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Digital TX Talks IPTV Action Plan
By: MarkJ - 24 April, 2006 (9:44 AM)

Internet TV (IPTV) consultants Digital TX have written up an interesting 'action plan' for Ofcom, highlighting what the regulator could do to stimulate development. Several areas touch on ISP related issues, such as altering the economics of LLU to make it deployable in rural areas.

The piece is too long to paste in full, hence we'll quote the most relevant elements below:

Open up the Wimax spectrum free of charge

Wimax is just too complex, and the telecoms industry is crammed with start-ups and business plans for its use, particularly in rural areas where DSL penetration is low. Pipex owns the rights to the 3.5GHz band, and PCCW owns the 3.4GHz band. Many operators want to operate in the 5GHz range, and Ofcom is considering opening up the 3G band, 2.5GHz for non-3G use. To add to that, low-power domestic wi-fi equipment uses 2.4GHz, and there is more talk of playing with both 3.6GHz and 3.7GHz for long-haul services. Donít feel bad if you donít get it either.

So here is a radical plan for Wimax Ė open up the spectrum free of charge and let operators innovate to their heartís content. Make deployment cheap as chips. Licence operators with minimal fees and make sure guidelines are observed by all means, but let the industry grow by itself, organically. Make universal internet connectivity a truly free market and protect it from the interests of companies looking to be monopolists. We need to encourage 100% broadband coverage for the good of our overall digital economy and present alternative means of accessing other global networks that is not based on premium-rate mobile telephony or legacy copper.

Reverse LLU economics to stimulate deployment in rural areas

There are around 6000 BT phone exchanges in the UK, of which about 25% (1500 or so) are actually viable enough for local-loop unbundling by BTís rivals, such as Easynet, Cable & Wireless and Carphone Warehouse. Co-locating equipment in exchanges and leasing DSLAM gear is relatively cost-effective, but when you get to running fiber backhaul, your plans come slightly unstuck as its absurdly expensive. This makes consumer unbundling only practical in heavily-subscribed metropolitan areas, where itís almost saturated already. B2B unbundling is more favourable, but only slightly so.

Reversing the current economics would redress the network imbalance we have now. The cost of unbundling needs to be inversely proportional to the available customer base and their distance to the exchange Ė the more hostile the exchange, the cheaper it is to work with. The government doesnít want to subsidise communities but wants to empower lovely things like tele-working and convergence. Let hungry commercial operators get in there and provide unique, localised services for those who need it most.

Licence ISPs like broadcasters

John Pluthero infamous said that what ISPs knew about customer service he could write on the back of a postage stamp, and unfortunately he was right. Most operators are content never to talk to their customers, let alone try to deal with their problems. An alarmingly large number do not even give their contact details to their own subscribers or the public. This lack of transparency or accountability is deeply worrying as limited companies appear and disappear as quickly as their bank loan for the BT central or VISP account runs dry. As we move into a new era of converged communication services, this type of cavalier behaviour is just not acceptable.

Survivors of Gio Internet and other ISPs that have gone spectacularly bust with little or no warning (often with buckets of their own customersí money) are mounting up in the same way rogue premium-rate telephony scam artists have. BT has no interest in cutting off these customersí accounts as they are cash cows that pay for a world of useful luxuries. As long as they are paying their bills (or the likelihood is that they will), it is up to the rest of us to deal with their cynical approach to service provision. Ask any UK Online or Bulldog subscriber Ė provisioning, support and billing arenít exactly a speciality.

All tiers of ISPS need to be fully licensed on a national register in exactly the same way as broadcasters are. Operators should need a licence and have the appropriate diligence conducted on their affairs every year before they are allowed to deal with small businesses and/or the general public (consider full MPF unbundling, carrier pre-selection and VoIP services where access to emergency services is a key issue). Guidelines, practices and regulation need to be mandated and enforced by a central authority that can tighten up the shortcomings of such a fast-moving industry. Understandably, no-one is going to like being regulated, but it desperately needs to be done.

Create a compulsory migration system for triple play

The MAC code migration system has never been compulsory, but arguably it should be. Some people believe it one of the core reasons the market for broadband has been so fluid in the UK. Competition is a fact of life and particularly vicious in telecoms, and consumers searching for better deals have had access to a vital mechanism by which they can tidily and easily shop between providers. The system is far from perfect, but the sentiment is there.

We need to build a form of ďpassportĒ system that enables customers to migrate between operators but leaves their services as intact as possible. The first incidental death caused by not being able to call for an ambulance because the line was down will be a very preventable tragedy. Consumers need maximum control over who maintains this information (their migration details) and what is done with it.

Itís hard not to agree with most of DXTís suggestions, although some, such as reversing the economics of LLU, are more than a little unlikely to come about.

Full piece - HERE.

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