Policy worth stealing

Everybody's favourite mayor is thinking big, and he's picked on 3 of my favourite topics, 5G, broadband as infrastructure and publishing every homes broadband speeds.

As London becomes the bright shining center of the European tech scene, it's only natural that the city would like to maintain its place at the top of the pile. That's why mayor Boris Johnson is pledging that London will roll out a 5G network across the city by 2020. It's part of a long-term infrastructure investment plan that'll see connectivity given equal prominence to more conventional resources like transport, energy and water. At the same time, broadband speeds for each home in the capital will be made public alongside data from the networks in order to find communication blackspots that require additional work.

While there aren't many details, it is great to see a city that gets it, Boris also recognises that local government has a huge role to play in this space. Labour took a step in this direction last week with its policy of getting broadband added to council GIS systems but Boris is taking to a logical conclusion.

I'll be really impressed if London has 5G by 2020 (its not really due till sometime between 2022-2024) but he's got the decade right.

I'm keen on a 5G agenda because it means we'll focus on having and using ubiquitous gigabit access. I hope that by the middle of the century we'll look back at our current 'broadband' issues and wonder 'what took us so long?'.

Is Broadband a real estate issue?

Do you think we'll reach a tipping point where 'broadband' stops being a technology issue and becomes a real estate issue instead?

This is a thought that has struck me a few times in the last 15 years or so. The reason is that good fixed line broadband is basically binary, you either have it or you don't. If you have it then you have a range of options that simply aren't available if you don't.

I was very lucky, I had awesome fixed line broadband at the turn of the century (the 21st century) both at home and at my business.

I was a 'Saturn' cable modem triallist on the Kapiti Coast and I had a 100mb/s CityLink fibre connection at my office.

And that was when I realised that this would ultimately have to turn into a real estate issue, can you imagine buying a house without power, water or road access? Not likely unless you are after an 'off the grid' getaway.

I think good fixed line broadband is now crossing over into being a staple of a modern lifestyle. Yet my experience has been that on the whole the real estate industry is woeful when it comes to the knowledge of available connectivity.

I once briefed real estate agents and was quite specific about being on the Saturn network was a mandatory condition, for me connectivity trumps the view. I have had the same experience with commercial letting agents who didn't understand what a 'fibre' connected office was!

So I was intrigued when I recently read an article on the woes of the internet in the US, its good to see that we're actually doing somethings right. But on piece struck me:

Fiber is actually one of the best investments a homeowner can make. While it may cost up to $3,000 to bring fiber to your home, studies have shown that the value of your home will rise from $5,000 to $10,000. You will not get that return from remodeling a kitchen or adding a new deck.

This is actually a good sign and one that I hope CFH and the LFC's pick up on, local councils too as this will lead to increased rates income. At the moment all our homes aren't smart or truly connected but that is starting to change, as things like UFB connections become the new normal we will want our houses to be smart.

It's hard to imagine not having electricity, well its going to be the same for bandwidth, when architects, developers, councils, builders and electricians all plan a homes connectivity (both external and internal) as part of the core systems and not an add on.

We hear that consents are holding up the UFB, MDU's (multi dwelling units - flats & apartments) are a nightmare and I think this is because we still see the fibre upgrade as a luxury or a discretionary choice.

30 years ago it was simple, phone, power and water were basic utilities, whats changed?

Labours ICT policy pt2...

I've just got back from a press conference at parliament where David Cunliffe & Clare Curran launched the second part of their ICT policy. The first bit was done a couple of weeks ago at Nethui, my thoughts are here.

As an outsider it was fascinating to watch the 'gallery' in action and quite a contrast from the Nethui launch.

Today's launch dealt with 3 areas, connectivity, digital divide and on-line rights.

Both Cunliffe and Curran showed the depth that comes from one being a former ICT minister and the other having had 6 years to grow in the ICT spokespersons role. Cunliffe dealt with the big picture stuff, a deep review of the whole UFB project, including CFH, the LFC's and what can be done about the copper transition.

We're also being promised what should be the final review of the Telco Act, this would be welcome and then focus shifted to the RBI. I've recently outlined TUANZ's view of things rural and there's some interesting discussion going on over at the NBR..

Labour recognise that rural is far from solved and as well as the inevitable review are also looking at fostering innovation in rural connectivity with a $9.6M contestable fund. They also support more competition in international connectivity and talk about a cable from Southland to Australia.

On the digital divide, they tackle the role of Local government and want to get the 20% of households with no broadband on-line. Again hard to fault and the devil will be in the details.

On on-line rights its basically less spying, legal access to content and a civilised approach to copyright.

All in all I'd give this one an A-, as one industry attendee said 'Clare has obviously been listening to a lot of people'

I now await the National Party policy with interest, I hope i get invited to their launch.

The real big game continues...

Readers of this blog will remember the so called 'Copper Tax' campaign from the end of last year. Things may have seemed a little quiet on that front lately, but behind the scenes there's quite a bit going on.

The latest skirmish to surface burst onto the scene with a press release from the Commerce Commission, then the story has started to grow, CallPlus have come out and shared their submission and the Telecom view is out there too.

The InternetNZ submission is now online here, the legal opinion by Michael Wigley is worth a read as it takes the issue apart in a clear logical sequence.

Its interesting that the issue is seen as a Telecom complaint to the commission as it is wider than that and pretty much involves everybody except Chorus including InternetNZ, Consumer NZ & TUANZ.

At stake is the integrity of our regulatory system and the future of copper (DSL) based broadband in New Zealand along with quite a few global trends as well.

It's easy to get bogged down at this point in a veritable alphabet soup of 3 letter acronyms and deep interpretations of the Telco Act, so here's my 'idiots guide':

The current broadband regulations set up a service called 'UBA' or 'Unbundled Bitstream Access' which specifies the price and performance of the 'DSL' services that Chorus are required to provide to retailers (what we used to call Telco's and ISP's).

Chorus has had 3 years to get ready for a change from 'retail minus' to 'cost plus' pricing for this service. The Comcom has set a new price for UBA which will come into effect on 1 December 2014.

This 'interim' price is substantially lower than the current price and will punch a big hole in Chorus revenues. Chorus are understandably not happy about this and have been trying a number of strategies to reverse this situation. I won't go into all this now but its important to keep this in mind whenever you see anything about Chorus in the news.

In an attempt to use what they see as a 'get out of jail free' card, Chorus want to use a loophole in the act to launch some new copper services that because of their innovation and the investment involved are outside of the act and can be prices in binding contracts between Chorus and the individual retailers.

It is now well established that real 'killer app' for all forms of fast broadband is on-line video, it started with the growing popularity of YouTube and now extends to iTunes, Quickflix, Netflix etc and is the new battleground.

Telecom (soon to be Spark) have announced they are launching a service called 'Lightbox', CallPlus are going hard with their geoblock avoiding 'global mode' and of course Vodafone already have a strong relationship with SKY.

Google have recently certified a number of RSP's as being good enough to receive their 'HD Verified' status (remember who owns YouTube). Video is seen as driving future broadband demand and traffic growth.

So along come Chorus with a special video optimised service called 'Boost HD' which will be specially tailored to deliver 'HD' video content. Sounds great doesn't it ? the hitch comes when the retailers get the details on HD and quickly learn that it will be priced like todays UBA services, that its performance will increase as investments in the core network come on-line (investments also necessary to meet growing UFB traffic) and because Chorus consider this to be a new and innovative service it would no longer fall under the Commerce Commission's oversight.

But wait there's more, Chorus are also proposing that their regulated legacy UBA services, the ones that get cheaper at 1 December and may get even cheaper after the current FPP (Final pricing Principle) process (which Chorus asked for) has been concluded, will essentially be frozen in time at current speeds and they won't enjoy the benefits of future network upgrades only the 'commercial' Boost HD services will.

From a Chorus perspective this all looks pretty good, dodge the regulatory bullet, preserve current copper revenues and get to sound like a player in the booming broadband video space.

However, from the retailers perspective it looks a bit different, they feel it is Chorus trying to abuse the act to in effect get them to 'contract out of the law', that Boost HD is simply a continuation of network upgrades that were planned back in Telecom days and that have been getting rolled out progressively anyway until now. And finally they see Chorus wanting to effectively degrade the regulated service that has actually worked remarkably well in improving the urban broadband experience for most New Zealanders.

At its root this issue comes down to money, Chorus want to restore their financial position and get back on track with their investors, this weeks CFH deal is part of that strategy as well. The retailers also want the best services at the lowest prices and see the current Comcom IPP & FPP processes delivering that.

The users groups, ourselves, InternetNZ & Consumer NZ want to see the savings passed onto the consumer and we are committed to preserving the integrity of our current regulatory system because it is actually working.

TUANZ has invested a lot of time and effort in getting the NZ telecommunications market to its current structure, we have a robust regulator and strong multi-stakeholder processes. Boost HD could see an end to all that and it would be a return to the dark old days.

This really is the big game in town.