It’s now becoming clear that the core issue for the Telecoms Regulation is the fight over the open Internet. In the most recent meeting of the European Parliament’s Industry committee, Europe’s telcos finally put their cards on the cable. Their hand includes a neat little torpedo that blows apart any claims by the European Commission that net neutrality will be protected.
The telco agenda, no longer a pretence of social care or innovation, is now straight-down-the-line big content. It’s an agenda, that if given the green light by the European Parliament, would take us right out of the Internet age, and back into a dark age of corporate-controlled proletarian television, ultimately stifling innovation and free speech. If you think I’m exaggerating, read on.
One of the especially opaque issues in the European debate over the open Internet and net neutrality has been the notion of ‘specialised services’, where previously telecoms providers have argued that it would encompass, for example, medical monitoring, and for that reason they jusified the use of traffic management.
This matter has arisen again in the new Telecoms Regulation (Proposal on a European single market for electronic communications and to achieve a Connected Continent), where the notion of ‘specialised services’ has been built into the draft law. But we still did not really know what it means.
The ITRE committee meeting was on 28 November, and took the form of a hearing, where various lobbyists were invited to give their views to the assembled committee. The first speaker was from France Telecom Orange. I have to say, I had to re-wind several times to be sure I’d heard correctly what the monsieur from France Telecom Orange was saying. It seemed strangely simplistic, and at the same time, portentious.
In a nutshell, ‘specialised services’ means voice telephony and television (albeit that the television might be high definition, it’s still television). They will be the priority services, with a ‘best efforts’ open Internet running in second place.
According to the representative of France Telecom Orange: "The telecoms companies propose two categories of services. Firstly, access to the open internet, which allows the end-user to reach a fantastic wealth of information [...] besides Internet access, network operators propose specialised services. Typical ones include telephone and IPTV services. Specialised services provide complementary value [...] "
It was explained that if a household is watching tv, then the Internet service may run slowly because the tv needs the continous bandwidth.
"Should we prioritise the best efforts principle, that would be a mistake. If people in a house do not watch tv, then all the capacity can be used for Internet. If the tv is switched on, then Internet will be restricted" he said. "If we wish to guarantee bandwidth availability for the network, that would be more expensive'/
It struck me that this is a case of ‘back to the future’. Or maybe it is the ghost of Christmas past. But I can’t see how voice services, which the telecos have been running since their inception, qualify in any way as ‘specialised’. Neither does a mass entertainment tv service. And the idea that these services provide 'complementary value' to the open Internet is quite frankly, ridiculous.
So the monsieur from France Telecom Orange has basically exposed to us the fairly weak smokescreen that subsists in the notion of ‘specialised services’.
What’s really going on here requires an understanding of the content and carriage principle. Telecoms networks operate in two distinct ways. One is the content – that is what we say, our messages, images, videos, emails, and so on. The other is the carriage – these are the physical wires along which the signals are transmitted and the whole gamut of routers, signalling systems, transmitters that enable the signal to move between points on the network.
Currently, there are three different carriage systems for each of the three services – Internet, telephone and television.
What the big telcos – that is the France Telecom, Deutsche Telecom, BT, Telefonica, etc – want to do is to run the carriage of all three services using one transmission system, over one wire into our homes.
They are allowed to do it but unless they spend mega-money on an infastructure upgrade, they will run into problems. The current wires into people’s homes simply will not be sufficient to carry all three services and offer the full quality of service that people expect if those services are used simultaneously. That’s why they want this.
The point was reinforced by another intervener - Francois Lemaigre from Cogent – who pointed out that there is no congestion problem on the Internet backbones. The congestion only exists in the access networks.
It you put this notion of ‘specialised services’ together with the notion of bandwidth caps that I previously wrote about ( see New EU telecoms rules - the shape of things to come ), you will come up with a fairly bleak future for the Internet. One that runs too slowly for many of the innovative services to function, that is restricted to the ‘choice’ of ‘included’ content, where new start-ups will not have the funds to get access and will be still-born. I would love to be wrong, but actually I don’t think I’m exaggerating too far. This is how Europe’s telcos would like to see the future.
However, it also speaks to a much bigger agenda where the telcos could take back the control that they have lost over all types of services. This is much broader than net neutrality. It raises very big issues about who controls our communications infrastructure and as this issue is intimately linked to some very precious rights and freedoms, this is an enormous matter.
The immediate question is, of course, how the European Parliament’s rapporteur, Pilar De Castillo, will handle it. There was not much comfort from her closing comments, where she indicated that she wanted to keep to the narrow scope of the Regulation and that she was sure of getting agreement with the Commission and Council for what the Parliament wants to do.
For further perspective on specialised services and the European Commission, see this article by Ian Scales: Do we have a trans-Atlantic net neutrality accord? In Telecom TV, 04 December 2013,
Anyone who did not follow the 2009 Telecoms Package may find themselves struggling with this one. Happily, there is a book! The Copyright Enforcement Enigma will enlighten you on the events of the 2009 Telecoms Package and the issues that the Committees are now discussing again!
This is an original article from Iptegrity.com and reflects research that I have carried out. If you refer to it or to its content, please cite my name as the author, and provide a link back to iptegrity.com. Media and Academics – please cite as Monica Horten, 2013, EU telecoms rules - smokescreen lifts over telco specialised services , in Iptegrity.com 5 December 2013. Commercial users - please contact me.
Tags: Telecoms Regulation, EU, European Commission, European Parliament, telcos, Europe, Connected Continent, net neutrality, ITRE, Pilar del Castillo, Telecoms Package.