In light of the eG8 in Paris this week, in which a number of these industry chiefs, including Vivendi, will be present, the discussions held by a small group of European industry chiefs shed light on their plans for the future of the Internet.
A group of industry chief executives, which includes Apple's Steve Jobs, Alcatel-Lucent's Ben Verwaayen (formerly of BT), Vodafone's Vittorio Colao, and Vivendi's Jean-Bernard Levy is in talks to put together proposals for the future development of the Internet. The group is known as the CEO Round Table, and it operates under the auspices of European Commission and, in this case, at the specific request of Commissioner for Information Society Neelie Kroes.
There are hints that the group could come out with proposals which will not sit comfortably with Mrs Kroes' stated public objective of maintaining an open Internet. A Working Group headed by Vivendi's
Jean-Bernard Lévy, is to draft a report for Mrs Kroes on new content business models and the unofficial indicators are that it is focussing on traffic management and prioritisation of content. Further indicators point to the talks moving in the directive of ‘co-operation' between telcoms providers and content companies - also known as copyright enforcement.
The CEO Round Table first met in its current configuration in March 2011. This list of participants includes those named above, and senior representatives from Microsoft, Nokia, Sony Music, Facebook, Bertelsmann, Liberty Global, Virgin Media, and in total just over 40 companies from Europe and the US.
The meeting in March discussed the sustainability of the current business model in the Internet ecosystem. It identified ‘possible new business models' as an area which the group should work on, and Vivendi became the chairman of the sub-group which will examine the economics of all segments of the digital value chain.
In an exercise overseen by the European Commission, a questionaire has been sent to the sub-group, which asks a number of questions concerning traffic management and the prioritisation of content. For example:
"Do you foresee an increase in consumers' willingness to pay for new and faster services, and by when?"
Combined with :
"Can new pricing schemes help to shape a wholesale market for bandwidth, managed services and QoS?"
Managed services is a code-word for prioritisation and degradation. QoS is quality of service, in other what is the worst service level they can give you, and what service levels support or preclude certain activities. However, this one would appear to be getting at ‘co-operation' - otherwise, what are agreements between network operators and ‘internet players'?
Is there a need for more transparency regarding the agreements between network operators and internet players?
An interesting question appears to have been prompted by Steve Jobs:
"What are the possible options in terms of pricing schemes for the retail market (in fixed and mobile markets), in the next 5-10 years that would be consistent with the Digital Agenda objectives? Is, for example, tiered pricing of "Buckets of bits usable on multi-devices", as mentioned by Steve Jobs at the 3 March meeting, an efficient model?"
The notion of ‘buckets of bits' is being discussed in the mobile phone industry as a new form of payment mechanism.
And of course, the CEOs are trying to work out how they can achieve control of the new Internet technologies:
"To foster the massive roll out of NGA and innovation in Europe by 2020 (on the mass market and business segments), what are the strategic assets and potential enablers that need to be secured? (networks, CDN, platforms, content, services, OS, devices, distribution, cloud)"
The responses are to be sent jointly to Vivendi and the European Commission. This does beg the questiion of commercial confidentiality. Will the others in the Working Group will send meaningful responses to a competitor's lobbyist.
If Mrs Kroes permits any kind of priotisation -or 'co-operation' - to happen, she will have a lot answer for. The European Commission has publicly stated in its Communication on Net Neutrality that it will consider "imposing specific obligations regarding unjustified traffic differentiation ...This could include the prohibition of the blocking of lawful services."
The correct attribution for this article is: Monica Horten (2011) Will Vivendi broker a prioritised Internet? http://www.iptegrity.com 23 May 2011 .
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