Speakers’ Corner: Regulators may act

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Sales of mobile phones decreased 10 per cent this year, whilst smartphone sales jumped 140 per cent in the five largest European markets. Infonetics Research forecasts smartphones will experience a 21 per cent growth rate from 2008 to 2013. Actually, ‘smartphones’ is a misnomer: it’s not phones that are getting smarter, but PCs that are getting smaller – phone-sized, in fact. It is no more the rise of the mobile that is being hailed, but the rise of the internet generation.

Everyone wants a piece of the action. But not everyone realises the potential for a win-win-win situation – for the customer, the operator and the application provider. Many operators forbid, block or degrade online applications like VoIP or peer-to-peer; or force consumers to pay a premium for certain internet applications and services.

You’ve guessed it: it’s the great net neutrality debate, the fight for the ‘open internet’. For years industry ‘experts’ have advised politicians and the public not to worry about this ‘US’ problem, because we’re so well behaved and competitive in Europe, aren’t we? Let me assure you:
the problem exists in Europe as well. Skype usage is routinely forbidden/hindered by operators in France, Germany, the UK and beyond. Let’s be clear: managing networks in cases of acute congestion to protect the customer experience is something Skype accepts as necessary.

What we strongly oppose is hindering usage of a particular application or service or protocol. Bar genuine legal and technical constraints, consumers should access the services of their choice. There is no good reason for hindering Skype usage. Technically, a Skype audio call uses very little bandwidth, typically only eight to 20kbps – the equivalent of downloading a normal webpage. Economically, it is neither for us nor for
consumers to rebalance pricing if that’s what’s needed; and there is no excuse for operators hindering Skype because they see it as competing against their voice business.

Full article in Mobile News issue 453 (November 30, 2009).

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