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Further lack of regulation

Leith Campbell's picture

AT&T's Annual Report for 2017 contains the following, blatantly political comment on the 'open' internet.  Clearly, AT&T wants no regulation, like 'Silicon Valley'.  Is this sensible?

AT&T and its strategic positioning must be assessed first through the lens of what transpired in the general U.S. business environment in 2017. It’s been a long time since we have seen a shift in public policy that was more positive for growth in investment, jobs and wages.

It began with a broad, sweeping rationalization of the regulatory burden on U.S. businesses, particularly in our industry. The most notable example came last December when the FCC reversed its 2015 decision to impose a set of archaic, 1930s-era regulations – rules created for the rotary-dial telephone – on how the internet works.

The new FCC order returns internet service to the light-touch regulation that had been in place until 2015. We now have the same regulatory approach that enabled the U.S. technology sector in Silicon Valley to lead the world in innovation as the internet flourished, thanks to massive investments in mobile and fiber-based broadband infrastructure. Indeed, AT&T invested more than $200 billion in capital in our U.S. networks over the past 10 years. Returning the industry to that same light-touch regulation will help ensure continued investment in new, significantly higher-speed network technologies – such as 5G – that will help the United States to remain the global leader in advanced connectivity and digital innovation.

The internet has become a very important element within our society, changing the way we all live, work and conduct commerce. Therefore, another change in the rules is understandably confusing and concerning. This is why we believe it’s time for Congress to end the debate once and for all by writing new laws that govern the internet and protect consumers.

Until that is accomplished, I want to make clear what you can expect from AT&T.  We are committed to an open internet. We don’t block websites. We don’t censor online content. And we don’t throttle, discriminate, or degrade network performance based on the content. Period.

We have publicly committed to these principles for more than 10 years, and we will continue to abide by them. But the commitment of one company is not enough. We need Congressional action to establish an “Internet Bill of Rights” that applies to all internet companies and guarantees neutrality, transparency, openness, nondiscrimination and privacy protection for all internet users.

We intend to work with Congress, other internet companies and consumer groups to push for this legislation that will permanently protect the open internet for all users and encourage continued investment for the next generation of internet innovation.

Vision needs to remove NBN Co monopoly

Gary McLaren's picture

Frank makes up some great points.
But unfortunately there is common ground across the ideological and partisan NBN debate about the fundamental disconnect in Australia's telco policies - everyone seems to consider the NBN Co monopoly as sacrosanct. This is starting point for everyone's disparate "visions".
Australia seems to be the only country that starts from this position. This is the core of Australia's problem. Monopolies do not invest unless someone provides extra funds, usually taxpayers or customers who have no choice! As a result investment either doesn't happen or is too late.
Any vision for the future of Australia's telecom policy must first consider the fundamental issue of telecom monopolies.
Why is Australia the only market that considers this a no go zone?

The Utility of Broadband

Tim Herring's picture

Transferred to the main blog under "Broadband"

How should the FTTx investments be recouped?

Frank den Hartog's picture

I agree with Prof. Tucker's conclusion that the NBN will not bring Australia higher up the international ladder of fixed broadband connectivity speeds. But "being high up the ladder" should not be a goal in itself. The real tragedy is that we (industry, public, government) do not seem to have a shared (!) vision on our society's needs for broadband now and in the future, how these needs would translate into a measurable improvement of the society's well-being, and how this improvement subsequently would translate into everybody recouping a fair share of the investment costs and taking a fair share of the investment risks. Said otherwise, a viable business model and business case seems missing, plus a vision on how to implement such a business model given the existing organisation of Australia's telecommunications market.

As an illustration: the article discusses the costs of FTTN and FTTP deployment internationally, but costs may differ greatly per country, especially the OPEX part of it. Besides, who cares about the costs if there is a clear vision on how to earn them back? And what role could mobile networks (5G) play in this discussion? But lacking that vision, the only thing we can do is minimising the investment costs, and then comparisons like presented become relevant indeed. And, to be honest, even $2500 then sounds like a lot of money to me: with a fee of $50/month per household it would take ~10 years to earn this back, depending on which part of the fee should cover the infrastructure investments (here estimated on ~50%). Which company, nowadays, or even government (with its <3 year cycle), is prepared to take such a long term risk for an unclear outcome?

I firmly believe that Australia should be much better connected than it is now in order to maintain our standard of living, or even improve it. I believe that FTTN will help too little too late. But as long as we discuss broadband policies on the basis of just believes instead of facts and evidence, we will loose a lot of time, energy, and money in discussing and fighting. Resources we should better put into updating the network. I support Prof. Tucker's conclusion that NBN needs a vision for the future beyond 2021. But that's easier said than done. The lack of this vision is the real tragedy.

Good observations, Bob.

Graham Shepherd's picture

Good observations, Bob.

In the latest Journal, I try and take an overall view of the latest policy and Gary McLaren compares the utility model you describe with the competitive model proposed by Vertigan. The government seems to be hovering between a utility approach and a comptitive approach. In the Business Spectator last week ( Mark Gregory noted that if the government delays selling off the HFC until NBN Co upgrades it then a well-cashed-up player like Telstra could walk right back in to a dominant position in broadband access.

I wish that rational argument would prevail but despite the mantra of rational economics I doubt that it raises even a lazy eyebrow. Daniel Kahneman in "Thinking fast and slow" demonstrated that markets and consumers are not rational (unless they really concentrate). I suspect that governments and politicians are the least rational of all and wide open to powerful forces, including half-cocked ideologies, political expediencies and modern, more sophisticated versions of the good old brown paper bag (Askins, I think they were called).

I remember Richard Alston laughing his head of at naive young me when I suggested that he simply had to explain to the Australlian people the "good reasons" for privatising Telecom Australia and he would get his legisltation through. Of course, it was the mountainous tax-payerfunded political pay-offs to Senator Harradine that actually ensured the result he wanted.

There will be a wide readership of the Journal articles. You might like to add your comments there.

Graham Shepherd

Gigabit connections: MyRepublic says NBN chief is wrong

Nigel Swinney's picture

Given the rediculous cost to get 100Mbits currently I doubt we could justify 10x that for gigabit but it would be good to have if they priced it right

(No subject)

Ian Campbell's picture

(No subject)

Rob Nicholls's picture

PDF file reissued

administrator's picture

Thanks, Bruce. I hope that you received the reissued version of the pdf file on the same day.

Graham Shepherd

Ericsson "fair co-existence ... in unlicensed band"

Ken Sayers's picture

I recall when I worked for Neighbourhood Cable in the mid 2000's we had a Wi-Fi network in Mildura which was running perfectly until this mob from Tasmania called One Wire (according to Whirlpool they went belly up in Feb. 2008). This mob was sucking money out of the Broadband guarantee program then being run by the Howard Government. They put up a WiFi network which created massive interference to our network. When I spoke to the ACMA I was told "unlicensed spectrum is like the swings in the playground. All the people who want to use the swings have to agree on how they will be shared. There is no police who can come in and set up a regulated system, so unless they are interfering with licensed spectrum, too bad". We ended up having to send our technical guys out to fix their kit so as to reduce interference. So while it might sound like a great idea to use unlicensed spectrum for LTE, that use comes with risks. 5GHz in less risky as it's a pretty broad band, but then it is also pretty short range, so it might be good in a closed space like say a Race Track, as long as the users of that spectrum is limited by e.g. the club that owns the race track.

Ericsson "fair co-existence ... in unlicensed band"

administrator's picture

"Ericsson says ‘The testing validated LTE performance in the unlicensed band and fair co-existence with other technologies like Wi-Fi within the unlicensed 5 GHz band.’"

This is a very big claim. Such matters should be independently determined, not just claimed by a vested interest.

Graham Shepherd

2015 Charles Todd Oration

Douglas OHara's picture

Are there any vacancies for this Sydney event on 26 November 2015?

Regards ... Doug O'Hara

“Just” the Tragedy of Commons: what about LTE-U?

Brian Louey-Gung's picture

Andrew Kerans rightly points out that the WiFi bands are explicitly governed by Class Licenses and that anyone is allowed to play, as long as they abide by the sharing rules. Telstra is using the WiFi standard and as such is following the rules. He also points out quite rightly that at least some of the users being affected by the problem described by Stan Beer will be complicit as they will have prioritised the Telstra service on their smartphones – something that is easily rectified by changing the relevant smartphone options. Maybe the ACCC or the Council of Small Business Australia could create a pamphlet that gives straightforward instructions for the most popular smartphones so that affected businesses could distribute it to their customers.

However, Stan’s article leads to a related WiFi issue - LTE-U. This is where all of the carriers, not just Telstra, will start accessing the WiFi bands to supplement their already massive spectrum holdings. The developers of LTE-U assure us that they are going to great efforts to ensure that it won’t degrade the normal WiFi experience. Forgive me for being a little bit sceptical that their assurances are completely unbiased.

Stan is not the only one to notice WiFi sharing issues. Apparently the Dutch Radio agency Agentschap Telecom published a report recently noting many instances of overloaded WiFi at 2.4Ghz (Sorry, I don’t read Dutch, so I am quoting second hand). So even when everyone plays by the WiFi rules, the Tragedy of Commons occurs – too many users attempting to share a limited resource spoils it for everyone. While opening up the 5Ghz band alleviates the problem, this is just a temporary fix as the user-base grows to fill even this 'enlarged' commons. The deployment of LTE-U will add a massive new user base for WiFi spectrum in one hit.

Rather than relying on the backers of LTE-U telling us not to worry, I’d be much more comfortable if someone like the ACMA analysed the issue and provided independent expert assurances that the ordinary WiFi user is not going to be at the ‘Tragedy’ end of the Tragedy of Commons.


Is Telstra the bully or is it just the tragedy of the commons

Andrew Kerans's picture

In CommsWire on 7 October Stan Beer decried Telstra for being ‘the bully in the playground’ stealing everybody’s ‘WiFi’ lunch money.  Really, is it that bad and is it just Telstra.

To answer the second question first, no it isn’t just Telstra.  Various technologies use, or are looking at using the ‘free’ 2.4 and 5.8 GHz ‘WiFi’ bands.  They are also perfectly entitled to.  These bands are not actually set aside for WiFi, nor does WiFi have and special rights there.  WiFi must share these bands with whatever else comes along.

The beauty, and ugliness of these bands is that they are practically globally harmonised for the same purpose, Industrial, Scientific and Medical applications, hence the proper term for them, ISM bands.  This global harmony has brought about a proliferation of different ingenious devices doing almost everything you could imagine could be done with radio.  Yet each one of these devices must share the spectrum in accordance with the rules set out in the ACMA Class Licence (in Australia).

Stan also says that patrons of coffee shops ‘find the Telstra service barging its way onto their screens interfering with the weaker local signal’.  Really?  I doubt it.  The powers (in EIRP) are defined in the Class Licence and I doubt very much an organisation like Telstra would flout them the way some other smaller ISPs have and do, particularly when using 5.8 GHz for point to point feeder systems. 

The WiFi radios in the Telstra system would operate to the same rules the smaller WiFi systems do. If the box in the coffee shop is carefully positioned then there would be very little difference in power.  WiFi is cooperative, so just like in a crowded ‘multi system’ shopping centre things will still work OK as long as everybody obeys the rules.  Now if you happen to let your smartphone or tablet ‘prioritise’ Telstra and don’t disable that, then the barging in is really your own fault, albeit a human weakness that perhaps Telstra knows about.

So, the WiFi bands are not the domain of WiFi or of any one or any group of operators.  In my time in the ACMA we called them ‘garbage bands’ because there was simply so much stuff in there.  The other problem with these bands is a soon as one person’s application cops a bit of interference from another they think the ACMA should drop everything, step in and fix it.  Well they simply are not going to, they have bigger fish to fry and besides, playing in the garbage can get smelly.

The value the ISM bands deliver to the community through technical innovation, and yes: WiFi, is undeniable.  But just as the town commons does not belong to any single sheep herder these bands do not belong to WiFi.  So Stan, either pool your lunch money into a communal fund, or find another playground.

Dr Andrew Kerans; Spectrum Management Associates.

IoT security

Tristang's picture

It opens alot of questions, there is alot of of people discussing it. I have organised with Stuart Corner to talk on IoT next month and these will be some good questions to pose to him.


Who is researching IoT security?

administrator's picture

Good points, Brian.

Many "things" such as car control systems won't connect directly to the network but, theoretically at least, will be autonomous, using information obtained from radiating and non-radiating devices to inform (or misinform?) them. There will be an eventual network connection point, say, a black box. But what you are saying is that the IoT magnifies the security issue potentially by orders of magnitude.

What work is being done to address this? Will early experiences of insecurity or even the fear of insecurity dampen the takeup of IoT, particularly for vulnerable applications?

Graham Shepherd

Reported and reviewed in CommsWire 15 July 2015

administrator's picture

The Vodafone commissioned report was covered in CommsWire on 15 July 2015 and also reviewed by ECONOMUSE - John de Ridder - in the same issue with some additional strong points made. 

Dr Paul Paterson, head of the Bureau of Communications Research, is speaking at a TelSoc event of 24 July in Sydney. There should be ample opportunity to raise the challenges there. Register here.

Graham Shepherd

'new anti-piracy laws in action'

jonl000's picture

"The first letter sent to purported Internet pirates under the Government’s new anti-piracy legislation..."

I presume this article refers to the leaked draft letter relating to Dallas Buyer's Club and their Federal Court action. This has exactly nothing to do with any government 'anti-piracy legislation'. The government legislation currently before parliament relates to blocking offshore sites.

The sending of letters to ISP customers is the subject of the industry code being developed by the Communications Alliance. This has been undertaken under threat of legislation and with significant pressure from government, but there has been no actual legislation.

The Dallas Buyer's Club case is also happening in advance of that industry code.

This is therefore a remarkably inaccurate headline. Sure, it can be construed as 'bullying', but there's been no change to the law by government that's enabled it.

Net Neutrality

Gary McLaren's picture

Excellent article on the Net Neutrality issue. I particularly like the positioning of Net Neutrality as a public relations issues for the larger ISPs. But the dilemma remains - flat rate plans without download caps encourage higher usage and higher cost but not cost recovery to the ISP. Low usage customers end up subsidising high usage customers and ISPs have no incentive to invest in more network capacity - fibre, routers, transmission systems etc.

Broadband, just like other services where increased usage has increased costs, needs to have a feedback system to encourage investment and competition that prevents dominant players taking monopoly rents.

In theory effective

Graham Shepherd's picture

In theory effective competition would sort this out. Unfortunately, in Australia and in this globalising world, competition is just a theory and nothing more. For some it is a panacea and for others a religion. ACCC plays a key role but it is severely under-resourced and politically influenced.

Trust and rust also play a big part. Telstra hangs on to most of its consumer customers not by price or quality or service but simply because of an ethereal trust factor which might be more likened (lichen?) to rust. It's enterprise customers actually get good package deals but it's poor SME market share shows that discerning customers find somewhere else to go.

One trust factor which Vodafone has identified is that customers have been paying for unused volumes. It goes to the heart of trust. If I put my money in the bank I don't expect the unspent amount to disappear at the end of each month.

I buy a data pack towards the end of the month from Telstra just to get through the month but again I leave a large amount unused and I actually have to take a specific action to turn it off before the end of the month to avoid getting hit again. 

I am sure that Telstra isn't doing this deliberately just ignorantly. Ignorant of the irritation and the growing distrust. The rust starts to shake off.

Overall I think that the market should deal with it but a better resourced and more engaged ACCC might help. I just find it interesting that in their defence companies always resort to talking about their costs when these issues come up and not about their customers. Witness David Thodey and the other telcos arguing about the costs of data retention and not about their customers' privacy.

Graham Shepherd


Gary McLaren's picture

Well put - but the important thing is that Australia's ISPs have a cost they can't avoid related to network usage. This is going to be a smoother curve (rather than discrete upgrades) in the NBN world due to CVC charges. Telstra's pricing will need to fit into this model - regardless of their content plays. NBN Co will have discrete cost jumps as usage increases - they are small compared to fibre investment but still need to be managed. We all seem to agree that higher speeds should have higher prices - why not higher usage. Usage is a good enough proxy for peak hour dimensioning - just seems natural that higher users should pay rather than be subsidised by lower users. 

What are your thoughts on mobile caps? Should they also be dismantled?

Gary, price and the cost are

Graham Shepherd's picture

Gary, price and the cost are two different things. Generally entirely unrelated. Cost is what you can't avoid, price is what you can achieve, the difference is profit (or loss). It's not clear to me that what Telstra charges are in anyway representative of actual costs, particularly given their extraordinarily high gross margins and overheads. Peak hour volumes determine dimensioning of networks but costs actually rise in steps - a large step for a major infrastructure build, eg, a cable, and then smaller steps for lighting up a fibre and adding wavelengths. Likewise routers, DSLAMS etc. In HFC the DOCSIS upgrade costs are actually quite low - the biggest steps to achieve real speeds are deeper fibre as you know and these are speed related not necessarily volume related.

Monthly pricing by volume might also be seen as inequitable. Every month most consumers use significantly less than their quota. Vodafone's initiative to rollover unused volume is a welcome introduction to the Australian market and perhaps reveals something more of costs and competitive pricing.

As Telstra gets  more and more into content it will have the same motivation as others to eliminate metering of their own or affiliated content and the relative cost to them will be acceptable in their business case. 

I suspect that Australia's access pricing structure is based on history (infrastructure monopoly) and opportunity. 

Effective competition in access infrastructure, as you have often said yourself, would achieve the best outcome in the long term (coupled with an effective USO).

Graham Shepherd