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Two main themes dominated discussions at the IIC’s yearly TMF event in Washington, DC: the evolution of global internet governance and the forthcoming incentive auction in the US. Delegates at the Washington offices of Verizon Communications were treated to a double keynote executive briefing on these issues.
Howard Symons (FCC) provided a detailed overview of the structured incentive auction planned for broadcast spectrum in the 600 MHz band. He explained that broadcasters who relinquish some of their spectrum in the reverse auction will be able to choose between sharing channels or moving to VHS, and will have 39 months to complete the transition. They will gain from the sale proceeds of the forward auction, while remaining on air, and some of the expenditure associated with moving bands or sharing channels will also be eligible for refunds.
Ambassador Daniel Sepulveda (US Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy) gave a briefing on the ITU Plenipotentiary in Busan, Korea, the first high level meeting since the NetMundial initiative and the disagreements recorded in Dubai in 2012. After many months spent rebuilding relationships, according to Sepulveda, the outcome was positive: “Instead of acrimony, there was negotiation. Instead of votes, there was consensus.” Member states chose not to change the ITU’s constitution and convention, as the ITU has a vital role to play within its current legal remit, rather than expanding into internet content or core functionality. The meeting also saw the election of the ITU’s new management, and a commitment towards more transparent policies, whereby all stakeholders can participate in the work of the ITU.
“The first session kicked off with a panel discussion that sketched a wishlist for a rewrite of the Communications Act in the United States.”
The first session kicked off with a panel discussion that sketched a wishlist for a rewrite of the US Communications Act. Rebecca Arbogast (Comcast) opened the discussion by pointing out that a new framework would need to adopt a more horizontal approach to deal with the specific communications issues where government intervention is needed. She proposed a list of five: management of public assets, like spectrum; areas where the communications markets are not working, like rural areas; consumer issues, like privacy and open internet rules; public safety; and international cooperation. According to Larry Irving (Mobile Alliance for Global Good; Irving Group) rather than managing scarce resources, regulation now needs to promote an inclusive abundance. The panel discussion was rounded off by Brent Olson (AT&T), who also offered five key items for a new act: service to all Americans, public safety and network liability, competition, consumer protection and spectrum management.
Domestic issues came to the fore as stakeholders offered their views on the incentive auction. Jeffrey Marks (Alcatel-Lucent) reminded delegates that there are still many unsolved complex issues in the auction, especially interference and repacking issues, and there are already lawsuits (NAB and Sinclair vs FCC). Verizon’s Leora Hochstein said that one likely result of the auction will be that some of the spectrum blocks for sale will not be clean and ready to use. It will be interesting to see how this impairment will be valued in the sale.
Harold Feld (Public Knowledge) focused on the players in the unlicensed space that need some degree of certainty or protection within the auction. There are increasingly important uses in the unlicensed domain, from WiFi to white spaces devices, so the FCC is keen to provide incentives for experiments in this area. Grant Spellmeyer (US Cellular) brought the perspective of the small players on this highly anticipated incentive auction, and praised the concept of partial economic area, which works out to about three licences in each state, as a good size for a small player.
Finally, Preston Padden (Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition) pointed to the large gap between the FCC’s offers to broadcasters and the high spectrum price of the latest AWS auctions. The discussion centred on the realistic timescale of the auction, which most delegates believe will take longer than anticipated.
The complex issues of data security, privacy and consumer trust were the focus of the third session, opened by Julie Brill (FTC), who warned about the risks of sending personal data over unencrypted networks. This is more than just security – with personal information an issue is fair use, particularly when big data is used to compile score sheets or profiling. Indeed, consumers are holding back because they do not understand the implications of their online actions, according to David Hoffman (Intel). He suggested that the OECD’s principles for fair use of data provide a good basis from which to shape effective rules through evolution, rather than revolution.
How does this change with big data? The discussion focused on how data is used to make decisions about consumers and what would constitute fair use in this field. The concern is not so much about targeted advertising – it has more to do with decision making based on predictive patterns, and with irresponsible usage of segmentation. Companies should set up appropriate task forces from the outset.
There is a big role for privacy by design, and for creative ways to bring disclosure to consumers, when it is relevant for them, and thus obtain their consent. Consumers should have more control; they should be shown what information is collected and what patterns come out of it.
Chris Hemmerlein (NTIA) opened the session on the ITU plenipotentiary in Busan, Korea. The overarching objective for the US is to protect and preserve a more stable multistakeholder model of internet policymaking, standards development and governance. For Kathryn O’Brien (FCC) the main outcome of the plenipotentiary was the gradual shift in general consensus about the ITU’s role in internet governance: extreme views are now really isolated and the discussion can focus on the way all agencies can collaborate.
The consensus in Busan was really about “agreeing to disagree” on the most difficult issues, according to Aparna Sridhar (Google), who warned that the multistakeholder model of internet governance needs to provide answers to the big issues of concern, such as cybersecurity, to be really accepted. Otherwise, a centralised model will appear more appropriate to solve them. Jamie Hedlund (ICANN) was asked to comment on the relationship between ICANN and NTIA, a link which is often perceived by other countries to favour US businesses rather than provide a multistakeholder perspective. ICANN will no longer have a contract with the NTIA in the near future.
The ensuing discussion highlighted how internetrelated issues are expected to be the focus of the new UN report on sustainable development, so moving the discussion from Geneva to New York, and countries such as China or Russia are pushing for an ad-hoc UN committee. Whatever the outcome, this means that the internet will no longer be a technical issue for a technical agency but will meet the full face of geopolitics.
Mexico, where sweeping telecoms reforms are currently underway, kicked off a panel discussion about policies for universal connectivity. Karime Kuri (IFT, Federal Institute of Telecommunications) explained that constitutional reform made connectivity a universal entitlement in Mexico, and the IFT decided that competition is the best way to deliver it. It has introduced a new model, with a (privately run) wireless LTE open access wholesale network that will have obligations for coverage, price and quality of service. The expected outcome is lower prices with the new player acting as a catalyst for competition, and there will be positive spillovers in many other sectors.
Artur Coimbra de Oliveira (Brazil’s ministry of communications) reported on Brazil’s broadband policy mix, which ranges from digital dividend spectrum to tax breaks and specially priced broadband packages for increasing access. The government is also looking at incentives for building data centres in Brazil, after a proposal to mandate local storing of data was defeated.
Siyabonga Mahlangu (Telkom, South Africa) illustrated South Africa’s ‘connect’ actions and other incentive packages taking place in the country. They are based on a vision of national development goals for 2030, will take advantage of the digital switch-off and are likely to include some open access network solutions and/or subsidies for rural rollout.
Finally, Natalija Gelvanovska (World Bank) confirmed that the bank is seeing the internet as one of the strategic tools to achieve its development goals, and will dedicate its next report to this theme. Its research shows that competitive markets can drive broadband penetration most effectively, but private investment is not achieving the universality goal, so a public policy structure must be in place together with private investments.
There were two key themes at the IIC’s annual Telecommunications and Media Forum (TMF) in Washington, DC as Cristina Murroni reports.
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