A Confucian perspective on UK Broadband, Spectrum and Cyber Security

I very much enjoyed the discussion at the Nominet “UK Internet Policy Forum” on 2nd April. on  “The Open Internet and the Digital Economy”. The debates were insightful, balanced and nuanced leading me to new insights on some of the issues, but the “user voice” – whether business or consumer, was not well represented. One of those helping organize policy studies for the Labour Party, was there. We found ourselves in agreement on several issues where the Internet community wishes to “educate” its users (alias the majority of voters of left, centre and right) into accepting current business models instead of listening to what they want. Hopefully, we can work together to organise cross-party studies, bringing together users (including business users) as well as suppliers, to address some of the priorities as seen by voters, using the Digital Policy Alliance and its memorandums of understanding with PICTFOR and the EIF

Another of my opposite numbers, from the days when I was an ASMTS representative on the TUC policy study at the same time as working on a study for Sir Keith Joseph, during the run up to 1979 General Election, asked the panel what they would like to see in the party manifestos. I later used the opportunity to ask a number of those in the audience what they would like to see. On Friday I received the followed from one who has spent ears looking at UK and European markets through the eyes of a major Asian technology supplier. I will use the name “David Lee” and reproduce his comments below, without comment:

Intro and “teach-in” for newbies!

There are 3 key considerations which help to explain Internet and Digital Issues

1 TRANSMISSION – how to get data from one point to another…
2 CAPACITY –  in big volumes
3 PROTECTION – securely, vital as digital data is still easy to copy and to hack

The problems we have stem from the fact that we are trying to run motorway traffic levels over roads, most of which were not designed to cope with big volumes.  The disease of hackers/hacker State(s) is ever present…

If you get stuck, just think Transmission, Capacity, Protection!  This will cure most ills.

Issue 1 – Broadband

1 TRANSMISSION – We need better infrastructure (copper = old).  Fibre is best but dearest.  Radio needs masts and cannot do “big” due to the laws of physics
2 CAPACITY – Copper = small, radio = small/med, Fibre = big!
3 PROTECTION – We have to protect networks and devices or e-commerce dies and CNI threatened

Possible Policy Ideas

•    ABOLISH wayleave taxes to encourage rural fibre “self builds” (we must not alienate rural voters and they are typically anti-mast). By taxing we are giving a “leg up” to all our competitors and this matters!  We also increase congestion – businesses have to move to urban areas to get Broadband, so we upset our own core vote!
•    OFCOM to be mandated to set out the key elements needed to “self build” to help non-specialists (“Let 1000 fibres bloom!” – Lord Carter). 
•    Devise a “free licence” for villages (though they already don’t really need one due to general authorizations we are expecting non specialists to know too much!
•    Where there is no mobile coverage, allow the villages FREE ACCESS to the spectrum currently licenced to the mobile operators… If after 30 years they have not connected villages then they are responsible for inefficient utilization of a scare national resource – and planning to coordinate with them is perfectly possible – plus mobile termination on the village’s mast could go into a fund for free calls for OAP’s (who often vote for us). 
•    Ofcom must be mandated to encourage such developments and simplify interconnection issues – we are heading for free calls anyway and regulators need to keep up or they become part of the problem!
•    Mandate information to be provided on connection types when looking at Broadband speeds – as current stats hide the true problem that there is not enough fibr e.

Issue 2 – Spectrum

1 TRANSMISSION – Spectrum is congested so we are having to use ever higher frequencies.  Higher frequencies need more masts because higher frequencies means shorter ranges.. but voters want fewer masts not more!!!
2 CAPACITY – Higher frequencies however offer more capacity (tech reasons)
3 PROTECTION – CNI needs its own network – MNO piggybacking is simply placing the whole of the economy at risk.  This is NOT current policy.  Radio, including particularly Wi-Fi, is horribly vulnerable, as are devices.  Networks are normally protected.  The Internet of Things (“IoT”)  means that there is about to be a MASSIVE increase in cheap sensors – and it is already happening

Possible Policy Ideas

The future for transmission will be fibre deep into the networks with high frequency radio tails able to carry much data short distances. The division between fixed and mobile networks is bad for everybody and prevents economies of scope and scale and the growth of the Internet backbone which we should be encouraging to create future prosperity. With Machine to machine (“M2M”) and device ubiquity, commercial devices may piggyback other devices to complete calls in urban areas not need the same kind of network topology that we have today. 
•    Abolish spectrum pricing – it’s taxing the deployment of the very networks we want to see deployed.  Economic efficiency arguments are floored too.  The emergency services and RNLI need spectrum – but who pays for this society gain? Voters. The emergency services still need a hard shoulder of spectrum just like the Motorway does and current Home Office Policy relies on sharing Mobile networks not designed to cope at military grade resilience plus creates a single point ot network failure – a shared mast in a known location… very very bad for CNI and SCADA type services. Maybe 7-8 years out things will change – and this is likely… but NOT in the lifetime of the next Government. Why then is this Home Office Policy?
•    RNLI to be recognised as a special spectrum case – popular measure with voters. Today we charge a charity for spectrum… how can that align with our value system? Political danger here if ignored
•    Allocate spectrum via an independent expert panel NOT OFCOM OR GOVERNMENT, who assess ALL costs and benefits to society in all cases.  One economist, one banker, one policitian, one blue light representative, one scientist, one business person… etc (idea needs refining). 
•    MANDATE full national (meaning FULL rural) coverage for mobile networks, especially if in future that may carry CNI services.  If they objected we’d know they were not serious about carrying CNI traffic on their networks.

Issue 3 – Cyber and data Security

1 TRANSMISSION – The fuzzy pink cloud does not exist – it’s a bank of very hackable routers in some physical location not an ethereal dreamland we all imagine and frequently drw to explain it!
2 CAPACITY – Big data analytics means more big brother accusations…
3 PROTECTION – CNI needs its own network.  Data centres, especially offshore, need UK data protection safeguards, cyber security should be a mandatory requirement – along with deliberate network attack stress testing for UK plc

Possible Policy Ideas

Data and Cyber are two sides of the same coin.  We need better protection on devices, in networks at data cent res and controls on how the data is used, by whom or when – remember the next Snowden could be here in UK…  If we do not do more and confidence is undermined in e-commerce, e-government, and Internet services including application data snooping, this is a surefire route to disaster.
•    Actively support the EU data Protection regulation – problem is International in scale and this means we cannot in isolation protect our borders and lift up a drawbridge
•    Mandate devices (e.g. handsets) be shipped with basic security pre loaded. Already done by one company in the Nordics but not UK policy
•    All mobile makers to publish UKCCIS informed advice for Child protection on their websites and to promote it in communications to their sales affiliates
•    UK to DOUBLE its offensive Cyber capability and stress test our own data centres… as well as offshore ones where our driving license, NHS, tax and other records are already held – possible election danger area if no plan in place
•    UK to actively promote bilaterals to build on Seoul Cybersec conference – especially  with India – this improves Internet governance
•    All business to conduct at least one “stress test” per year and all business to be given CESG 10 point plan to protect themselves in an e-format to spread the word
•    Update “cookies” legislation – no-one makes an informed choice on the safeguards now in place thought he intentions were honorable at the time. Champion this in Europe


I would be most interested  in readers comments. So too would “David”. He is well aware that Western Internet and Communications “interest groups” share neither the perspectives nor the business models of those for whom he has been accustomed to work: our “long” term is their “short” term.