Don’t harm the best effort Internet to compensate for the loss of roaming income

Sharing cover

This post has undergone various limited revisions since its original publication. When not purely cosmetical, these revisions are signaled through footnotes.


The European Parliament is presently in the last stages of first reading for a revision of the telecom regumation. This revision addresses two facets: roaming costs for international mobile communications and network neutrality. Cancelling or strongly decreasing (depending on cases) roaming costs is useful, but it cannot be done at the expense of Internet users and of the rights of all to impart content and services on the Internet.

Telecommunication companies, in particular incumbents, once drew large revenues from fixed line voice communication. This income is now severely reduced due to VoIP and multiplay offers. Internet Service provision is a profitable business, but its predominant model of fixed cost per month “illimited” traffic has kept its revenues well below the old pay-per-call model of voice communications.

This is excellent news for consumers and for the economy. If there is one thing that created growth and jobs in Europe, it is the illimited (though bandwidth constrained) lump sum subscription to the Internet, the generalized household equipment that it enabled and the possibility for all Web service providers to reach potential consumers on the internet. Even more importantly the development of the open neutral Internet has led to an immense development of non-market (not-for-profit, non-commercial) practices of individuals, empowering them in all domains: literacy, culture, democracy. We are just at the beginning of this process, which is fragile because of the trend towards recentralization of Web services by large companies. Keeping the Internet and the Web open and non-discriminatory is thus a duty for all reasonable policy-makers.1

The loss of revenues from fixed voice communication was partly compensated by revenues from mobile phone communications. The Commission and National regulatory authorities have tried to inject more competition in the mobile telecommunications. They succeeded partially in national markets and the Commission now implements a policy to cut roaming costs. This is a valuable objective.

However, if the MEPs listen too uncritically to the discourse of telecommunications operators (in particular ETNO), the cost to pay for this progress will be to hurt an even more important common good: the open best effort Internet (see definition). There is a hidden deal being pushed by some, which would permit the European Commission and the other European institutions to terminate the present legislature with the perspective of a wonderful gift to consumers2. The other side of the deal is that there is a compensation for the pains suffered by telcos due to losing the roaming income. We take away one rent from you but we will safeguard another one by letting you charge for “added-value” services on the Internet. Anyone who has really worked in telecommunication innovation knows that for 20 years, the telcos and ISPs have dreamt of only one thing: money for nothing in the Internet world. They first went for selling contents when they believed that Content was King. When this proved to be balloonish, they moved to another idea: let’s add new services to the Internet that have specific bandwidth requirements,3 such as HDTV distribution, VOD. Those services, were charged asides of the subscription, partly to pay providers, and partly to offer a specific bandwidth on specialized networks. At this stage, nobody complained.

That’s were the whole debate on network neutrality in Europe comes in. Because the real dream of telcos and ISPs is to charge for things that are already or would naturally develop on the Internet. In order to do so, they must be able to claim that it is “necessary” to obtain the needed “quality of service”. There it is worth travelling back in time, as far as the 1960s, when the telecommunications monopolies considered that among those things that needed “quality of services” than no packet network could deliver were the telephone and telefax. Still in the 1990s, I heard repeatedly stated by their representatives that that no truly large scale voice communication system would ever work on the best effort Internet. It is also worth considering that there are 4 types of Internet applications and services depending on their real-time and synchronization constraints :

  • those that are impossible because of minor physical constraints such as the speed of light ;
  • those that work perfectly well on the best effort Internet provided enough bandwidth exists in the network and enough computing power at the periphery, which represent the vast majority of useful applications and services,
  • those that require only sufficient bandwith reservation, buffering, and optimized routing without discriminatory priorization, and,
  • some examples, such as telesurgery, that present a need for special treatment in cases where the “no guarantee” property of best effort protocols would become inacceptable, even if in practice best effort networks work better in the great majority of cases. Unfortunately for the promoters of these examples, they have nothing to do with what is under discussion in the network neutrality debates: telesurgery is deployed entirely specialised networks, does not interfere with the open Internet in any way, and would not be prohibited by any of the amendements that are presently under discussion4.

Amendments have been proposed by NGOs defending the right to access and impart information and to innovate in information services. They have been tabled in a different form but with a similar spirit in the ITRE committee of the European parlimament by Catherine Trautmann and others and are opposed by rapporteur Pilar del Castillo Vera. These amendments have only one aim: to prevent ISPs to artificially limit the open Internet in such a way that they could sell as “added-value” or “specialized” services applications that would normally work on the open best effort Internet. The particular provision requiring that the “application layer [of specialized services] is not functionally identical to services and applications available over the public internet access service;” has particularly infuriated Mr. Jens Rohde of the ALDE group who stated in a Danish TV channel that “This is the ACTA movement again. But I will not be controlled by this.”5 But these amendments are not extremistic, they only protect one of our most precious common goods against the unfair competition of rent-seekers.

  1. Last two sentences added to stress that the Internet should not be regarded only through a market-based lense. []
  2. Meaning those consumers who travel a lot accross Europe and whose children live or study in other countries. []
  3. Or absence of jitter, but this can be coped by bufferization and other techniques provided that there is enough bandwidth. []
  4. This and the previous bullet points have been modified on the day of publication at 23:00 to benefit from remarks made by Benjamain Bayart. []
  5. informal translation, please check the Danish source: Så kender vi ACTA-bevægelsen igen. Men den lader jeg mig ikke styre af.. []

Will French Parliamentarians Consent to a Democratorship?

Numerous reactions are now being voiced against the inclusion in the 2014-2019 Defense Bill of article 13 whose provisions enable a pervasive surveillance of online data and communications. Gilles Babinet, appointed in 2012 as French Digital Champion to Nellie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda for Europe, was quoted [fr] […]


A senior beginner

Photo Jean Salvat Madeleine V. is my partner’s aunt. She just started using computers and the internet, a 95 years old beginner. Yesterday, we received her first email. She was motivated and assisted by the staff of Résidence Canarie, the old people’s home in Argelès-Gazost. I promised her a post on this blog is she […]


The maelström of Violet

See footnote for more on the context of this entry1. Five dancers at the back of the scene. Motionless, regularly spaced. On the left, a drums set, the usual instruments of electronic music, and an also immobile musician. It lasts, and tension builds. Then one of them, the taller one, starts to raise his arm […]


It’s just time

In Europe and elsewhere, societies are in a strange state. Even when not voicing it, many are indignant at social injustice, at the apathy in face of ecological challenges, at the ruling groups, their blind economicism and their colluded interests, at the development of pervasive control and surveillance. Meanwhile, citizens and societal groups develop new […]


Sharing is a cultural right, not a market failure

An endless stream of law proposals, soft-law initiatives and free-trade agreements keeps trying to eradicate or prevent the non-market sharing of digital works between individuals. New strategies are pushed using incentives and threats so that intermediaries will police the Internet to save the scarcity-based business models of a few from the competition of abundance. So […]


The body as architecture

I carry on my episodical chronicles of contemporay dance performances on this blog. My literary experimentation blog could be better suited, but it is in French only. The yearly Rencontres Choréographiques de la Seine-Saint-Denis are back, and with them the pleasure of discoveries for the intermittent amateur. Tamara Bacci, Marthe Krummenacher and Perrine Valli are […]


Discussion of the Onlife Manifesto

The Onlife Manifesto was produced by a multidisciplinary group for the European Commission DG Connect. Its focus is “what it means to be human in a hyperconnected world”. I was one of 7 people asked to react to it at the occasion of its publication on 8 February 2013 in Brussels. The others were representatives […]


Expropriation from the common heritage

Some context for English speaking readers: on 15 January 2013 the French National Library (BnF) has signed public-private partnerships for the digitizing of 70000 ancient books (up to 1700) and 200,000 78 and 33 rpm sound recordings of patrimonial value. These partnerships, respectively with ProQuest and Believe, grant a 10 years exclusive commercial exploitation right […]


We need a new formulation of end-to-end analysis

End-to-end analysis is the major theoretization of the Internet that was proposed by Jerome Saltzer, David Reed and David Clark from 1981. In their seminal paper and later ones, they formulated what became known as the end-to-end principle, interpreted often as “application-specific functions ought to reside in the end hosts of a network rather than […]


The Polish campaign for the right to culture

I write this post in a mix of sadness and joy. The sadness of losing Aaron Swartz who committed suicide two days ago. He was a great person (say all who met him) to whom we owe a significant part of the victory against SOPA in the US through his organization Demand Progress and many […]


Increased advertising pollution on wordpress.com

wordpress.com is the hosting service associated to the WordPress free software blog platform (WP for short). I often described this combination as virtuous, as it permits users to open easily and swiftly a hosted blog, while letting them move it easily to a self-hosted or other host solution using the same software. The growth of […]


Non-market sharing should not be “compensated for”, the “creative contribution” has other aims

The commons thread to my work on the non-market sharing of digital works between individuals1 is to defend that when carefully delineated, this sharing is a right whose definition lies outside the realm of copyright. As such it can not be the object of copyright-based compensation. I developed this point in Internet & Creation (in […]


Elements for the reform of copyright and related cultural policies

Now that the ACTA treaty has been rejected by the European Parliament, a period opens during which it will be possible to push for a new regulatory and policy framework adapted to the digital era. Many citizens and MEPs support the idea of reforming copyright in order to make possible for all to draw the […]


The democratic sovereignty of European citizens and the reopening of political options

Next Sunday, an election of critical importance for the future of Europe will be held. No, dear French readers, this is not our “élections législatives”, it is the parliamentary election in Greece. This post aims at highlighting how offensive to democracy is the present pressure exerted on Greek voters in order to dissuade them to […]