makes the UK one of the most restrictive legal regimes in the world, more so even than the USA.

While the remainder of this piece talks about issues broader than the digital economy and digital society, they remain important as reasons for selecting who to vote for.


The election is likely to be tight, there are committed libertarians standing for re-election as Labour Candidates who have got all the big digital liberty issues right. If they are all returned then the Parliament will be a better place for the politics of digital citizenship. Labour’s awkward squad will vote against the whip, we don’t know about the courage of the LibDems. For those for whom these issues are critical, you’ll need to find out what your candidates think, the dynamics within the parliamentary parties may become as important as the manifesto commitments.

Also by making an individual constituency decisions, we can help ensure that more expertise will arrive in the next parliament since it’s woefully short in the current one.

Other things are also important

There is no doubt that for many people issues such as macro-economic policy i.e fiscal and monetary policy, the funding and governance of the National Health Service, Housing, Education and Energy will more important and for them the choice is obvious; there are only two realistic candidates to become Prime Minister but for those concerned with the state of the politics of digital, a Labour led House of Commons with a strong pro-citizen group may well be the best result. The coalition result on surveillance, privacy, secret courts, legal aid and secret courts shows the potential future. The Coalition’s Minister for Justice argues for the withdrawal from the EU and its court and the European Court of Human Rights.  If the politics of digital is your first priority, then you should find out what your MP or PPC thinks and recognise that you are voting for an MP, not a government.  To these broader issues, I’d add that Ed Miliband’s promise of a constitutional convention maybe the best bet we have of getting a genuine proportionate voting system in place as well as abolishing the House of Lords.

First published on

Dave Levy has worked in IT for over 30 years, employed in Government, Financial Services and by IT Systems Vendors. He continues to work as a consultant, primarily in the City of London. While working for Sun Microsystems in the late 2000’s he represented them on NESSI, the European Union’s internet industry R&D incubator. Dave is a member of the Labour Party and a member of the Open Rights Group’s Supporter’s Council. He writes here in a personal capacity, these opinions do not necessarily represent those of his employer, or anyone else. He blogs on Technology, Politics and Technology Politics here. (

Other tech reg posts include:

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…
Peter Farmer on Ofcom really isn’t an all powerful deity
Dr Monica Horten on Why the Magna Carta applies to technology policy
Dr Julian Huppert MP proposes online rights framework to protect our privacy

See all our regulatory posts here.

1 For the logical endpoint, of the privatisation of law enforcement, see Jennifer Government.
2 It’s more complicated than this, but for reasons of space I’ll leave it there.
3 This is clearly easier said than done, since the Tories promised this in 2010.
4 This is a slogan but the UK should adopt the US principle that the public sector’s knowledge assets are available to the public.

End User Legal Regs surveillance & privacy

Why Magna Carta matters to technology policy – listen up Dave

Monica Horten

Dr Monica Horten continues the internet privacy rights debate

This year is the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, the Great Charter that established the right to a fair trial and  put an end to arbitrary justice in private hands. What, you may ask, does this have to do with technology policy for the 21st century? It’s a strange twist of fate that this year, in Britain, we face calls for private companies to take on the role of  (secret) police-man, judge and censor all wrapped up in one.

Post-election, the government of whatever colour – blue, red, yellow, purple or green – will have to face up to policy issues concerning the technology that runs our lives and the companies that control the underlying infrastructure. Broadly, the issues fall into two categories:

Control of content on networks (BT, Virgin, TalkTalk, Vodafone etc) and platforms (Google, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc)

Surveillance using the underlying data created by transmissions using  these networks and platforms

In both cases, the issue is whether technology companies can be asked to take action in respect of individuals and their private communications  at the demand or insistence of third parties. Those third parties might be governments but might also be other private or public interest groups with a range of  aims relating to, for example,   terrorism,   children,   defamation or copyright.   The kind of action they might be asked to take is to  block or filter content; or collect, store and supply data.

The suggestion by intelligence chief Robert Hannigan, in his Financial Times article, for a public debate is absolutely welcome, and it will be down to the next government to show the strength of character  to facilitate such a discussion.

My plea to politicians and government officials  is that they should not simply accept these kinds of demands at face-value. They should try to understand the importance of the balancing act that they are obligated to carry out when addressing individual communications. These obligations fall under the human rights framework and they  take us back to Magna Carta and the stand against arbitrary justice.  Whatever the policy aim, it is paramount that the government must balance such demands against rights to free speech and privacy, and  ensure that justice is conducted with due process.

There is scholarly and legal opinion that mass retention of communications data  puts privacy rights at risk. In particular, the risk concerns abuse of powers of access to the data. From local councils seeking to get at dog owners, as apparently happened a few years ago, right through to very nasty possibilities of  the misuse of data to spy on and pressure innocent individuals, such possibilities must be guarded against.

Similarly, it is widely recognised among experts that the blocking and filtering technology implemented by the broadband providers is capable of interfering with free speech rights,  and there is a growing body of case law to that effect. This is especially the case where the filtering is carried out with no legal basis, using secret black-lists created by third-parties, and outsourced to companies operating in other countries under foreign legal jurisdiction. Arguably, such filtering represents  an intolerable interference with a precious right to freedom of speech and uncensored publishing that we have enjoyed for over 300 years since the lapse of the Licencing Act in 1695.

In the country that gave birth to Magna Carta and to the most essential principles of democracy, it is incumbent on policy-makers to remember that any decision  regarding interference with personal communications and online content  must be necessary and proportionate, meet a legitimate policy aim and be provided for by law. Private corporations are the kings of today. Like King John, they should not be above the law. They should also not be asked to enforce the law.  Arbitrary demands that technology companies take action without the proper legal basis, arguably puts democratic speech on a slippery slope going backwards.

Dr Monica Horten is a Visiting Fellow, London School of Economics and Political Science. She is an independent expert on  the Council of Europe’s Committee of Experts on Cross-border Flow of Internet Traffic and Internet Freedom. She is the author of two books:  A Copyright Masquerade: how corporate lobbying threatens online freedoms and The Copyright Enforcement Enigma: Internet politics and the Telecoms Package and writes the Iptegrity blog   (Twitter: @Iptegrity). She has a new book on Internet policy forthcoming from Polity Press in early 2016.  She also has a forthcoming paper on free speech rights, private actors and the duties of the State.

First published on 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
Domnhall Dods on Electronic Communications Code reform
James Blessing Says “No matter who you vote for…
Peter Farmer on Ofcom really isn’t an all powerful deity

See all our regulatory posts 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.

Business ipv6 Legal Net Regs

No matter who you vote for…

James Blessing discusses technology regulatory issues he sees that should be addressed by the next government.

Since we have a potential change of government coming up, it might be useful to see how well the current one has been doing in the telecoms and technology space and where the next one might repeat the same mistakes. These are the random scribblings of an individual, and not a position paper by ISPA or any company that I work for (though the are probably people in those organisations who agree with the sentiment).

There is a fine line that people in business need to tread when trying to get the government involved in something. Whilst there is often a space for government involvement, there is also some risk that they will try to dominate the process and move it from being a good idea to something that actually would have been better for all of us if they’d never been involved.

Let’s start with the biggest heffalump in the room, BDUK. Whilst the idea of government injecting funds into various projects to make sure the country’s infrastructure is the best in the world and no region gets left behind, most of the people in industry recognised that BT would win most (if not all) of the contracts. This isn’t because of the evil machinations of the government or BT (much though people would like to believe that) but rather because the “scheme” was designed by civil servants with a paranoia that Eurocrats would jump on any project that thought outside of the most convenient box.

The “good” news is that the third round of funding seems to be focusing on more creative solutions, but I fear for those communities that are going to be left with solutions that will leave them far behind their dense cousins in the cities. The bad news is that BT’s obsession with copper (which they have a lot of) rather than fibre (which they have a lot of too) seems to be continuing with In an ideal world, someone in government would recognise that fibre is the way forward, but it seems that only the smaller altnets are the ones who are delivering it.

Moving on from infrastructure, we have the fun that is monitoring and content. The two largest parties seem to have developed an unhealthy obsession with “out-nannying” each other (and many individuals in other parties have agreed with them on occasion). The last two governments have both tried (and failed for different reasons) to introduce widescale, automated watcher programmes that keep an eye on all internet activity using potential terrorism threat and “think of the children” as their rallying cries. If I were a betting man, then I’d put money that without the more liberal elements in the next government, we’ll see the same legislation in a new format raise its head over the parapet. It’s as if Sir Humphrey’s spirit lives long around the echelons of Whitehall.

Indeed, by using the “think of the children” approach, we also appear to channelling the late Mary Whitehouse in terms of restricting access to “objectionable content”. Whilst I agree that children shouldn’t be exposed to it, the approach being used where end users get no choice in the matter removes “parental” responsibility in terms of their own media, literacy and educational development; as well as teaching an entire generation to bypass security settings to get to the things they want to. For one, I pity the IT admins of the future, who have to deal with a generation who have been conditioned that the only way to source content is to bypass access control.

But what of looking forward? What should we be pushing our government (and politicians) to do from their ivory tower? Personally, I think it comes down to number of (relatively) simple steps that they could promote, and then leave the market/society to work out:

Education – So much promise has been shown with the Raspberry Pi and the maker community when it comes to what can be done when you set the mind free, but schools’ curricula have become so restricted to focusing on “now” and not encouraging “future”, that teachers are prevented from exploiting these developments purely for the ability to create. Not everyone wants to be a web developer, software designer or network engineer but letting kids run wild with technology is the only way new things happen. We need another generation of hackers – in the original sense of the word, meaning people who want to play around with things to find out how they work rather than emo kids who hang around in basements with green characters on a black screen. In fact we should probably just clone Tom –

Infrastructure – Many new different technologies are being predicted as being “just around the corner” (the cynic inside says that they’ve been just around the corner since the 80’s but hey…), the Internet of Things, Driverless Cars, 5G, 4K, TLAs, Virtual Reality, Distributed Energy – all of which will need underlying infrastructure to ship control data. Whilst there are frequently voices raised exclaiming that we’re in the top N countries in the world for XYZ, and that we should be proud to be there, surely we should be setting our sight and goals higher? Rather than settling for 25mbps to 90% of the country, we should be looking at delivering 1Gbps in the next 5 years to everyone, and then how we move from 1G to 10G 5 years later. We might decide we can’t quite make it on that time scale and lower the goals a bit, but, at the moment, we’re shooting too low. In 2000, broadband (when it was still called DSL) managed 512k maximum to less than 20% of the country, 10 years later the average was 5Mbps and the coverage was 71%. Our minimum goal should be 50mbps average by 2020, and to hit that, we should be pushing infrastructure capabilities and formats now!

IPv6 – Whilst the previous two are rather grand sweeping topics that need lots of things to happen and a longer period of time before we see the greatest benefits, rolling out IPv6 everywhere is a much more pressing issue. The IoT is going to consume vast amounts of address space, address space that we’ve already run out of. The security services are demanding traceability of end users, and more networks are hiding them as they cope with a lack of space. In both cases, deploying IPv6 now, where ever and when ever possible, will help. It’s painful to watch clever people come up with more and more crazy schemes to share address space when IPv6 would solve the problem. For politicians, this is a great thing to jump on, its easy to measure success and government involvement is pressure on organisations rather than central financial investment – just include it as a requirement in all government tenders (preferably pushed up to an EU level as well) and see how fast suppliers start adapting.

Open data – The other easy win, the data exists, people want the data – make it available. Okay, you’d lose some revenue from the postcode database but everyone’s life will be slightly better as there is no longer a reason not to include postcode lookup in applications (other than laziness, and we can let market forces deal with that). “Publish and be damned” I say, and its great to see already taking baby steps, but a change of government is an opportunity to push this issue forward at all levels.

And with that I’ll get my coat, take my soap box away and find another crowd to harangue.

James Blessing is currently CTO of Keycom PLC, a managed services provider. He has over twenty years of experience in internet technologies. Previously he was Strategic Relations Manager, EMEA at Limelight Networks, COO at Entanet, technical support manager and technical development manager at Zen Internet; senior project manager at Eunite; senior producer at Kiss102 and Kiss105; and a technical director at Net Nannies. James is also chairman of the trade body ISPA.

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

See all our regulatory posts here.

Business Legal Regs

Enabling better business connectivity by reforming the Electronic Communications Code

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

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

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

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

The current Code – outdated and counter-productive

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

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

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

The Law Commission

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

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

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

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

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

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

Improvements and repairs are being delayed

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

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

Reforming the Code – what needs to be done

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Other political week posts on

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

Gus Hosein on Data Protection Reform and Surveillance

The Julian Huppert crowd funding campaign here

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

See all our regulatory posts here.

Business Cloud Legal Regs

Cloud Uncertainties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other political week posts on

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

Gus Hosein on Data Protection Reform and Surveillance

The Julian Huppert crowd funding campaign here

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

See all our regulatory posts here.

End User Legal Regs

Internet Policy advice for whoever wins next election

Paul Bernal government internet policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Other political week posts on

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

Gus Hosein on Data Protection Reform and Surveillance

The Julian Huppert crowd funding campaign here

See all our regulatory posts here.

Business Legal Regs

Help Julian Huppert get re-elected

Julian Huppert crowd funding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gus Hosein on Data Protection Reform and Surveillance

See all our regulatory posts here.

Business End User Legal Regs surveillance & privacy

Reform or go quietly – data protection and government surveillance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

See all our regulatory posts here.

Business Legal Regs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Business End User Legal Regs

Next week is political week on

Technology regulatory issues next week on

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

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

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

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

Y’all come back next week now.

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.

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!


Bad Stuff broadband End User fun stuff Legal Net piracy

Geo Restriction Means a Pirate’s Life for Me…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fruity Simulation

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

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

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

No Diving

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

Extract tongue out of cheek.

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

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

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

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

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

And I am the one being naïve?

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