LONDON, UK -- Recent public statements by UK Minister Stephen Timms MP and telecoms company BT herald a significant shift in the debate on next generation access networks in the UK.In the past discussion has focussed on the technical and cost reasons that make rolling out a new fibre-based access network in the UK very difficult. Now there is a sense that it is in the national interest to move from this position of ‘too difficult/expensive to do’ to one of ‘this must be done -- how do we make it happen?’.The difficulties remain but the call is now for all stakeholders collectively to work out how to address them. This is being led by Stephen Timms MP, a Minister well known for both his expertise in and passion for ICT, who is to organise a Summit on Next Generation Access.A key milestone in the discussion was the publication of the Broadband Stakeholders’ Group report ‘Pipe Dreams‘. The next stage is a formal consultation that is about to begin on regulation of new network infrastructure by the UK communications regulator Ofcom.For anyone interested in the new services that a faster access infrastructure will enable, this is an exciting time in the UK, as we see signs that there is now the will to keep up with other countries who are making the same transition.
The United States Department of Justice has entered the Network Neutrality debate by filing these Comments in the FCC’s Broadband Industry Practices docket. The Justice Department argues that the broadband market is growing and competitive and the premature regulation could stifle investment and innovation.This filing is particularly significant because the Justice Department has not weighed in on this issue previously and the Antitrust Division has lengthy experience in the telecommunications field through its oversight of the AT&T consent decree. Accordingly, the Justice Department’s opinion carries great weight among policymakers and is typically considered thorough and fair.Combined with the Federal Trade Commission’s report on Broadband Connectivity Competition Policy, we now have both major antitrust authorities concluding that Network Neutrality regulation is unnecessary and potentially harmful. Hopefully, the leaders in Congress are paying attention.
The U.S. government has completed tough negotiations of bilateral trade agreements with Peru, Colombia, Panama and South Korea. Because the U.S. market is already relatively open to goods and services from these countries, implementation of these trade agreements will benefit U.S. companies that develop and export products from the U.S. — companies like Cisco.To increase our competitiveness in foreign markets, it’s imperative that the Congress approve the implementing legislation for these pending free trade agreements (FTAs). By lowering tariffs, ensuring nondiscriminatory access to government procurements, enhancing intellectual property rights protections and reducing technical barriers to trade, implementation of these agreements will help U.S. technology companies compete in markets where our competitors have a leg-up.Good examples are in Peru, Colombia and Panama, all of which have agreed to join the Information Technology Agreement (ITA), which eliminates customs duties and other import taxes on almost all information and communications technology (ICT) products. ICT tariffs in these countries range from 5-10%. Expansion of the ITA to these countries will not only help U.S. companies compete, but it will also help users of ICT in these countries improve their productivity and competitiveness through lower-cost access to innovative technologies. ITA expansion in Latin America will also send a strong signal to other countries, like Brazil, that high tariffs used to protect domestic producers only serve to punish domestic users of ICT -- such as banking, healthcare, education and small- and medium-sized businesses -- which are forced to pay higher prices for few choices, putting a serious crimp in their own productivity and competitiveness.Congressional approval of these FTAs should be a top priority this fall. Not only will implementation of the FTAs benefit U.S. tech companies, but citizens and businesses in these countries will have greater access to the tools that can help them improve their own lives.
Last week patent reform legislation took yet another step forward as the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Patent Reform Act of 2007. The bill had strong bipartisan support. Our Bay Area Congressional delegation led the way. Here are their own words-- Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco correctly tied patent reform to our nation’s ability to innovate:”The bipartisan patent reform bill is a significant step toward our Innovation Agenda. It will strengthen the patent system and improve patent quality. This legislation is crucial for American inventors and American ingenuity, for consumers, and for greater innovation and economic growth.”Representative Zoe Lofgren of San Jose, one of the principal architects of the legislation, noted how the long legislative process had forged a quality, balanced product:”I believe this bill strikes the right balance between the need for strong patent rights and the encouragement of innovation.”Representative Anna Eshoo of Palo Alto was clear on what this meant for our economy:”œPatents and intellectual property are the cornerstone of the Information Economy. That’s why it’s essential that the U.S. patent system continues to foster ideas and innovation which fuel our economy and keeps America competitive.” Read More »
ASPEN, CO — Every August, legions of telecom policy lawyers and analysts escape the heat of Washington summer to trek to Aspen for a series of seminars and meetings organized by the Aspen Institute and the Progress and Freedom Foundation. The high altitude leads to some high level discussions on telecom policy, both on and off the record.My reaction to this year’s mountain voyage is that the trends in telecom regulation are tied up in serious contradictions. Expert after expert pointed out what we have all seen in that marketplace — consumers are getting more services, from more providers at lower costs. Broadband services are increasing in speed and penetration. Cable companies are taking significant market share through digital VoIP offerings. Telephone companies are beginning serious competition in the cable TV market. The wireless industry remains fiercely competitive, with almost all Americans having a choice of 3 or more wireless providers. The price of wireless service continues to drop and American consumers use more minutes of wireless than any other country (save Hong Kong).It sounded as though the FCC’s policy of deregulation and competition is successful. But that was not the reaction of many advocates. Calls for increasing regulation sounded from many sides of the debate. Wireless competition is not sufficient so we need strict rules on spectrum auctions to “create more competition.” Broadband access needs to be regulated to create a “neutral Internet,” regardless of whether there is an actual problem to address or not. Cable equipment security must be regulated, at great consumer cost, in order to create a “retail” equipment market. I couldn’t help but be struck by the obvious contradiction. Greater competition, lower prices, and better services should lead to less, not more, regulation. What we need is more fact-based policy, not regulation based on unlikely and unrealistic conjecture. And the fact is that the deregulatory policies adopted over the years for the Internet, wireless, and broadband access world have been successful at incenting investment and innovation.