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Too Many Networks, Not Enough Sharing

At the LTE World Summit, Orange Spain CTO Eduardo Duato said that Europe has too many mobile networks and not enough network sharing:

Network sharing is the only way forward for European operators, he said, comparing Europe – with more than 100 operators – to the US, which is a comparable size and has only a handful of carriers with nationwide network deployments. “It doesn’t make sense to have this many networks [in Europe]” he said “we have to move to LTE network sharing.”

via Orange Spain CTO makes plea for network sharing » – telecoms industry news, analysis and opinion.

Shocking? It shouldn’t be. Europe lags the U. S. in the deployment and adoption of LTE (the 4G mobile technology that makes Internet Protocol a key element of the network) is regulatory restrictions on the use of spectrum only for specific technologies such as 2G and 3G GSM. When the same pool of spectrum is divided into too many pieces, none of the pieces is big enough to support a high-performance network technology such as LTE. This leads to a slower rate of adoption of newer and

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Lucy smuggles a 30 lb. cheese onboard a plane disguised as a baby to avoid the excess baggage fee.

Internet or Else, Peasants!

There was a bizarre column in the New York Times this week about net neutrality that managed to mangle the issue as severely as anyone has (Net Neutrality and Economic Equality Are Intertwined.) The author, Eduardo Porter, is the paper’s economics writer, but most of the column deals with technology issues rather than economics. It illustrates what happens when people opine on tech policy without understanding the “tech” part.

Let’s start with his metaphor:

Imagine a network of private highways that reserved a special lane for Fords to zip through, unencumbered by all the other brands of cars trundling along the clogged, shared lanes. Think of the prices Ford could charge. Think of what would happen to innovation when building the best car mattered less than cutting a deal with the highway’s owners.

In the world that I live in, California, there actually are special lanes on the (public) highway for carpoolers, low-emission vehicles, impatient commuters willing to pay a toll for faster service, police, and emergency vehicles. Originally, these special lanes were only for carpoolers, but there is so little carpooling that the public policy arguments for

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Spectrum News That’s Fit to Print and More

Last Wednesday (April 18th) I testified at a hearing of the House Technology and Innovation Subcommittee on the spectrum crunch, along with a panel of well-informed people (see webcast here.) When you testify at a Congressional hearing, you prepare some written testimony, you deliver an opening statement, and then the questions start. More than anything, the committee wanted to know if the spectrum crunch is real, and if so, what the consequences will be for innovation and what the government can do to help.

The notion of a capacity crunch in any kind of network scenario is actually a bit subtle. We use networks indirectly, as means to run applications, to get content, and to use services. When network capacity is constrained (which it always is in one way or another) we use the applications that work well, and have little awareness of things we might be doing if capacity were greater. Why would app developers pour resources into developing apps that nobody can use? Developers want to make money and have lots of people using their code, so they simply don’t waste their time on

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Byte Counting, Part Two

Reihan Salam of National Review Online seeks Timothy B. Lee's reaction to the Comcast/Xbox controversy, and Lee offers a clever analysis that avoids the pertinent facts and reverses some of his former positions. Lee (not to be confused with web guy Tim Berners-Lee) is a recent graduate of the Princeton Center for Information Technology Policy, an interdisciplinary grad school program that tilts heavily towards a "Freedom to Tinker" perspective. He now writes for Ars Technica, a trollish tech blog that tends to lambaste intellectual property enforcement in very harsh terms and to advocate for a highly-regulated Internet regardless. Before Princeton, Lee was something of a libertarian, but higher education has refined his views and he's now a conventional left wing regulatory hawk.

The essential issue is whether Comcast's byte metering system is unfair to Internet-based video streamers such as Netflix. In order to make this case, it's necessary for Lee to establish that the system is arbitrary in some basic way and that its arbitrariness is retarding the growth of essential video distribution services generally. In particular, Lee and his new colleagues on the "information wants to be free" wing need to show that Comcast's decision to exempt its on-demand content from the byte cap is harmful to users and also to competitive content services.

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The 700 MHz Device Subsidy Plan

The FCC is considering new rules for mobile devices that operate in the 700 MHz band per a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) titled "Promoting Interoperability in the 700 MHz Commercial Spectrum." It's unusual for the agency to impose rules on devices built by such firms as Apple, Samsung, Nokia and others, so there's some sharp disagreement about whether it has the authority to do such a thing. We won't know the answer for some time, but for the moment it's practical to examine the proposed rules on the assumption that the FCC can find the authority. The background is somewhat complex. The FCC's last big spectrum auction took place in 2008 when the "digital dividend" freed up some airwaves that had formerly been used by television. Digital TV channels can be placed closer together than analog channels were, so a more efficient packing scheme made this spectrum available for sale. The spectrum was arranged in five blocks, called A-E, in two ranges, low and high. Most of the blocks consisted of pairs, separated to allow transmission on one half of the pair while the other half was doing reception, but the E block was unpaired. The D block was not successfully auctioned as the FCC wished to sell a single nationwide license for it and the reserve price wasn't met but it has since been given to public safety.

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A Solution in Search of a Problem

The manufactured controversy over TV-on-demand through the Xbox 360 is more entertaining than enlightening. When Microsoft announced last October that they were entering into deals with Comcast and Verizon to bring on-demand video content to Xbox Live it seemed like a marvelous development. The National Broadband Plan had called on the FCC to stimulate the market for third party set top boxes (STB) to compete with the likes of TiVo and Silicon Dust by creating rules for an “All-Vid” device, and this seemed to fit the bill.  It was going to provide access to the cable systems’ “on-demand” offerings, something that STBs like TiVo and Silicon Dust's HD Homerun Prime don’t do, and it would show live TV, and it would connect to Internet video offerings plus support all the gaming that made Xbox famous.

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Freeing Federal Spectrum

The NTIA released its report on clearing the 1755 - 1850 MHz spectrum of government allocations today, and it’s good news and bad news. The good news is that some government agencies are playing ball, taking the exercise seriously and doing their best to increase the amount of spectrum available for general-purpose commercial networks.  The NTIA says the entire band can be made available within ten years, and significant portions of it much earlier. They caution that some sharing is going to be necessary for quite some time in a few areas, but they’re hoping that the sharing is something both the commercial sector and the government can live with. The bad news is that DOD and the FBI still insist they have applications of such importance that they can’t live without the allocations of spectrum they currently have. I’d like to have been a fly on the wall during the negotiations between the agencies and the NTIA in order to confirm the suspicion that I get from the report that the civilian agencies sent spectrum experts to talk to NTIA’s people while DOD and DOJ sent bureaucrats. That’s what the report seems to indicate. The primary issue in reallocating spectrum from government use is whether the allocation makes sense any more, and the secondary issue is where in the spectrum map the government’s assignments should be.

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Spectrum Policy Collides with Competition Policy

Today’s Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights hearing on the proposed transfer of fallow spectrum from cable companies to Verizon sheds light on how poorly traditional competition policy fits the networking business. The essential fact of the hearing is this: If the deal goes through, Verizon will have the second largest allocation of spectrum in the mobile broadband business, behind Sprint/Clearwire and ahead of AT&T. If the deal does not go through, Verizon will still have the second largest spectrum allocation. According to critic Tim Wu, this deal “affects the very competitive structure of the communications industry.” Do you see the problem?

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FCC Recognizes the Importance of Receivers

Early this week, the FCC held a workshop on receiver-oriented radio regulation that could mark a turning point in the way the agency looks at spectrum. By way of background, the traditional way the FCC (as well as its counterparts in other nations) regulates spectrum is by imposing rules and conditions on the signals a service is allowed to transmit. This approach has simplicity in its favor, as the nature of transmitted signals is easy to measure.

A transmit testbench simply senses the energy levels and signal characteristics the service emits, and then compares them to regulations. If the signal power is low enough at permitted frequencies, the service is considered lawful and everyone is happy. Well, it used to be the case that everyone was happy. We've found that this approach is only workable when the transmitter regulations correctly ensure that nearby services aren't actually affected by the signal in question.

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Relieving the LTE Spectrum Crunch

We filed comments with the FCC yesterday on the proposed purchase of 122 AWS spectrum licenses by Verizon Wireless that are currently held by a group of cable companies including Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox, and Brighthouse. In aggregate, the licenses cover a 20MHz national footprint, about 10% as much spectrum as Sprint/Clearwire has today. The cable companies purchased the licenses in order to build a mobile broadband network that would compete with AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint, but soon discovered that the skills required to do that were outside their wheelhouse; they probably also discovered that running a multi-company consortium is no fun either, but we don’t know that for a fact. As a result, the spectrum is currently lying fallow. Verizon offered to buy it as part of a complex transaction that would also allow them to bundle mobile phone service with cable broadband for sale to their customers, and which would also allow the cable companies to offer similar “quad play” bundles to their customers. A great deal of the discussion of the transaction focuses on the bundling aspect, but that’s really quite distinct from the spectrum transaction. The FCC has business examining cross-marketing deals, but the rules that apply are very different from those that apply to spectrum.

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