Tag: competitive-trade issues

USA to pry open mobile-app-store market

Article

Google Play Android app store

Legislation or regulation to come about to open up the app-store market on mobile devices to competing providers

How the Open App Markets Act wants to remake app stores – The Verge

What the Open App Markets Act means for future of Big Tech (fastcompany.com)

From the horse’s mouth

US Congress

Open App Markets Act (Follow this law through Congress)

My Comments

At the moment, if you want to add functionality to your smartphone or tablet, you have to use the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store to download the necessary apps. Some Android phone manufacturers like Samsung and Amazon run their own app stores with the former operating theirs alongside Google’s app store and the latter in lieu of that app store.

This process also affects post-download transactions like purchasing the software after a trial, subscribing to the services associated with the software or buying microcurrency for a game using real money. With services like Netflix or Spotify or mobile ports of some desktop software, you use the service’s desktop user interface to sign up and pay for subscriptions then you log in to the user account you created for that service using the mobile app to benefit from what you paid for.

The same approach is being used for the ChromeOS platform and Microsoft and Apple want to push this on to their Windows and MacOS desktop computing platforms. This is more so with Microsoft and the ARM-powered Windows laptops or offering lightweight “S” variants of Windows for cheaper computers. It is also implemented with games consoles, connected-TV/set-top-box platforms, printers, network-attached storage devices, routers, connected vehicles and the smart home as a way to add functionality to these platforms.

This may even apply to app stores on regular computers like the Windows Store

Here, some of the companies in Big Tech want to provide that same kind of walled garden that is expected with games consoles for other computing devices as a way of providing some perceived “simplicity” and security for these devices.

Concern has been raised about this approach due to frustrating competition for apps on these platforms. It includes a monopsony approach where software developers are disadvantaged due to the app store charging commissions on software-related transactions or exacting onerous terms and conditions on software developers who want to have their apps available on the popular mobile platforms.

This is an issue that has been brought about by the Fortnite saga where Apple frustrated Epic’s wishes to sell microtransactions, subscriptions or similar services for Fortnite independently of Apple even for iOS ports of that game. There is similar activity going on in the European Union with the Digital Markets Act to push for competition in the mobile-computing-device realm while the authorities in charge of market competition in the UK and Australia are examining this issue.

What is the Open App Markets Act about?

What the Open App Markets Act means is that competing app markets can exist on mobile and similar-use platforms like iOS and Android. It also requires that these platforms have a requirement to allow users to sideload apps to their devices and the platform can’t default to its own app stores.

Sideloading is primarily transferring software from a regular computer or external / network file storage to the mobile or other device in order for it to run on that device. This is similar to the way we have installed software on our Windows, Macintosh or Linux computers for a long time. Here, we have inserted a floppy disk or CD-ROM in to a computer and ran an installation from that storage medium to have the software on the computer. Or we downloaded the software from the developer’s Website or a download site to our computer’s hard disk and ran the installation program associated with that software to install it.

It could also extend to software developers making the software available to download or purchase from their own Web presences, including processing any post-download payment transactions there. This means that the software developer gains effective control over their software through its lifecycle.

If software developers wish to implement post-download transactions for their software such as converting a trial version to a full-service program, offering subscriptions or selling microcurrency for a game, they can use a competing storefront or facilitate their transactions on their own Websites.

Who would it primarily benefit?

A user group that would benefit from the competitive app market would be gaming enthusiasts. Here, they would benefit from games-focused app stores like Steam, Epic and GOG who run their own leaderboards, online game saving, and online forums. Similarly, games developers would be running their own app stores for their games titles, continuing to offer the same kind of integrated functionality.

I also see Microsoft behind this idea because of software development being their founding stone with an example being the XBox One designed from scratch to support home-developed games. This is because they want to run app stores as a way to make it easier for up-and-coming software developers to put their wares on their market.

What are the issues here?

One key issue that would come up in my mind is a replication of the “bulletin board” or “download site” era that existed before and during the early days of the Internet. This is akin to the “shovelware” magazine-cover CD-ROM era that existed in the early days of optical data storage. That is where you had online or offline collections of poor-quality software available for download or installation on your regular computer. It is something that has affected some app stores in their early days where they were replete with poor-quality apps.

Here, there was very little effort regarding quality control when it came to making software available on a bulletin board or download site or adding software to an optical disc that was attached to a computer magazine. This is compared to most app stores where the people who run the stores vet the software before it is published as well as running “editor’s choice” or “spotlight” programs to feature good-quality software,

Apple and Google challenge the competitive app store approach because they see exclusive app stores as a way to maintain standards regarding software for their platforms.

Here, they see this primarily with data security and user privacy. But they also see this with maintaining legal and social expectations regarding the kind of software available on personal devices. This ranges from issues like suitability for children and suitability to use in the workplace or around your family; along with being able to facilitate access to undesireable content like hate speech or disinformation.

How could these issues be answered?

Computing-platform, operating-system and device vendors, amongst other strong voices in the personal/business IT and cybersecurity world could implement one or more “seal-of-approval” systems on apps or app stores. There would even be various legal protections and requirements placed on the software and app stores like intellectual-property or media-classification requirements, Here, the software or app stores have to maintain certain quality and similar standards before acquiring that “seal of approval”.

Endpoint-security logic that is part of the operating system or a third-party endpoint-security program offered by a brand of respect would add extra friction to installing or running software that doesn’t have one or more of these “seals of approval”. As well, such software would be required to identify and easily remove such software.

Similarly, these companies could vet software developers’ access to software-development kits and application-programming interfaces so that the developer has to be in “good standing” to use the features that matter in an operating system. As well, software-authentication regimes will be implemented in a strong manner for any software that is distributed or installed on these devices.

Is there a risk of a limited rollout of open app-market features

There can be a risk of Big Tech creating versions of their app-store-driven computing platforms for particular geopolitical areas when each area enacts open-app-market legislation.

In this situation, when a user registers a new device or the device’s operating system is updated, there would be logic to test whether the device is within a country or region under an open-app-market mandate then deliver a compliant version of the software to those areas. That is while a noncompliant version of the software is delivered to new or updated devices in areas that don’t have the open-app-market mandate.

This is similar to an issue faced in Australia with the motor industry where vehicle builders are “dumping” vehicles that are less fuel-efficient in to that market. That is because there aren’t the fleet-wide vehicle-efficiency mandates there that are similar to those mandates affecting USA, Europe or South East Asia.

Here, the issue that would be raised is having markets that aren’t regulated with open-app-market mandates being areas to continue the status quo regarding anticompetitive behaviour. Add to this intense lobbying of government or political parties by Big Tech to continue the same kind of behaviour with impunity.

Conclusion

What may be coming about for smartphones, mobile-platform tablets and similar devices is that governments will be forcing open the app-store markets for these devices so that users can seek software from competing suppliers.

Why do I defend Europe creating their own tech platforms?

Previous Coverage on HomeNetworking01.info Map of Europe By User:mjchael by using preliminary work of maix¿? [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Europeans could compete with Silicon Valley when offering online services

How about encouraging computer and video games development in Europe, Oceania and other areas

My Comments

Regularly I keep an eye out for information regarding efforts within Europe to increase their prowess when it comes to business and personal IT services. This is more so as Europe is having to face competition from the USA’s Silicon Valley and from China in these fields.

But what do Europeans stand for?

Airbus A380 superjumbo jet wet-leased by HiFly at Paris Air Show press picture courtesy of Airbus

Airbus have proven that they are a valid European competitor to Boeing in the aerospace field

What Europeans hold dear to their heart when it comes to personal, business and public life are their values. These core values encompass freedom, privacy and diversity and have been build upon experience with their history, especially since the Great Depression.

They had had to deal with the Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin dictatorships especially with Hitler’s Nazis taking over parts of European nations like France and Austria; along with the Cold War era with Eastern Europe under communist dictatorships loyal to the Soviet Union. All these affected countries were run as police states with national security forces conduction mass surveillance of the populace at the behest of the dictators.

The EU’s European Parliament summed this up succinctly on their page with Europeans placing value on human dignity, human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law. It is underscored in a pluralistic approach with respect for minority groups.

I also see this in the context of business through a desire to have access to a properly-functioning competitive market driven by publicly-available standards and specifications. It includes a strong deprecation of bribery, corruption and fraud within European business culture, whether this involves the public sector or not. This is compared to an “at-any-cost” approach valued by the USA and China when it comes to doing business.

As well, the European definition of a competitive market is the availability of goods or services for best value for money. This includes people who are on a very limited budget gaining access to these services in a useable manner that underscores the pluralistic European attitude.

How is this relevant to business and consumer IT?

Nowadays, business and consumer IT is more “service-focused” through the use of online services whether totally free, complementary with the purchase of a device, paid for through advertising or paid for through regular subscription payments. Increasingly these services are being driven by the mass collection of data about the service’s customers or end-users with people describing the data as being the “new oil”.

Examples of this include Web search engines, content hosting providers like YouTube or SoundCloud, subscription content providers, online and mobile gaming services, and voice-driven assistants. It also includes business IT services like cloud-computing services and general hosting providers that facilitate these services.

Europeans see this very differently due to their heritage. Here, they want control over their data along with the ability to participate in a competitive market that works to proper social expectations. This is compared to business models operated by the USA and China that disrespect the “Old World’s” approach to personal and business values.

The European Union have defended these goals but primarily with the “stick” approach. It is typically through passing regulations like the GDPR data-protection regulations or taking legal action against US-based dominant players within this space.

But what needs to happen and what is happening?

What I often want to see happen is European companies build up credible alternatives to what businesses in China and the USA are offering. Here, the various hardware, software and services that Europe has to offer respects the European personal and business culture and values. They also need to offer this same technology to individuals, organisations and jurisdictions who believe in the European values of stable government that respects human rights including citizen privacy and the rule of law.

What is being done within Europe?

Spotify Windows 10 Store port

Spotify – one of Europe’s success stories

There are some European success stories like Spotify, the “go-to” online subscription service that is based in Sweden as well as a viable French competitor in the form of Deezer, along with SoundCloud which is an audio-streaming service based in Germany.

Candy Crush Saga gameplay on Windows 10

Candy Crush Saga – a European example of what can be done in the mobile game space

A few of the popular mobile “guilty-pleasure” games like Candy Crush Saga and Angry Birds were developed in Europe. Let’s not forget Ubisoft who are a significant French video games publisher who have set up studios around the world and are one of the most significant household names in video games. Think of game franchiese like Assassin’s Creed  or Far Cry which are some of the big-time games that this developer had put out.

Then Qwant appeared as a European-based search engine that creates its own index and stores it within Europe. This is compared to some other European-based search engines which are really “metasearch engines” that concatenate data from multiple search engines including Google and Bing.

There have been a few Web-based email platforms like ProtonMail surfacing out of Switzerland that focus on security and privacy for the end-user. This is thanks to Switzerland’s strong respect for business and citizen privacy especially in the financial world.

Freebox Delta press photo courtesy of Iliad (Free.fr)

The Freebox Delta is an example of a European product running a European voice assistant

There are some European voice assistants surfacing with BMW developing the Intelligent Personal Assistant for in-vehicle use while the highly-competitive telecommunications market in France yielded some voice assistants of French origin thanks to Orange and Free. Spain came in on the act with Movistar offering their own voice assistant. I see growth in this aspect of European IT thanks to the Amazon Voice Interopability Initiative which allows a single hardware device like a smart speaker to allow access to multiple voice-assistant

AVM FritzBox 7530 press image courtesy of AVM GmBH

The AVM FRITZ!Box 7530 is a German example of home network hardware with European heritage

Technicolor, AVM and a few other European companies are creating home network hardware typically in the form of carrier-supplied home-network routers. It is although AVM are offering their Fritz lineup of of home-network hardware through the retail channel with one of these devices being the first home-network router to automatically update itself with the latest patches. In the case of Free.fr, their Freebox products are even heading to the same kind of user interface expected out of a recent Synology or QNAP NAS thanks to the continual effort to add more capabilities in these devices.

But Europe are putting the pedal to the metal when it comes to cloud computing, especially with the goal to assure European sovereignty over data handled this way. Qarnot, a French company, have engaged in the idea of computers that are part of a distributed-computing setup yielding their waste heat from data processing for keeping you warm or allowing you to have a warm shower at home. Now Germany is heading down the direction of a European-based public cloud for European data sovereignty.

There has been significant research conducted by various European institutions that have impacted our online lives. One example is Frauhofer Institute in Germany have contributed to the development of file-based digital audio in both the MP3 and AAC formats. Another group of examples represent efforts by various European public-service broadcasters to effectively bring about “smart radio” with “flagging” of traffic announcements, smart automatic station following, selection of broadcasters by genre or area and display of broadcast-content metadata through the ARI and RDS standards for FM radio and the evolution of DAB+ digital radio.

But what needs to happen and may will be happening is to establish and maintain Europe as a significantly-strong third force for consumer and business IT. As well, Europe needs to expose their technology and services towards people and organisations in other countries rather than focusing it towards the European, Middle Eastern and Northern African territories.

European technology companies would need to offer the potential worldwide customer base something that differentiates themselves from what American and Chinese vendors are offering. Here, they need to focus their products and services towards those customers who place importance on what European personal and business values are about.

What needs to be done at the national and EU level

Some countries like France and Germany implement campaigns that underscore products that are made within these countries. Here, they could take these “made in” campaigns further by promoting services that are built up in those countries and have most of their customers’ data within those countries. Similarly the European Union’s organs of power in Brussels could then create logos for use by IT hardware and software companies that are chartered in Europe and uphold European values.

At the moment Switzerland have taken a proactive step towards cultivating local software-development talent by running a “Best of Swiss Apps” contest. Here, it recognises Swiss app developers who have turned out excellent software for regular or mobile computing platforms. At the moment, this seems to focus on apps which primarily have Switzerland-specific appeal, typically front-ends to services offered by the Swiss public service or companies serving Swiss users.

Conclusion

One goal for Europe to achieve is a particular hardware, software or IT-services platform that can do what Airbus and Arianespace have done with aerospace. This is to raise some extraordinary products that place themselves on the world stage as a viable alternative to what the USA and China offer. As well, it puts the establishment on notice that they have to raise the bar for their products and services.

What is infrastructure-level competition and why have it?

Fibre optic cable trench in village lane - press picture courtesy of Gigaclear

Gigaclear underscores the value of infrastructure-level competition

An issue that will be worth raising regarding the quality of service for newer high-speed fixed-line broadband services is the existence of infrastructure-level competition.

When we talk of infrastructure for a fixed-line Internet service, we are talking of copper and/or fibre-optic cabling used to take this service around a neighbourhood to each of the customers’ premises.

Then each premises has a modem of some sort, that in a lot of cases is integrated in the router, which converts the data to a form that makes it available across its network. A significant number of these infrastructure providers will supply the modem especially if they cannot provide a “wires-only” or “bring your own modem” service due to the technology they are implementing and, in a lot of these cases, will legally own the modem.

In Europe, Australia and some other countries, this broadband infrastructure is provided by an incumbent telco or an infrastructure provider and multiple retail-level telecommunications and Internet providers lease capacity on this infrastructure to provide their services to the end-user. This is compared to North America where an infrastructure provider exclusively provides their own retail-level telecommunications and Internet services to end users via their infrastructure.

In a lot of cases where multiple retail telecommunications and Internet providers use the same infrastructure, the incumbent telco may be required to divest themselves of their fixed-line infrastructure to a separate privately-owned or government-owned corporation in order to satisfy a competitive-service requirement. This means that they cannot provide a retail Internet or telecommunications service over that infrastructure at a cost advantage over competitors offering the same service over the same infrastructure. Examples of this include Openreach in the UK, NBN in Australia and Chorus in New Zealand.

A problem with having a dominant infrastructure provider is that there is a strong risk of this provider  offering to retail telecommunications providers and their end-users poor value for money when it comes to telecommunications and Internet services. It also can include this provider engaging in “redlining” which is the practice of providing substandard infrastructure or refusing to provide any infrastructure to neighbourhoods that they don’t perceive as being profitable like those that are rural or disadvantaged.

Some markets like the UK and France implement or encourage infrastructure-level competition where one or more other entities can lay their own infrastructure within urban or rural neighbourhoods. Then they can either run their own telecommunications and Internet services or lease the bandwidth to other companies who want to provide their own services.

Infrastructure-level competition

Where infrastructure-level competition exists, there are at least two different providers who provide street-based infrastructure for telecommunications and Internet service. The providers may run their own end-user telecommunications and Internet services using this infrastructure and/or they simply lease the bandwidth provided via this infrastructure to other retail Internet providers to provide these services to their customers.

Some competitors buy and use whatever “dark fibre” that exists from other previous fibre-optic installations to provide this service. Or they provide an enterprise communications infrastructure for government or big business in a neighbourhood but use dark fibre or underutilised fibre capacity from this job for offering infrastructure-level competition in that area.

As well, larger infrastructure operators who pass many premises in a market may be required to open up their infrastructure to telcos and Internet service providers that compete with their retail offering. This is something that ends up as a requirement for a highly-competitive telecommunications environment.

This kind of competition allows a retail-level telco or ISP to choose infrastructure for their service that offers them best value for money. This is more important for those retail-level ISPs and telcos who offer telecommunications and Internet to households and small businesses. As well, whenever a geographic area like a rural neighbourhood or new development is being prepared for high-speed broadband Internet, it means that the competing infrastructure providers are able to offer improved-value contracts for the provision of this service in that area.

Infrastructure-level competition also allows for the retail-level providers to innovate in providing their services without needing to risk much money in their provision. It can allow for niche providers such as high-performance gaming-focused ISPs or telcos that offer triple-play services to particular communities.

There is also an incentive amongst infrastructure providers to improve their customer service and serve neighbourhoods that wouldn’t otherwise be served. It is thanks to the risk of retail ISPs or their customers jumping to competitors if the infrastructure provider doesn’t “cut the mustard” in this field. As well, public spending on broadband access provision benefits due to the competition for infrastructure tenders for these projects.

What needs to happen

Build-over conditions

An issue commonly raised by independent infrastructure providers who are the first to wire-up a neighbourhood is the time they have exclusive access to that market. It is raised primarily in the UK by those independent infrastructure providers like Gigaclear or community infrastructure co-operatives like B4RN who have engaged in wiring up a rural community with next-generation fibre-optic broadband whether out of their pocket or with financial assistance from local government or local chambers of commerce.

This is more so where an established high-profile infrastructure provider that has big-name retail Internet providers on its books hasn’t wired-up that neighbourhood yet or is providing a service of lower capability compared to the independent provider who appeared first. For these independent operators, it is about making sure that they have a strong profile in that neighbourhood during their period of exclusivity.

Then, when the established infrastructure provider offers an Internet service of similar or better standard to the independent provider, the situation is described as a “build-over” condition. It then leads to the independent provider becoming a infrastructure-level competitor against the established provider which may impinge on cost recovery as far as the independent’s infrastructure is concerned. Questions that will come up include whether the independent operator should be compensated for loss of exclusivity in the neighbourhood, or allowing a retail ISP or telco who used the independent’s infrastructure to offer their service on the newcomer’s infrastructure.

Pits, Poles and Pipes

Another issue that will be raised is the matter of the physical infrastructure that houses the cable or fibre-optic wiring i.e. the pits, poles and pipes. These may be installed and owned by the telecommunications infrastructure provider for their own infrastructure or they may be installed and owned by a third-party operator like a utility or local council.

The first issue that can be raised is whether an infrastructure provider has exclusive access to particular physical infrastructure and whether they have to release the access to this infrastructure to competing providers. It doesn’t matter whether the infrastructure provider has their own physical infrastructure or gains access rights to physical infrastructure provided by someone else like a local government or utility company.

The second issue that also can crop up is access to public thoroughfares and private property to install and maintain infrastructure. This relates to legal access powers that government departments in charge of the jurisdiction’s regulated thoroughfares like roads and rails may provide to the infrastructure provider; or the wayleaves and easements negotiated between property owners and the infrastructure provider. In the context of competitive service, this may be about whether or not an easement, for example, is exclusive to a particular infrastructure provider.

Sustainable competition

Then there is the issue of sustainable competition within the area. This is where the competitors and the incumbent operator can make money by providing infrastructure-level Internet service yet the end-users have the benefits of a highly-competitive market. A market with too much competition can easily end up with premature consolidation where various retail or infrastructure providers cease to exist or end up merging.

Typically the number of operators that can sustainably compete may he assessed on the neighbourhood’s adult population count or the number of households and businesses within the neighbourhood. Also it can be assessed on the number of households and businesses that are actually taking up the broadband services or likely to do so in that neighbourhood.

Retail providers having access to multiple infrastructure providers

An issue that will affect retail-level telcos and ISPs is whether they have access to only one infrastructure operator or can benefit from access to multiple operators. This may be an issue where the infrastructure operators differ in attributes like maximum bandwidth or footprint and a major retail-level operator want to benefit from these different attributes.

In one of these situations, a retail-level broadband provider who wants to touch as many markets as possible may use one infrastructure provider for areas served by that provider. Then they use other providers that serve other areas that their preferred infrastructure provider doesn’t touch yet. This may also apply if they want to offer service plans with a particular specification offered by an infrastructure provider answering that specification but competing with the infrastructure provider they normally use.

Multiple-premises developments

Then there is the issue of multiple-premises buildings and developments where there is a desire to provide this level of service competition for the occupants but offer it in a cost-effective manner.

This may be answered by each infrastructure provider running their own wiring through the building but this approach leads to multiple wires and points installed at each premises. On the other hand, an infrastructure cable of a particular kind could be wired through the building and linked using switching / virtual-network technology to different street-side infrastructures. This could be based on cable technology like VDSL, Ethernet or fibre-optic so that infrastructure providers who use a particular technology for in-building provision use the infrastructure relating to that technology.

Estate-type developments with multiple buildings may have questions raised about them. Here, it may be about whether the infrastructure is to be provided and managed on a building-level basis or a development-wide basis. This can be more so where the multiple-building development is to be managed during its lifetime as though it is one entity comprising of many buildings.

Then there is the issue of whether the governing body of a multiple-premises development should be required to prevent infrastructure-provider exclusivity. This can crop up where an infrastructure provider or ISP pays the building manager or governing body of one of these developments to maintain infrastructure exclusivity perhaps by satisfying the governing body’s Internet needs for free for example.

In all of these cases, it would be about making sure that each premises in a multiple-premises development is able to gain access to the benefits of infrastructure-level competition.

Conclusion

The idea of infrastructure-level competition for broadband Internet is to be considered of importance as a way to hold dominant infrastructure providers to account. Similarly, it can be seen as a way to push proper broadband Internet service in to underserved areas whether with or without public money.

It is time for YouTube to face competition

Amazon Echo Show in kitchen press picture courtesy of Amazon

Google not allowing Amazon to provide a native client tor the popular YouTube service on the Echo Show highlights how much control they have over the user-generated video market

Over the last many years, YouTube established a name for itself regarding the delivery of user-generated video content through our computers. This included video created by ordinary householders ranging from the many puppy and kitten videos through to personal video travelogues. But a lot of professional video creators have used it to run showreels or simply host their regular content such as corporate videos and film trailers, with some TV channels even hosting shows for a long time on it.

After Google took over YouTube, there have been concerns about its availability across platforms other than the Web. One of the first instances that occurred was for Apple to be told to drop their native YouTube client from iOS with users having to install a Google-developed native client for this service on their iOS devices.

Recently, Google pulled YouTube from Amazon’s Echo Show device ostensibly due to it not having a good-enough user interface. But it is really down to Google wanting to integrate YouTube playback in to their Google Home and Chromecast platforms with the idea of running it as a feature exclusive to those voice-driven home assistant platforms.

YouTube Keyboard Cat

Could the Web be the only surefire place to see Keyboard Cat?

These instances can affect whether you will be able to view YouTube videos on your Smart TV, set-top box, games console, screen-equipped smart speaker or similar device. It will also affect whether a company who designs one of these devices can integrate YouTube functionality in to these devices in a native form or improve on this functionality through the device’s lifecycle. The concern will become stronger if the device or platform is intended to directly compete with something Google offers.

There are some video services like Vimeo and Dailymotion that offer support for user-generated and other video content. But these are services that are focused towards businesses or professionals who want to host video content and convey a level of uninterrupted concentration. This can be a limitation for small-time operators such as bloggers and community organisations who want to get their feet wet with video.

Facebook is starting to provide some form of competition in the form of their Watch service but this will require users to have presence on the Facebook social network, something that may not be desirable amongst some people. Amazon have opened up their Prime streaming-video platform to all sorts of video publishers and creators, positioning it as Amazon Video Direct. But this will require users to be part of the Amazon Prime platform.

But for people who publish to consumer-focused video services like YouTube, competition will require them to put content on all the services. For small-time video publishers who are focusing on video content, this will involve uploading to different platforms for a wider reach. On the other hand, one may have to use a video-distribution platform which allows for “upload once, deliver many” operation.

Competition could open up multiple options for publishers, equipment / platform designers, and end-users. For example, it could open up monetisation options for publishers’ works, simplify proper dealing with copyrighted works used within videos, open up native-client access for more platforms, amongst other things.

But there has to be enough competition to keep the market sustainable and each of the platforms must be able to support the ability to view a video without the user being required to create an account beforehand. The market should also support the existence of niche providers so as to cater to particular publishers’ and viewers needs.

In conclusion, competition could make it harder for YouTube to effectively “own” the user-generated consumer video market and control how this market operates including what devices the content appears on.

Competition arises for the online games storefront

Articles

GOG Galaxy client app (Windows)

GOG Galaxy client app (Windows)

Steam vs. GOG Galaxy: Which is service better for PC gamers? | Windows Central

Why I’m switching from Steam to GOG for PC gaming | Windows Central

From the horse’s mouth

Good Old Games (GOG)

Homepage

Galaxy client app

My Comments

When computer games developers moved away from delivering their game software to regular-computer users from packaged media to “download-to-own” digital delivery, there wasn’t really any competition. The options that become available were to supply the software through an online storefront that the developer creates for their imprints, a platform-specific app store run by the operating-system developer like Apple’s Mac App Store or Microsoft’s Windows Store, or to end up using Valve’s Steam online storefront.

Steam – the established games storefront

Steam was considered a good-quality online games storefront and gaming community but they got to that point where they became too proud of themselves and started to strip away desirable features or throw their weight around such as banning users for offering negative reviews.

The competition that is now rising up is Good Old Games or GOG for short. This electronic storefront and gaming community ran by CD Projekt have answered what computer gamers have always wanted. One of these is to offer value for money such as offering DLC (downloadable content – the extra content that extends a game’s value) as though it is part of the game rather than a separate title. Another was to offer DRM-free games that are really “download-to-own” along with underscoring an honour-driven carrot-based approach to tackling software piracy.

This means that you could do something like run the game without needing to be signed in to the storefront or be connected on the Internet. This can be of a bonus with those of us who use a laptop for gaming while away from home and you don’t have to lose your gaming content if GOG collapsed or was taken over by someone else. Some games can also benefit by allowing users to install copies of the game on multiple computers connected to the same network thus opening up to traditional network-based multi-player multi-machine gameplay. Thee is still the ability to save your game in the cloud along with a chat community which you would want to log in for.

One of the key features being drawn out is for GOG to support reissues of vintage and classic game titles. Here, they have revised these games to convey the same legacy feel that they offered yet are able to have them run on today’s hardware.

What I like about the rise of competition in the online retail games storefront space is that everyone involved has to treat their customers better and underscore value for money when it comes to selling games. It also means that there is pressure for these storefronts also to treat the games developers fairly and provide more avenues for these studios to sell their wares, rather than the developers having to reinvent the wheel by creating their own storefront every time they want to sell their games online in a location other than Steam or platform-specific app stores.

It could be seen as GOG being like the “indie” bookstore, record store or video store that appear in inner-urban areas of the major cities, the college towns or other areas that have that “cool” factor. This is compared to Steam positioning itself like one of the major book, music or video store chains that appears in most suburban areas or regional cities.

Similarly, it could open up the idea of Amazon and other online storefronts reaching towards the “regular-computer” gaming scene by setting up their own gaming storefronts. Here, it can lead to a vibrant multi-platform regular-computer (Windows/Mac/Linux) gaming marketplace that pleases both the gamers out there as well as the games developers including the indie studios. As well, like what is happening with the video-on-demand marketplace, it can open up the idea of niche gaming storefronts that cater to particular classes of gamers.

It is the sign of things to come for regular-computer gaming to see multiple retail online games storefronts starting to appear thanks to GOG.

Congress attempts to restore competition to telephony and Internet in the USA

Article

Eshoo Pushes Bill to Prevent Protectionist State Broadband Laws | Broadband News & DSL Reports

My Comments

AT&T Touch-Tone phone - image courtesy of CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=936797

Is the US telecommunications industry heading back to the days of these phones?

An issue that I have been regularly covering is the reduction of competitive telephony and broadband service in the USA. This is thanks to incumbent “Baby Bell” telcos and cable-TV companies effectively paying state governments to pass legislation to proAhibit local governments from setting up their own broadband infrastructure to compete with these established providers.

The FCC had attempted to use its federal mandate to override these laws but these efforts were being struck down thanks to litigation instigated by these established companies. Again this was leading towards a telecommunications and Internet-service environment that is reminiscent of the “Ma Bell” era, with the price-gouging, poor customer service and onerous terms and conditions.

But Anna Eshoo, a Democrat who represents the Silicon-Valley area in the House of Representatives, had submitted a bill to Congress in order to assure the provision of infrastructure-level competition by local governments and communities. Here, this law – the Community Broadband Act of 2016 (PDF) would prohibit state governments from passing the telco-funded legislation that proscribes this infrastructure.

There is some doubt about the proposed legislation becoming law thanks to the US Congress also being subjected to lobbying and graft from big-business interests including the telecommunications and cable-TV cartels. But most of the US’s consumer-advocacy groups are behind the law in order to defend a competitive telecommunications and Internet market.

One major quote that was called out was the fact that the current situation is placing rural communities at a disadvantage because the “Baby Bells” or cable-TV companies wouldn’t either roll out decent-standard broadband or people in those areas would be paying monopoly prices for poor service.

As I have said before, the telecommunications and Internet-service market in the USA would need to be under strong surveillance in the context of antitrust and competition issues. This would include control over company mergers and acquisitions; and even the issue of whether legal action similar to what was initiated in 1974 with “Ma Bell” needs to take place with Comcast, AT&T and co.

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=936797

AT&T charging less for Gigabit Internet service in some cities–Why?

Article US Flag By Dbenbenn, Zscout370, Jacobolus, Indolences, Technion. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Want cheaper AT&T gigabit service? Move to a Google Fiber city | The Register

My Comments

Linksys EA8500 broadband router press picture courtesy of Linksys USA

A competitive Internet service market coming to more US cities

Regular readers will know about Google Fiber showing up in an increasing number of US cities and bringing real competition to the US fixed-line broadband Internet market.

Before Google Fiber came to these cities, there was a very cosy cartel between the local “Baby Bell” telecommunications company who provided DSL Internet service and the local cable TV company who provided cable Internet service. This led to a woeful Internet experience where there wasn’t value for money and, in some cases, there was poor customer service, something that affected householders and small-business owners in most of the USA. The big telcos and the cable TV companies even were working with state governments to frustrate the creation of competitive services so that they can maintain the status quo.

Now the presence of Google Fiber has even raised the idea that you could sign up to AT&T’s 1Gbit/s GigaPower service for an ask of US$70 in Nashville or Atlanta while the same service would go for US$110. There was even a situation in Raleigh where the existing ISPs were deploying high-speed networks in that city with a photo of AT&T’s U-Verse announcement door hanger on someone’s front door appearing in the comments trail of that article.

Personally, I would see it become real that any American city that Google Fiber touches will become an attractive city to live or run a small business in because the costs of decent Internet service have reduced due to the arrival of competition.

Keep up the work, FCC and the competing Internet service providers including Google!

Achieving the goal of a competitive Internet service

Linksys EA8500 broadband router press picture courtesy of Linksys USA

A competitive Internet service market is lively and for the end user

The common problem

A market with one Internet-service player, described as a monopoly, is at risk of poor customer service and prices that don’t represent real value.  A similar situation can occur where there are two or three players colluding together and this can be described as a cartel or oligopoly.

In some situations, the Internet service providers can engage in activities that are hostile to the customer such as bandwidth limiting, contracts with onerous terms and conditions or simply refusing to invest in the Internet service they provide.

How is the Internet service constructed?

The Internet service that we buy consists of various components, namely the wired or wireless infrastructure that brings the service to the customer’s door, the off-ramps from various national and global Internet backbones and the Internet services which are provided on a retail basis to the customers.

Ownership approaches

The North American approach

Infrastructure for the exclusive use of the communications company

In the USA and Canada, the retail Internet service is provided by companies who own the infrastructure, the off-ramps from the backbones along with the “to-the-customer” functions. Sadly this has led to a situation where few companies exist to provide this service – one for each wired or wireless broadband medium. This is represented by a cable-TV firm providing cable-modem service, a “Baby Bell” telephone company offering ADSL or fibre-optic service along with one or two wireless (cellular) telephone providers offering mobile broadband.

The European model

An established telephony infrastructure owned by the incumbent telephony company but leased to other ISPs.

But in Europe, Asia and Oceania, there is a different approach. This is where multiple companies, including the incumbent telephony companies provided wholesale Internet service which was sold by different retail ISPs that used the same physical infrastructure which was the copper telephone cabling.

These countries typically had an incumbent telecommunications company that was initially part of the national government’s post-telephone-telegraph ministry and was typically split from the post office, ran as a government entity then fully privatised. Such companies were often charged with providing the universal telephone service including the public payphones installed in the streets and managing the national emergency telephone service i.e. 999, 000 or 112 and they owned the abovementioned established telephone infrastructure.

But there was still the ability for other companies like cable-TV companies to use other wired and wireless infrastructure for their Internet offerings.

The problem here was that the incumbent telephony provider “taxed” the other providers for using the established telephone infrastructure to provide an ADSL service in an unfair manner, such as by requiring the rental of their equipment and requiring customers to subscribe to a local “dial-tone” telephony service through these providers even if they just want Internet service.

Key issues

Access to established infrastructure by competitors

One issue that is always raised is allowing competing telecommunications providers to have access to established telecommunications infrastructure, especially wireline infrastructure. There were issues where the incumbent telecommunications company would frustrate this access through onerous costs or service requirements levied on competing providers and their customers who wanted to use this infrastructure.

Unbundling the connection between the customer’s premises and the exchange

Instead, this has lead to the arrival of “local loop unbundling” or “dégroupage” where the wires between the customer’s door and the telephone exchange were effectively handed over to the competing operator. Typically this is facilitated through the incumbent telco renting rack-space in their exchanges out to competing operators and connecting the subscriber to the competing ISP’s equipment in that rack-space. A variant of this technique is “sub-loop unbundling” where the competitor connects to the subscriber at the local telecommunications distribution point in the street or the telecommunications wiring closet in a multiple-tenancy building.

ADSL service that is independent of dial-tone telephony service

Another tactic is to allow the sale of a “naked” or “dry-loop” DSL service which doesn’t require the customer to rent a local “dial-tone” telephony service from the incumbent telco. This meant that the wires were just to be used just to provide Internet access and a voice telephony service was either provided as a VoIP service or the customer had to subscribe to a mobile telephone service. This has been practices in Australia, France and a few other countries but not in the UK.

This service appeals also to customers who used to maintain a separate telephone line for a fax machine or dial-up Internet but want to use those wires for a dedicated ADSL data path with all the benefits of better throughput.  They can maintain their main telephone line for their classic voice telephone service with a traditional telephone as a “lifeline” independent of local power conditions or a “catch-all” phone number for the household.

Removal of infrastructure control from the incumbent telco

But this elephant of monopolistic practices didn’t go away while the incumbent telco had control of the wires to the customer’s door. Instead, some countries used various procedures to remove the infrastructure from the incumbent telco’s control and either require these assets to be divested to a separate company or to be nationalised where they owned by the nation’s government.

If this was a separate legal company that was owned by the telco, the situation was called “functional separation”. This would require the telco to sell retail service through its own entity while access is sold via that separate legal entity.An example of this is BT Openreach who maintains the infrastructure for the UK’s telephony and Internet service while BT supplies retail telephony and Internet service to customers but competitors use Openreach to provide telephony and Internet service.

On the other hand. “full separation” would require the infrastructure to be nationalised or owned by another entirely different business entity and the incumbent telco would be required to rent the infrastructure and use the infrastructure to sell their telecommunications services. This is while competitors can rent this same infrastructure to sell their telecommunications services.

Competing infrastructure providers

There has been the creation of competitive infrastructure, typically in the form of coaxial cable by cable-TV providers and cellular radio setups for mobile-telephony services. These were then set up for Internet service through the gradual evolution of technology. Similarly, some towns had their own copper and fibre infrastructure that was owned by a separate entity to provide a telecommunications service for that area or leased back to the incumbent telco.

But this idea was taken up in a strong manner in some markets where competing infrastructure companies who just owned the wires and leased these wires to other providers and/or offered a retail Internet service to these markets. The UK have moved along this path with some fibre-optic deployments in rural areas, more as a way to seek independence from British Telecom. It is a similar path in France where multiple retail ISPs established partnerships who owned particular fibre-optic infrastructure.

An issue that is being examined by regulators is the ability for competing interests to build infrastructure of the same technology in the same area for the same purpose, commonly described as “build-over”. This could allow a retail ISP to choose a particular infrastructure for the best package or allow them to provide the same service across multiple infrastructures.

Similarly, in North America, the established telcos and cable-TV companies were paying US state governments to prohibit the deployment of infrastructure for competing Internet service. It was perceived as a way to stop local government and other public-minded organisations from spending public money on providing free wireless Internet as a community service in competition to the established operators. This allowed for comfortable oligopolies to exist between these established players and, among other things, had ruined the quality of service and value for money Internet users experienced.

Google and a few other private operators set up Gigabit fibre Internet service at prices that most could afford in a few neighbourhoods using their own infrastructure and this opened up the floodgates of competition. This along with various laws and regulations put up by Uncle Sam had improved access to Internet service which was about better value for money.

Pay-TV and multiple-play services

Foxtel IQ2 pay-TV PVR

Access to desirable content by all Pay-TV providers including telcos and ISPs helps with competitive Internet service

Another issue that is creeping up in some markets is the provision of subscription multiple-channel TV. This was typically provided by a cable-TV provider or a satellite-TV provider who owned the infrastructure on an “end-to-end” model.

But there is interest amongst telecommunications and Internet providers in the concept of providing a pay-TV service as part of a “multiple-play” offering, something which the traditional cable-TV providers could do with their infrastructure. These “multiple-play” packages typically include landline telephony, pay-TV and/or broadband Internet with some packages offering mobile telephony and mobile broadband Internet.

Such services appeal to most of us because of the ability to have “all the eggs in one basket” with only one account to think of and pay to obtain telephony, pay-TV and Internet.

Previously, a telco or ISP would deliver these services if they had a contractural arrangement with a cable-TV or satellite-TV provider and this involved installation of extra infrastructure at the customer’s premises. Now this involves a “single-pipe triple-play” setup based on IPTV technology which makes it feasible for an ADSL-based or fibre-based provider to offer multichannel pay-TV as part of their service offerings without needing to support new infrastructure.

These providers may run their own pay-TV service such as what Telstra, BT and most of the French ISPs do and solicit the content to show on these services themselves. On the other hand, they would sign up to an IPTV franchise which solicits the content itself and provides it to multiple telcos and ISPs. An example of this is the Australian Fetch TV franchise who offers pay TV to independent ISPs. In some cases, a traditional pay-TV provider could offer their services as an IPTV service as well as through their own end-to-end infrastructure and franchise it to ISPs and telcos.

Access to desirable TV content

A problem that is showing up in the UK and could show up in Australia and other markets where there is a dominant pay-TV provider like Sky or Foxtel is the availability of desirable TV content, whether as particular channels or shows, only through that dominant TV provider rather than through other pay-TV services like IPTV services.

Typically a content provider like Viacom or the BBC would offer channels of particular content like MTV, Comedy Central or BBC First for people to subscribe to. A dominant pay-TV provider would obtain the content on an exclusive basis so that a competing pay-TV provider like a telco or IPTV franchise can’t make these channels available to their customers for the duration of the contract.

This is augmented if the local outpost of a particular channel which is supplied via the dominant pay-TV provider obtains exclusive TV rights to a popular sports event or movie. The UK example would be for Sky Sports owned by Sky TV obtaining exclusive rights to the  Premier League soccer (association football) matches while the Australian example is for one of Foxtel’s premium channels to obtain exclusive rights to “Game Of Thrones”. Here, they can play a rough hand with these shows by: running them on premium channels only available to “platinum-package” subscribers, even making it hard for commercial (hotel/restaurant/bar) subscribers to play these shows; not completing their screening obligations in order to inhibit access to the show by free-to-air TV, “over-the-top” video-on-demand services or home video; or even trying to frustrate access to radio-broadcast or online-service rights for the hot games so you can’t get play-by-play commentary unless you subscribe to their sports channel.

Such situations lead to customers taking out multiple pay-TV subscriptions and dealing with multiple set-top boxes in order to get the video content that they want. That is if the dominant pay-TV provider will only deliver their service in an “end-to-end” fashion requiring the customer to install their infrastructure and set-top box.

Personally, I would like to see limitations placed on exclusive-access contracts for pay-TV channels so that a particular MVPD (multichannel video programming distributor – a Pay-TV provider) cannot tie up channels for their own exclusive access. It could be facilitated through an open “wholesale-retail” market for each content provider and pay-TV provider where content packages and channels are sold to pay-TV providers as though the content provider is a wholesaler and the pay-TV provider is a retailer.

In the USA, the FCC have achieved this goal with satellite TV by making it hard for cable-TV companies to tie up content so that DirecTV and DISH can’t screen that content or have to pay too much. They are working towards extending the rules about that situation to encompass telcos and others using IPTV methods.

There will be other issues that need to be looked at such as differentiating between “first-run” and repertory screening when determining the conditions of a contract affecting a show’s broadcast in order to prohibit tying up of shows so it takes too long for them to appear on home video or other screening platforms.

Net Neutrality

Another key issue that is raised in the context of Internet services is Net Neutrality. This is where everyone has equal access to the Internet as a highway.

It is compared to practices by various telcos and ISPs who would make it hard for customers to gain access to Internet services unless the company providing these services paid the ISP for a high-throughput path. This was feared because it would make it harder for small-time publishers and new startups to be seen by their customers.

It has been the subject of debate and is something I mention in the same breath as competitive Internet service. A competitive Internet market would provide proper benefit to customers in the form of value for money and if a customer couldn’t benefit from a particular Internet resource like, say, Wikipedia; they would want to “jump ship” to someone who provided the proper throughput.

Conclusion

To maintain a healthy Internet-service market that allows us to make the best use of this technology, there needs to be a strong effort to assure sustainable competition. This includes government departments that oversee telecommunications and competitive-market issues maintaining that level of competition by removing encumbrances and protections for established operators along with limiting market consolidation.

Google’s impending arrival in Raleigh raises the bar for Internet service quality

Article

Linksys EA8500 broadband router press picture courtesy of Linksys USA

Competition for Internet service is real where Google Fiber passes

Google Fiber Network Build underway in Raleigh | Broadband News & DSL Reports

From the horse’s mouth

Google Fiber

Deployment Page for Raleigh-Durham

My Comments

Google had just started rolling out their Google Fiber next-generation broadband service in Raleigh, North Carolina. But even when Google announced the impending arrival of this service to that neighbourhood, the existing ISPs took notice and were suddenly on their good behaviour.

They were infact rolling out higher-speed networks or improving the speed of their networks in that area. Someone posted in to the article’s comments thread a picture of an AT&T door hanger on his front door announcing the arrival of their improved U-Verse fibre-optic service in the commenter’s neighbourhood.

What is showing up in that once some serious competition comes on the scene, the existing carriers will do their best to keep their customers. But Uncle Sam still needs to work hard to encourage this competition by overriding any state laws or local ordinances written at the behest of the cable-TV / Baby-Bell cartels that control the Internet service in those neighbourhoods.

Four-play service competition intense on both sides of the Channel

Article

Brit mobile firms in FOURPLAY TUSSLE – how very French of them | The Register

My Comments

Same level of competition for quad-play services in France and the UK

Same level of competition for quad-play services in France and the UK

France and the UK have recently become hotbeds for Internet-service competition whether at a pure-play (single-service) level or with packages that integrate landline telephony, fixed broadband Internet and / or multichannel pay TV. Those companies typically are offering this service via a “single-pipe” setup with some of them reselling content and services from competitors who offer it on a wholesale basis if they can’t sell it directly.

This has been due to government telecommunications and competitive-trade authorities enforcing real competition through measures like stopping incumbent operators from selling wholesale service to competitors under unfair terms compared to their retail offerings. As well, in France, it took Free to offer broadband and triple-play packages with increased value at ridiculously-low prices to effectively “shake up” the market and start this level of competition.

Samsung Galaxy Note 2 smartphone

The smartphone to be part of cost-effective home telecommunications and pay-TV packages in the UK

Now this is being expanded towards “four-play” or “quadruple-play” services that include mobile telecommunications along with the fixed telephony, “hot and cold running Internet” and pay TV. This is facilitated typically through their own mobile networks or buying mobile telecommunications from an established. typically pure-play, mobile operator on a wholesale basis as a “mobile virtual network”. Some companies may call the mobile broadband service as a distinct service and describe the packages that include this service as “five-play” or “quintuple-play” packages.

Over previous years, France has established an example of a healthy competitive market for this level of telecommunications and entertainment service. This is with all their telcos and broadband operators offering the “boxes” which integrated telephony, broadband and pay TV at some very keen prices, something I have covered regularly on HomeNetworking01.info. But most of these providers either have their own mobile infrastructure over the country or are putting themselves in a position to set up mobile virtual networks that they resell with their packages. An example of this is Free selling mobile telephony to their customers for an extra cost that is effectively “pennies’ worth”.

The way this level of service has come about for a lot of the UK operators is through varying levels of consolidation and business partnerships. A lot of these consolidations and partnerships have been with the companies who offer one or more services that can complement their own service packages to construct the “quad-play” package. But one of the situations that this has led to is for BT who sold off their Cellnet mobile-telephony service to O2 which is part of Spain’s Telefonica company in the 1990s, wanting to buy back the mobile network from this telco to run as the “mobile arm” of their quad-play package.

The directions that this could lead to include the availability of private femtocells that provide local mobile-phone coverage for the customer with the broadband connection serving as a backhaul or “cellular over Wi-Fi” for voice calls on one’s smartphone; TV Everywhere which is about access to the pay-TV packages anywhere in the country with your laptop or mobile device; and integrated landline / mobile telephony setups i.e. to receive calls destined to your landline on your mobile phone for no extra cost or call from home using your mobile phone at home-phone tariffs. As well, multiple-mobile-device Internet service could become very much part of the packages which can cater to those of us who maintain more than one mobile-broadband device like a “Mi-Fi” device.

Even integration of “over-the-top” telephony services like Skype and Viber could become the norm for these service providers by allowing customers to make or take calls through these services via either the mobile or the landline phone for nothing.

Other countries like the USA, Germany or Australia could be highly aware of this level of competition and know how to be prepared when it hits their shores or to know how to encourage it in a viable and sustainable manner.