Award Winning Blog

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Lessons in Telecom Portion Control

            Greetings from Leuven, Belgium where I am spending two weeks of my sabbatical at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Law and ICT.  See
While one can learn many things in Flanders, I will limit this post to the concept of portion control. 

            You won’t see many wide bodies in Belgium thanks to portion control.  But you won’t see many triple digit monthly wireless bills either.  Simply put, there is little tolerance for excess: most folks bring their own device and opt for pre-paid plans.  Many carriers and resellers in Belgium offer 200 voice minutes, unlimited texting (no portion control there!) and 1 Gigabyte of data for 20 Euros per month, which converts to about $25 USD.  Plus or minus, this rate stands at about half what we typically pay in the U.S. 

            Why? How?  Portion control!  Few consumers have an appetite for unmetered, all you can eat plans.  I did not see many students at KU Leuven immersed in their wireless devices, or engaged in multi-tasking. Even their beer comes in humble 25 and 33 centiliter bottles (8-11.2 ounces).

            So if you can live with, or embrace portion control, you can halve your wireless budget.

            Of course there is a rebuttal to this rosy scenario, particularly for high volume, “power users” who may or may not like buffets, especially ones on cruise ships and Las Vegas. For these folks, the U.S. offers the lowest price, whether measured on a per minute, per text or per megabyte basis.  

            Perhaps there is something constraining and anathema to the U.S. credo in portion control.  Why tolerate a limit?  Why drive with 4 cylinders when 6 will do the job better? My dear wife introduced portion control in my life and I know I’m better off as a result.

            Just keep me away from a cruise ship and Vegas.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Terminating ISP Monopolies and the Similar Harm to Edge Providers and End Users

            It appears that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wants an Open Internet order that differentiates access into 2 categories: 1) edge provider downstream access and 2) end user upstream access to content.  This frame has some appeal, particularly when one looks at Internet access as a two-sided market.  However the real world does not create a bright line dichotomy or separation of these two functions.

            Edge providers and end users can face the same potential for harm if an Internet Service Provider (“ISP”) discriminates in ways that constrain, degrade, block or otherwise meddle with a downstream traffic flow.  Both sides of the market suffer if an ISP exercises its market power: 1) the edge provider sells fewer ads, subscriptions, or product; and 2) the end user encounters a reduction in utility and value for his or her monthly broadband access subscription.

            I do not understand the possible FCC emphasis on upstream edge providers.  Perhaps the drafters seek to structure an order that resonates with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals examination of potential discrimination to edge providers.  But the court also endorsed the FCC’s view that retail ISPs providing the last mile delivery can operate as terminating monopolies.  Applying an emphasis on this market power in the last mile delivery, both edge providers and end users suffer when retail ISPs engage in some types of discrimination.

            It makes little sense to differentiate between edge providers and end users if both groups have similar grievances with the intermediary.