Monday, May 30, 2005

VON Europe 2005 Telecom Policy (Part 1) 

Warning: this entry is basically a rant.

To report from the Telecom Policy Europe Session on Monday I have to start with the presentation of Alain Van Gaever on Tuesday.

I agree with Alain that the Regulatory Framework in Europe 2002 is of course more advanced than the Regulatory Framework in the US, based on the Telecoms Act of 1996, because it has already defined electronic communication services and not the "stovepipe" titles as in the US.

The problem with the European Framework is that it replaced the "stovepipes" with a system I would like to call "Babuschka" definitions because it tries to define different types of VoIP services nested like the famous Russian puppets:

Coming from the "IP space" down to "Planet PSTN",
  • there are the Information Services,
  • containing as a subset the Public ElectronicCommunication Services (ECS),
  • containing as a subset the Public Telephony Services (PATS),
  • containing as a subscet the UniversalServices, touching base on "Planet PSTN".
Alain then said the differences of interpretation, what an ECS and especially what a PATS is, are only minor within the different countries of the EU.

Here I disagree.

The discussions on Monday and also the outcome of consultations and the ongoing discussions in the EU countries clearly show that this is not the case.

What confuses the discussions in the first place is the circular (some even say the seriosly flawed) definition of PATS in the EU framework.

So every country first tried to make some sense out of the definition when incorporating it in the national laws (and failed) and now the regulators and everybody else involved (mainly providers) try to make sense out of the laws and related ordinances and naturally come to very different conclusions.

So what are the problems with the PATS definition?

One problem is the circularity of the definition. It is e.g. not clear,
  • Is a service automatically PATS, if access to emergency services is provided?
  • Or if a service is PATS, then access to emergency services has to be provided?.
One could say this is a chicken and egg problem, but this is not so, because the PATS definition also bundles together seemingly unrelated issues with the so-called "rights & obligations" that come together with PATS.

PATS is basically about numbering, number portability, access to emergency services, directory services and integrity & availablity.

Number portability interestingly is listed here under rights.

The interpretations now follow different logical reasonings:

Some say e.g. if you do not provide access to emergency services, you are not PATS and therefore have no right to participate in number portability.

Why?

What is the connex between access to emergency services and number portability besides a artificial PATS definition?

Some others say, because you have a number out of a portable range, you must provide number portability.

Reason: either a number range provides service provider portability or not. If it provides number portability, everbody requesting a number out of this number range must support portability, both a donor or as recipient.

Another connex made is between numbering, especially geographic numbers and access to emergency services.

The approach of the Austrian regulator regarding access to emergency services is that an eventually flawed access to emergency services is better than none, which I support. To help emergency services call takers to distinguish between calls from fixed locations and nomadic users, the CLI displayed in incoming calls from nomadic users must not be a geographic numbers. This also makes sense. A holder of a geographic number may also be nomadic, but in this case he has to provide a different (nomadic) number in the CLI, as a temporary workaround.

BTW, to provide access to emergency services from any VoIP touching the PSTN the Austrian regulator simplifies the ECS-PATS discussion by simply stating that ECS = PATS, therefore any VoIP provider has to provide access to emergency services. Period. Only VoIP providers providing pure IP-IP services do not need to provide access to emergency services. Question: Why not? ECRIT is currently working on this.

The Austrian regulator on the other hand proposes in its recent consulation to provide geographic numbers only to residents having a physical connection within the geographic area. Why this now? Because of a (non-existing) danger of number exhaust. Non-existing for two reasons: first because only 50% of fixed numbers are currently used, the usage of fixed numbers has negative growth anyway and most VoIP want to port existing numbers anyway. The problem with emergency services is already solved above and also valid for non-residents

There is also another issue with numbers in VoIP. In the PSTN most numbers are related to a phone line and the numbers are used both for incalls and outcalls. This needs not to be true for VoIP, as one has clearly seen with Skype. SkypeIn and SkypeOut are two different services.

You need a number to be reached via SkypeIn, but you will never make an outcall via this number. On the other hand you may use SkypeOut without even having a number. Emergency calls are basically outcalls (except the CLI for callback). The interesting point here is that on the PSTN so-called "virtual" numbers have been in use 25 years ago (before 800 numbers where introduced) to provide customers local access to companies elsewhere. Nobody had any problem with this in the past. So what is the problem now? Could it be that the real problem is a completely different one?

BTW, the above example is still one of the major incentives for non-residents to have geographic numbers only for incalls to be reached by customers, relatives and friends by providing them a local number.

This leads to another problem also discussed on Monday: Why are VoIP providers so keen on geographic numbers and number portability? Because currently people are used to geographic numbers, and geographic numbers are still much cheaper to be reached locally and they are reachable, because they are routed. Providers and their customers also fear that weird new number ranges may not be included in packages, will be charged with ridiculous high tariffs and even may have problems to be routed at all.

As the current developments in Austria regarding the new number ranges 0720 and 0780 show, this suspicion is valid.

Incomplete survey: the number range 0780 is still not reachable by some (mobile) providers in Austria, it is reachable from fixed and (some?) mobile providers in Germany and UK, it is not reachable from fixed and mobile providers in Australia and from Sweden it is reachable via Telia mobile, but not Vodafone mobile.
Correction: 780 is NOT reachable form Deutsche Telekom (720 is), but is is reachable by a call-by-call provider? Anyway, the whole issue is a complete mess.

The reason why it is not reachable from mobile providers is that they have not yet decided how much they will charge - with emphasis on how much.

My personal resumee and proposed way forward soon to come in Part 2.

Comments:
Great sequence of posts. I argued much the same thing to the International Bar Association's communications lawyers last week. If you use meaningless words ("converged networks", "PATS") to frame your discussion, you'll have illogical thoughts. The point of IP is it tends to unbundle, so you have to take each of these sub-issues on its own. Even "VoIP" means very different things to different people.
 
has the EU directive evolved to something more concrete than a mere discussion document?

Clearly, its missing some of the pragmaticness of the CRTC Decision 2005-21:
http://www.crtc.gc.ca/archive/ENG/Decisions/2005/dt2005-21.htm

What's the URL to the Austrian regulator diretive?

F.
 
Francois,

The EC New Regulatory framwork (+5 documentsis is not a discussion document it is the basis for all national telecommunication laws, and it is binding.

For the Austrian Telekommunication law see http://www.rtr.at/web.nsf/englisch/Telekommunikation_Telekommunikationsrecht_TKG+2003

the Numbering Ordinance KEM-V (german only) is available at
http://www.rtr.at/web.nsf/englisch/Telekommunikation_Telekommunikationsrecht_Verordnungen_Verordnungen_Kommunikationsparameter_KEM-V

See current Consulation on VoIP can be downloaded from here:
http://www.rtr.at/web.nsf/deutsch/Portfolio_Konsultationen_bisherige_bisherigeKonsultationen_KonsultationVoIP2005?OpenDocument
 
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