In a BBC news item today “ISPs split over UK Open Internet code of practice” the term “Open Internet” has replaced “Net Neutrality” as newspeak for bandwidth rationing in much the same way as “superfast broadband” is newspeak for fibre to the cabinet. Meanwhile O2 has just switched on its ubiquitous broadband (alias wifi) for the West End and the rest of the world is galloping toward fibre to the home/femto, with services from 100 to 1000 mbs for those willing to pay.
Today the BBC is reporting on the breakdown of attempts to use the Broadband Stakeholder Group as an umbrella for rationing. I spent yesterday afternoon at an INCA meeting on state aid. I heard the EU giving rapid (average 8 weeks) approval of municipal plans to invest in open access dark fibre infrastructures contrasted with their apparent (over a year to date) refusal to approve a BDUK framework that would trap BT (let alone its customers) into a second best service that will be very expensive to upgrade.
The business model behind MacQuarrie’s parallel investments in Cityfibre and Arquiva, viewing fibre and wireless networks as utility infrastructures to be auctioned to lead customers (from PSN local government, health and welfare users to local businesses and fixed and mobile operators) is a far more attractive model for politicians and investors than rationing plans. I was also interested to get confimration as to who really owns, builds and operates the quilt of infrastructures over which the services sold by BT, O2, Virgin and Vodafone run.
As I have said before, the time has to allow market forces to redress regulatory failure.
That does not mean we do not need regulation, but it does mean that regulation should be there to ensure that customers get a fair, robust, secure, resilient and sustainable service. It is not there to protect current incumbents from change, let alone lock them into business models (like fibre to the cabinet) that condemn their shareholders and investors to falling returns as they and their customers are leapfrogged.
The next few weeks is likely to resolve much current debate with a does of reality as we see what happens during “the Olympic challenge”, (from smartphone traffic to teleworking). Broadband, both fixed and mobile, is now part of the critical national infrastructure. It has to be treated as such. Hence my belief that the cabinet reshuffle should merge the relevant parts of DCMS, DECC and Transport as an infrastructure ministry and that we should also set about converging the regulatory activities – while splitting out content and putting it alongside surveillance and data protection!