Category Archives: telecom

Beware of the Skypzzz!

Rhetoric has been always a very powerful tool in promoting both policy and business agendas.  Russian telcos are now putting the old-good argument of security in promoting legislation that may allow them to succeed where their European and other colleagues have failed.

DevilishSkypeIt seems that all around the world the telcos feel threatened by Voice over IP (VoIP) applications that run on their infrastructure and offer free of charge voice services, with Skype being an iconic example*.  Only recently, the European telecos tried to argue for unfair competition and asked to discriminate against the use of VoIP on their networks.  The European Commission took a firm stand against it arguing for principles of net-neutrality also on mobile networks.  In the US AT&T, together with Apple, work against VoIP applications such as Skype and Google Voice to be used on the iPhones.  It will be now up to the FCC to take a stand on that issue.  Finally, the Israeli leading mobile service provider, Cellecom, is also seeking ways of limiting its users’ access to VoIP and some other technologies, under the slogan of “quality of service.”  The Israeli Ministry of Communication actually took a pro net neutrality stand in this case, but the argument is still going on.

In Russia, however, the local industry decided to make the long story short and instead of appealing to amorphous concepts such as “fairness” in competition or “quality of service” it turned to a more basic instinct – fear.  According to this article, Russian telcos have warned the Kremlin that:

“…the foreign-made VoIP software, easily downloaded from the Internet, is a threat to national security because it is resistant to eavesdropping by Russia’s intelligence agencies.”

To make things a bit spicier, they also added some nationalism.  The lobbying group was quoted saying that:

“The majority of brands operating in Russia, such as Skype and Icq, are of foreign origin and therefore we need to ensure the defense of national producers in this sector”

While some civil rights activists are concerned with the state openly talking about spying on people, others view it a bit more pragmatically.  In a recent hearing on the subject it was estimated that in about 3 years 40% of voice traffic in Russia will be VoIP.  This creates a significant incentive for the industry to cooperate on legislation that “will bring order” to the VoIP market.  Indeed such an effort is currently underway in Russia.

There was limited, but critical reaction on this topic in the mainstream Russian media and  even the blogsphere reacted only on the margines; some expressed concerns, others healthy sarcasm.  I wonder though, if conversations about VoIP are going on in other countries as well, and if so, what arguments are made against and for it.

* Disclamer – I use Skype and, to the most part, like it.

The words of WTPF 2009

If you happen to follow this blog, you have probably noticed the relative silence in the last month or so.  I was, and still am, extremely busy primarily with working on my A-exams and moving on with shaping my dissertation ideas.  One of the upcoming highlights is me going to the World Telecommunication Policy Forum (WTPF) to observe how international telecom policy agenda is being shaped in real time and to conduct some preliminary interviews with people who steer this process.

As many other similar events (such as the IGF) the forum is not aimed at producing binding resolutions.  Instead, its explicit aim is to set the agenda for the global telecom policy making.  Here is how it is described on its website:

It (WTPF-DE) is not designed to produce prescriptive outcomes with the binding force of an international treaty; rather, it strives to foster productive debate and build multi-stakeholder consensus on constructive ways forward.

This is why I think it is particularly fascinating event and this is why it will be interesting to look at how its outcomes describe MICT, priorities of related industries, and the associated regulatory principles.  Preparing for the trip I was pleasantly surprised to discover a wealth of information that the ITU made available online.  For example, there is a repository of all the iteration of the “Report by the Secretary General of ITU”, which is the pivotal document of this meeting.  In its preamble, the report states:

Decision 9 of the Antalya Plenipotentiary Conference states that arrangements for the fourth WTPF shall be in accordance with applicable Council decisions. In accordance with Decision 498 of the 2000 session of the ITU Council, discussions at the WTPF shall be based on a Report from the Secretary-General, incorporating the contributions and comments of ITU Member States and Sector Members (available at: http://www.itu.int/osg/csd/wtpf/wtpf2009/report.html) which will serve as the sole working Report of the Forum.

Since I am interested in words and in discourse, I thought to play a little bit with what was available.  Together with Veronica, and with the help of the Many Eyes project, we created the following visualization of the current Report by the Secretary General of ITU – the report that is at the basis of the upcoming discussion.  Here is what we got:

Words of WTPF09

This image shows the 150 most common words in this 53 pages long document and the relative size of the word signifies its popularity.  As we can see from a quick glimpse, this forum is going to be about ITU, Internet, networks, services, issues, international, ICTs, countries, use, resolutions…

The decision in 2006 called for convergence to be the main topic of this forum, yet, as we can see in terms of popularity, the word “convergence” is loosing to many other concepts.  This is not to say that the discussion cannot focus on convergence using different terms, but I find this detail interesting.  it is particularly interesting, because if you look at visualization of the first draft of this report (before numerous comments by stakeholders were absorbed in it) the word “convergence” was much more dominant (you can see visualizations of drafts 2 and 3 in the links).

These visualizations do not tell us much about the substantive content of these documents, but I think they are a nice way to have a brief glance at the terminology that is dominating this debate.  I hope to continue following and blogging more on this subject.

Your comments will be highly appreciated!

“… and communication for all”

Amit Schejter and a group of really impressive colleagues just released a new book titled “…and Communications for All: A Policy Agenda for the New Administration“.  Today (Monday) they held a one-day conference in Washington DC where they presented the book and discussed its chapters.  I really wanted to be there, but couldn’t.  Gladly, the technologies, regulation of which they were discussing, made it possible to watch the conference and even share it with you.

The first video includes some introductory comments from Sascha Meinrath and Amit Schejter, followed by a keynote from an FCC commissioner, Jonathan Adelstein.

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The first panel included the following speakers:

  • Marvin Ammori (University of Nebraska) – Competition and Investment in Wireline Broadband;
  • Richard Taylor (Penn State) – U.S. Cable TV Policy: Managing the Transition to Broadband;
  • Sharon Strover (University of Texas) – America’s Forgotten Challenge: Rural Access;
  • Heather Hudson (University of San Francisco) – The Future of E-Rate: U.S. Universal Service Fund Support for Public Access.

The second panel included:

  • Jon Peha (Carnegie Mellon) – A Spectrum Policy Agenda;
  • Rob Frieden (Penn State) – The Way Forward for Wireless;
  • Ellen Goodman (Rutgers) – Public Service Media 2.0;
  • Kathryn Montgomery (American University) – Creating a Media Policy Agenda for the Digital Generation

I think this video covers both panels.

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I watched substantive parts of the conference and it sounds really interesting.  According to Amit, the four commonly shared points in the book are:

  1. There is a need for deliberative government policy and for clear goals for telecommunication policy;
  2. The new policy direction should be technologically neutral, the segregation of media, information, and communication technology for regulation purposes has proved itself inefficient and obsolete;
  3. Telecom infrastructure should serve both, the commercial aspiration and the public interest; connectivity alone is not enough, it is important that people know how to use the technology in order to be able to acquire knowledge, innovate, and take part in pubic life;
  4. Telecommunication policy should be based on equal opportunity and non discriminatory practices; i other words, the idea of fairness is important for telecommunication policy.

To me it looks like an interesting reading.  Also, the New America Foundation’s YouTube channel seems to have some interesting talks, so it is worth checking out.