Sunday, December 1, 2013

UK - Scotland is not compliant with the EU acquis communitaire for electronic communications and broadcasting

It is frequently stated that Scotland is compliant with the acquis communitaire of the European Union, which is wrong and misleading. Compliance requires the treaties, directives, recommendations, decisions and other EU legal instruments to have been transposed into national law and to have been implemented. The exceptions are the regulations, which have direct effect (e.g., Roaming III Regulation).

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is largely compliant with the acquis communitaire, but it does not follow that Scotland is compliant. At any one time most member states are not quite fully compliant, with directives not yet transposed, improperly transposed or not implemented, with the EC pressing governments to correct or to enact the necessary legislation, if necessary bringing infringement proceedings before the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to require them to do so. For example, in 2013 the EC brought four cases against HMG, all on taxation, including one relating to corporation tax in Gibraltar.

Countries which are candidates for accession to membership are required to undergo complex procedures in order to become compliant, divided into a number of “chapters”, supported by the EC and consultants (see COM(2013) 700). Representatives of the institutions also begin to participate in the complex EU systems of network governance.

Ultimately, a political judgement is made, assessing the technical evaluations of compliance, based on:

  • Political criteria;
  • Economic criteria; and
  • The ability to take on obligations of EU membership.
Sometimes a country is admitted as a member state, even if it is not wholly compliant in a small number of areas, in the expectation it will be able to catch up.

Thus when the Council of Ministers is asked to consider the admission of Scotland, all the member states will be thoroughly familiar with the process of ensuring compliance and most will have been admitted in that way. Ensuring compliance is business as usual and the demonstrably false claim of already being complaint does little to advance the case for Scotland. If the EC did not make an assessment on its own initiative it would be likely that a member state might require that it conduct that exercise.

For broadcasting and telecommunications, accession and candidate countries have been required to transpose into their national law the various EU directives and to create the necessary institutions, notably broadcasting and telecommunication regulatory authorities, a national competition authority, plus systems of appeals. The EC engaged consultants to analyse the laws, regulations and institutions in the various countries and to hold regular meetings of the regulatory authorities, covering the period 2005 to 2013. This reported in detail every nine months the progress being made to inform the teams negotiating Chapter 10 on information society and media, including:

  • legislative framework,
  • institutional framework,
  • market access conditions,
  • spectrum assignments,
  • competitive safeguards,
  • market structure and
  • outlook.
For example, on the Chapter 10 negotiations for Montenegro the EC reported progress, but expressed some concern about the legal provisions for independence of the regulator and the delays in the decision of the Constitutional Court (see SWD(2013) 411).

While it would be trivial for Scotland to adopt a single clause bill to convert all necessary EU laws into Scottish statutes that would not achieve compliance. It would be necessary to create the institutions and then to demonstrate that the systems worked effectively, for example, that the broadcasting authority, multi-sector regulator and competition authority were independent and efficient, that appeals could be handled expeditiously. Perhaps the biggest challenge would be to conduct the first market telecommunications analyses, since this requires a considerable volume of data from operators and some skill in its analysis. The data can only be provided once the operators had separated the Scottish parts of their networks from their UK networks.

The institutions could be place in eighteen months. However, testing their effectiveness could well take another year.

Friday, November 29, 2013

UK - Scotland - Analysis of telecommunications, broadband and Internet proposals of the "white paper" on independence by the Scottish Government

A Short Note on Scotland's Future – The Internet, Broadband and Telecommunications

The Scottish Government has published its proposals for the future administration of an independent Scotland. This represents its case for a vote in favour of independence in September 2014 and the outline of its manifesto in the Scottish parliamentary elections planned for 2016, by when it hopes Scotland will have left the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Opinion polls continue to show that the plebiscite will fail, with only about one quarter of the electorate favouring independence. Scotland would become a member of the EU and comply with its acquis communitaire, join the Council of Europe, becoming a signatory to its conventions, and join the ITU adopting its Radio Regulations.

The Scottish Government has identified key economic sectors: energy, life sciences, creative industries, financial services, tourism, food & drink, and universities. It plans to reindustrialise the Scottish economy, focusing innovation.

The provisions for broadband, Internet and telecommunications remain vague and without a timetable. The institutional arrangements include a junior minister of communications within a Ministry of Culture, Communications & Digital, with a multi-sector economic regulator, a media regulator, a competition authority and a consumer protection body. Existing licences for a range of activities (e.g., broadcasting, gambling and telecommunications) would be “honoured”, though the mechanism is unexplained. It is unclear whether the existing UK legislation will be converted into Scottish statutes or whether the EU directives will be transposed from scratch.

Considerable attention is to be given to increasing services in rural areas, with calls for more fibre and 4G networks, notably with the announcement of 99% coverage obligations for 700 MHz mobile licences. Whereas, the low levels of adoption of broadband in urban Scotland are ignored, with no proposals to boost demand.

Scotland will not request an ITU country code, but seek to continue to use the UK code of 44. It will not use an ISO 3166 two-letter country code top level domain, but instead use dot Scot and the existing UK top level domains.

Based on the present EC legislative proposal (COM(2013)627), the Scottish Government maintains there would be neither roaming charges nor international charges for telephone calls between Scotland and the rest of the UK. This may not be enacted as proposed. Significant omissions include provision for regulators of advertising and gambling. There is no mention of replacement for the UK Competition Appeal Tribunal, perhaps because appeals would be heard directly in the Court of Session. Much depends on negotiations between the Scottish Government and Her Majesty’s Government in London in the period between September 2014 and independence day on 24 March 2016. A complicating factor is the UK general election in May 2015.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

UK - Parliament hears complaints about the exclusionary, anticompetitive behaviour of BT in the Govt's scheme for rural broadband

V3 reported on the recent hearing by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on the rural broadband initiative of the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS):
The lack of transparency on pricing was also discussed by Malcolm Corbett, chief executive of the Independent Networks Co-operative Association (INCA) and Nicholas James, chief executive of UK Broadband, who cited numerous concerns with BT.

Corbett went as far as to deliver the standout line of the sessions, likening BT to a ‘vampire death squid’ for the way it acts towards smaller, local providers.

The accusations were that DCMS had modified the terms of the agreement in ways that favoured BT to the exclusion of all others, but assigning small areas and by requiring only 90 per cent coverage.

In its report PC Pro completed one of the witnesses:

The maestro in question is Nicholas James, chief executive of UK Broadband, a company that wanted to spend £150 million on improving Britain’s fibre network, but couldn’t. Yesterday, he appeared before the Public Accounts Committee, and in only ten minutes destroyed the credibility of the government body – Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) – that’s spending almost half a billion pounds of public money on next-generation access.
The Daily Telegraph reported
Telecoms executives attacked the Government for “moving the goalposts” on a subsidy scheme to provide superfast broadband to rural homes and businesses so that BT was effectively awarded £1.2bn in public money without competition.
The video of the full hearing can be viewed here.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

UK - Regulator consulting on cutting the cost of a customer switching broadband suppliers and

Ofcom has proposed and has launched a consultation on measures to promote competition among superfast broadband providers:
Under proposals for consultation, the wholesale cost of switching a customer from one superfast broadband supplier to another would fall by up to 80%. In addition, the minimum length of the wholesale contract between BT and the switched customer’s new supplier would be reduced from a year to just one month.

The measures form part of Ofcom’s Fixed Access Market Reviews, a wide-ranging consultation on the wholesale telecoms markets used by a range of companies to offer telephone and broadband services to UK consumers.

The consultation on the Fixed Access Market Reviews closes on 25 September 2013.

UK - NAO report forecasts 2-year delay on rural broadband availability, BT is sole supplier and costs are not transparent to HMG

The National Audit Office (NAO) has published a report on a government initiative to improve access to broadband in rural areas:
A government programme to make superfast broadband available to 90 per cent of premises in each area of the UK is currently expected to be delivered nearly two years later than initially planned, the National Audit Office has reported.

The design of the competitive framework had the advantages of ensuring affordability and transferring risk but, together with State aid conditions and other commercial factors, led to potential suppliers withdrawing from the bidding process. BT was left as the only active participant in the framework and is likely to win all 44 local projects.

In addition, the Department has secured only limited transparency over the costs in BT’s bids. It does not have strong assurance that costs, take-up assumptions and the extent of contingency contained in BT’s bids are reasonable.

The project funding contributed by BT has so far been lower than originally modelled – the Department now expects the company to provide just 23 per cent of the overall projected funding of £1.5 billion, some £207 million less than it modelled in 2011. At the same time, by the end of the programme, BT is likely to have benefited from £1.2 billion of public money.

UK - Government report on new ways to use public sector information in response to inquiry report

The UK Government has published a response to the review of public services, which explores new ways to use public sector information. The review was launched in October 2012 by Stephan Shakespeare, Chairman of the Data Strategy Board and CEO of YouGov.
The Deloitte analysis9 which accompanied the Shakespeare Review suggests a figure of £1.8bn on the direct economic benefit from use of PSI and a figure of £6.8bn if broader economic and social impacts are taken into account. The next phase is to step up our efforts and provide business with the clarity and certainty of the flow of data to encourage investment in new opportunities.

The key issue is that central Government will not have all the insight into which datasets are the most useful to businesses nor the possibilities of how this data could be used by citizens and community groups. In addition, by harnessing the skills and appetite of people throughout the public sector and in business, we are more likely to be able to release larger amounts of data. This argues for a plan which is collaborative and open with clear principles guiding it and where public sector bodies are held to account to their commitments in a transparent way.

The Information Economy Strategy was published separately.

UK - Technology Strategy Board has published an analysis of its Future Cities Demonstrator Programme

The Technology Strategy Board (TSB) has published a report, Solutions for Cities: An analysis of the Feasibility Studies from the Future Cities Demonstrator Programme:
It presents a detailed picture of some of the future visions of UK cities, the challenges they face, and the opportunities they have to deliver an improved quality of life for their citizens.

Just over a year ago the TSB launched its Future Cities Demonstrator competition, challenging UK cities to show how they would integrate their city systems to create better places to live and work. The report, prepared by Arup, draws out the common trends and themes that unite these unique city visions of a smarter, more sustainable future. By identifying these common themes, we can identify areas for future collaborations between cities and industry, new challenges for the research base, and new business opportunities for innovative companies.