Change is not good. Terry Kramer is too nice a guy to call “Dr. No,” but that was my earlier headline after listening to his press call and reading his speeches. With the exception of more power to the companies in rate negotiations, the U.S. positions amount to “no substantive change.”
The U.S. is going to WCIT with “non-negotiable demands,” ensuring a difficult negotiation. ITU SG Touré repeated at Columbia September 23 his intent to decide everything by consensus, virtually giving the U.S. a veto. Touré and a large majority of the delegates believe improvements can be made, that we are not “in the best of all possible worlds.” The tension is intense at every meeting.
In his own words, here’s the positions of Ambassador Kramer. He has five key principles:
- Minimal changes to the preamble of the ITRs;
- Alignment of the definitions in the ITRs with those in the ITU Constitution and Convention, including no change to the definitions of telecommunications and international telecommunications service;
- Maintaining the voluntary nature of compliance with ITU-T Recommendations;
- Continuing to apply the ITRs only to recognized operating agencies or RoAs; i.e., the ITRs’ scope should not be expanded to address other operating agencies that are not involved in the provision of authorized or licensed international telecommunications services to the public; and
- Revisions of Article 6 to affirm the role played by market competition and commercially negotiated agreements for exchanging international telecommunication traffic.
and here’s the full speech, as prepared to deliver to the SAMENA event.
Who to ask: Deutsche Telekom, France Telecom, ETNO, ITU and anyone who claims that video requires expensive QOS networks.
Accurate answer: Almost never on major wired networks. Best efforts telco networks are generally designed to rarely go over 80% of capacity, per Bell Canada to CRTC. Cablecos may suffer a little more from congestion, but Jason Livingood of Comcast says that even in the worst congestion, speeds don’t go down more than a third. Bandwidth isn’t free, but it’s cheap enough to have plenty of bandwidth for all but Katrina or 9/11 sized emergencies. The results on wireless is less clear, but generally there is far less congestion than the press reports suggest.
Why it matters: The Euro big telcos are spending millions to lobby for the “Google tax,” a charge on all video going over the net. They claim that’s necessary because they need to spend billions to upgrade their networks. They want Daily Motion, Google, Amazon and Netflix to pay for special “Quality of Service” delivery. That’s b___. Even HD video can look great at 3 megabits and below, with the new H.265/HEVC about to halve that. Video comes across fine on any reasonable “best efforts” network.
The Euro telcos, working through their ETNO trade association, are repeating everywhere the false claim their networks suck and can’t carry video. Video traffic is growing at a rapid rate, but the total cost of bandwidth at major carriers is flat to down. The gear needed – primarily switches and routers – is becoming rapidly cheaper because of Moore’s Law. People who don’t understand networks are often persuaded telcos need more money because traffic is growing, but everyone informed knows that’s not so. Politicians like Neelie Kroes and the folks at ITU make sympathetic noises but I believe actually know the argument is unsupportable.
The big telcos have major profit problems. Telefonica and France Telecom have had to cut dividends and Merrill Lynch has called on Deutsche Telekom to do the same. Telefonica has even cut top executive salaries. Landline voice, once among the most profitable products in the world, is in inexorable decline. For most of the last decade, broadband growth compensated. But broadband is near saturation so has little room for growth. So they want to tax the Internet to keep dividends and the stock price up.
Common sense confirmation: 22M Netflix users can easily watch HD. On Jennie’s 3 megabit Verizon DSL, The Tudors looks great in on a 50″ TV. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself. Buffering artifacts are very rare, and most problems turn out to be the home wireless connection, not the broadband line.
Common sense confirmation #2: Nowhere in the warld has any broadband carrier found it profitable to offer a QOS enabled offering for consumer broadband. No one wants or needs it.
Looking for civil society support at ITU. “The USG did reach out to us and that is good,” Rashmi Rangnath of Public Knowledge emails. “They are certainly interested in hearing what we have to say.” Another key D.C. public interest group confirmed to me State was reaching out to them as well.
AT ITU and WCIT discussions, the U.S. “multi-stakeholder” model is just a veneer on corporate interests. A Verizon lobbyist sits on the board of ISOC, where’s he joined by a Comcast engineer; Comcast went to court to oppose even the very weak U.S. neutrality rules and led a massive lobbying campaign against neutrality. Another Verizon lobbyist is on the official U.S. delegation to WTPF. The U.S. ITAC until recently had dozens of corporate representatives and essentially no one from civil society.
Terry Kramer, the head of the U.S. delegation to WCIT comes from Vodafone/Verizon. The State Department lead, Ambassador Phil Verveer, is a former Verizon/AT&T/USTA lawyer, although Verveer is rumored to be a lame duck these days. His telco ties certainly didn’t hurt his chances for the job. Probably more important was that he and his wife were friends since college with Bill and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Join me and make a difference. 303,000,000 Americans have just been offered access to the notoriously secret ITU WCIT documents. Just join ITAC, the State Department International Telecommunications Advisory Committee, and enjoy access. “It takes a simple email with a request to be placed on the ITAC listserv, based on some material interest in a given topic,” Paul Najarian of State writes. Simply send an email to join [email protected]
Uncle Sam wants you, as Ambassador Terry Kramer makes clear below and confirmed to me in a brief phone call. “We welcome all interested stakeholders to participate in our WCITpreparatory process and help the U.S. Government form positions in advance of the conference. We solicit this input and feedback through the United States International Telecommunications Advisory Committee (ITAC).” His colleague, Ambassador Phil Verveer testified to Congress, that ITAC is “open to all interested parties to review and advise on the regional and national contributions to WCIT as they are submitted.”
To my amazement, the discussions are substantive.
Touré working to allow participation. The October 10th Geneva event on “Innovation-stifling use of intellectual property” is open to “any individual or company from a country which is a member of ITU who wishes to contribute to the work,” spokesperson Sarah Parkes writes me. Dr. Touré’s initiative to open all the WCIT proceedings was defeated, although some key documents are being made public. “Participation is open to ITU Member States, ITU Sector Members, Associates and Academic Institutions and to any individual or company from a country which is a member of ITU who wishes to contribute to the work. The event is free of charge but no fellowships will be granted. Follow-up enquiries should apparently be addressed to [email protected]” I asked about the role of civil society because the press release (below) spoke only of “a high-level roundtable discussion between standards organizations, key industry players and government officials.” Geneva hotels are expensive, so those without corporate sponsors might consider the hostels, which are remarkably clean. An advantage to the city is that chocolate is considered a food group and occupies a whole isle in the last store I visited. Glad to see more evidence the ITU is opening up. This is an important issue.
Here’s the original release.
Despite government doubts, Touré looking to open. Credible rumors are that several countries will release all the WCIT documents even if the ITU Council refused to do so. This is a smart move to defang opposition to the WCIT treaty, coming in force from both right and left in the United States. Opposing a powerful treaty being conceived behind closed doors is easy for anyone. It will be far harder to rally support against the actual provisions, nearly all of which are cloaked in obscure diplomatic language. Most will be so abstract no one can be sure what they mean or why to oppose them. Few will read all the documents because they are incredibly boring.
Sarah Parkes of ITU emailed me “all Member States are free to publish any documents they see fit as part of their national consultation process.” Emphasis in the original. She added “all ITU members have always been free to share any of the WCIT docs as part of their own consultation process, entirely as they see fit.” more, including the ITU release
Under pressure from France Telecom, Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica and the ETNO gang. A First Look. CEO Ben Verwaayan of Alcatel told shareholders he believes European regulators are profoundly changing their priorities.He believes they will stop their efforts to reduce the cost of unbundling copper to the home and backhaul from smaller exchanges. This directly affects the costs of competitors and almost certainly consumer prices. In addition, he believes that the competitive rules on “next generation networks” – mostly fiber/DSL upgrades – will be modified.
This corresponds to how I read the contradictory statement below from EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes. Ben is glad, because he thinks the telcos will invest substantially more because they will be making more money through the higher prices and weaker competition. This may be true in the short run; the big telcos, starting with BT, have been holding off on deployments they need to make, partly as a means to put pressure on the regulator. But once that effect passes, both Kroes and Verwaayen are almost certainly wrong, based on the U.S. experience. Killing competitors has resulted in less fiber investment, as both Verizon and AT&T cut back their plans.
Increased income for telcos in the absence of strong competition is far more likely to go to shareholder dividends than to further investment. Investment is far more effectively induced by strong competition, which scares the carrier into a fear of going out of business if they don’t invest. Without that fear, carriers will use any available money for shareholders, not networks. This is especially true now that CEOs are being paid tens of millions in options and stock rights. That gives them enormous personal incentive to keep the stock price high and the public interest be damned. They’ll probably have moved on before the company feels the effects of underinvestment.
Hamadoun Touré is an Africanist both in public concerns and personal life. He is deeply committed to improving social conditions in Africa. He’s steered many ITU programs to paying special attention to African needs, including the new Conformance and Interoperability initiative. African technologists such as Joshua Peprah of Ghana often are recognized by ITU awards. He’s ahead of most of us; Africa in a few years will have more Internet users than Europe. There are 360M mobiles among Africa’s billion people, expanding at 15%/year. In the next few years most will upgrade and have an net connection. It’s time to start thinking about about a net with more Africans than Americans.
Touré presents himself in the dignified suit of the Western businessman but has not been subsumed by Euro-American culture. His friends tell me he’s maintained a fierce pride about his African origins. He became neither Russian while studying in the Soviet union nor French-Swiss after a decade in Geneva. He was born in the desert city, Timbuktu, 1953 in the French colony Mali as a new era approached. His father was a civil servant and he was an only child who grew up in comfort.