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What an eventful year 2010 has proven to be! We saw a new coalition Government take power; we lost yet another World Cup; we saw a number of terrible natural disasters including the Haiti earthquake and the Pakistan floods; volcanic ash grounded our planes; students rioted over tuition fees; the iPhone 4 and iPad were launched; and the winter Olympics were held in Vancouver. But enough about all that – what happened in the Internet industry? Our recap of 2010 highlights some of the most topical issues that affected the industry this year.

Elsa Chen, General Manager

Elsa Chen, General Manager

The most controversial of them all
Let’s start with arguably the most controversial story of the year – the Digital Economy Bill. We started covering this highly controversial topic back in 2009 but during 2010 we saw this Bill become an Act (DEA) as it was hastily pushed through the pre-election wash-up, much to the dismay of its opponents, which include Entanet. However, there is some good news. A judicial review called for by BT and TalkTalk was granted in November and is expected to be held in April 2011.

Unsurprisingly, the DEA’s supporters are opposing the review and continue to insist that it is satisfactory. Just last week news broke that FAST (Federation Against Software Theft) has organised an event at the House of Commons on 12th January 2011 to ‘discuss’ the topics surrounding the DEA well before the full hearing is expected.

For those unaware of the DEA, one of its most controversial features is the way in which it poses to tackle illegal file sharing. Offenders will be indentified based on the highly unreliable method of using IP addresses and ISPs will be forced to adopt a three strikes approach, which consists of sending warning letters and could result in people being disconnected from the Internet. This obviously causes a number of concerns. Not only is the method of identifying offenders fundamentally flawed as IP addresses can be easily hacked or spoofed, it will also cause significant problems for businesses such as hotels and restaurants which offer Wi-Fi, as they will be held responsible for the online actions of their customers.

Many ISPs also feel that the punishment is disproportionate to the offence and are concerned that these measures will not succeed in identifying and punishing the real offenders who are likely to go underground, making it even harder to find and prosecute them.

A well known band voiced their opinions on this subject earlier this year and our counter argument led to our most well read opinion article to date. Back in January, U2 front man Bono warned his creative peers to ‘beware the evils of the Internet’ and to be especially wary of us ‘greedy’ ISPs. We swiftly responded suggesting that rather than oppose the Internet, perhaps creative types should embrace the new opportunities it could provide much like Radiohead and Ash have done in the past.

However U2 obviously didn’t listen to our advice as in September their manager reportedly continued the debate. Yet again we felt the need to respond and suggested they should stick to the music.

But the DEA is not all bad. It’s also behind the 2Mbps USC which promises to deliver a minimum broadband service of 2Mbps to 100% of the UK by 2015. Whilst we have in the past argued that 2Mbps is far from fast enough, especially by 2015, at least it is a start. Plus the Government’s recently published superfast broadband plans remind us that this is just the first target and that they hope to achieve 30Mbps to all UK residents by 2020.

So what’s in store for 2011?
Well we already know that the judicial review hearing will be held by April, so we just need to keep our fingers crossed until then that the Government will finally see sense and amend it. They have already seen fit to drop the 50p broadband tax so they do come to their senses from time to time.

Google – Hero or villain?
Google went from hero to zero for many throughout the course of 2010. In January the company fell out with China over alleged cyber attacks on Gmail accounts. A few months later Google announced its decision to withdraw from China and closed down its google.cn site. Critics argued this was less to do with China’s strict privacy laws and more to do with the declining market share Google held in China, but either way the move was welcomed by human rights advocates throughout the world.

However by August 2010 Google was back in the limelight, this time regarding a potential deal with Verizon in the US. At first glance the deal appeared to support the much debated principle of net neutrality. However on closer inspection major concerns were raised regarding potential loopholes for ‘differentiated content’ and the fact that their proposals would not apply to wireless providers.

The concern once again was the potential for a two tiered Internet to be created which could easily lead to anti-competitive behaviour.

At the time, all of this was happening in the US and the UK wasn’t being affected but that all changed in October when Ofcom announced it would not enforce net neutrality in the UK. We argued that the concept of net neutrality needs to be protected and that the only way to adequately ensure this is through regulation. ISPs including TalkTalk and BT have already stated that they would consider making deals with content providers and it is this kind of activity that could easily lead to anti-competitive behaviour and see the Internet change forever.

So what’s in store for 2011?
The debate over net neutrality has raged on since the Internet began and news broke just yesterday that in the US the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) has introduced new rules that could see the end of net neutrality and the Internet as we know it (in the US that is). The new rules will allow US providers to charge a premium for access to bandwidth heavy services such as YouTube and could lead to the creation of the feared ‘tiered’ Internet.

Whilst Ofcom insists regulation is not necessary as the UK’s market is highly competitive, only time will tell if this holds true or if anti-competitive behaviour creeps in as feared. The news from the US is concerning for net neutrality supporters as where the US leads, the UK often follows. As we have found so many times in the past, it’s much harder to put things right once they have gone wrong than it is to protect a principle in the first place. This is definitely one to watch in 2011.

What ever happened to…?

The IMP (Interception Modernisation Programme)
We last reported on the IMP back in February when, despite a backlash from the Internet industry, the then Government planned to continue with the project. The IMP would be the largest surveillance system ever created in the UK and would require a live tap to be placed on every electronic communication in Britain including phone calls, emails and website visits.

Unsurprisingly this project faced huge amounts of criticism from privacy advocates and the ISPs who would be responsible for gathering and storing the required data. We argued that forgetting the massive ethical concerns the project simply wasn’t feasible. The cost to store and maintain the vast amounts of data would be immense.

When the coalition Government took power they planned to scrap the project, promising to “end the storage of internet and email records without good reason”. However in October a number of reports suggested the initial plans would be resurrected.

These reports were discarded by the Liberal Democrats who argued that the IMP would not be restarted, although it appears the Prime Minister is yet to give a definitive answer on this subject. So until we get that definite no, anything is possible. Although we doubt this will resurface, if not purely down to the £2billion budget it was expected to require.

ACTA (Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement)
Earlier this year we covered the controversial ACTA talks which were being held in secrecy between our Government and several other countries. At the time Lord Mandelson had refused to put documents containing details of the talks in the House of Commons library, to the annoyance of many of his colleagues.

In April the secrecy shroud was finally lifted when the EU published details of the talks and clarified a number of rumours that had been floating about in the press. Several reviews have been held since and the final text officially published at the beginning of December.

Hardly surprisingly FAST were amongst the first to criticise the final text, arguing that it doesn’t go far enough to penalise offenders, although they were happier with the damages section. Whilst this is supposedly the ‘final’ text I expect this debate will continue into 2011 and we will be watching this space to see if any further amendments are made.

The infamous ACS
In September the fortunes of ACS turned when they were hit by a DDoS attack which left details of their private emails strewn across the web. In the backlash emails from Entanet were publicised which were misinterpreted by some readers and we would like to put the record straight on this once and for all.

Entanet has only ever provided details of our customers to ACS when forced to do so by court orders. When doing so we are within our rights to charge an administration fee for this request which is the charge detailed in these emails. We have never provided details to ACS without a court order forcing us to do so. Neither have we provided them to ACS within any kind of arrangement specifically for ‘commercial gain’.

In these leaked emails ACS were quoted as saying “I think pursuing individual infringers’ will “scare” them into paying up, more than what Lawdit or other representative would advise their client.” Thankfully Andrew Crossley, the owner of ACS, may finally get what he deserves as the SRA (Solicitors Regulation Authority) is planning to hold a disciplinary hearing against him next year and the ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office) are looking into prosecution for the data leak which could result in a fine of up to £500,000. We will definitely be watching this one closely!

The hot debates of 2010
This year has seen a number of topical industry debates thrashed out in the press. This includes the demise of ‘unlimited’ broadband and the slow industry adoption of IPv6. Here is just a quick summary of our coverage on these key issues throughout 2010:

The demise of unlimited broadband
In July, Sebastien Lahtinen, co-founder of thinkbroadband.com guest blogged on this subject and argued that due to a number of market and technological constraints there is no longer such a thing as truly ‘unlimited’ broadband. He argued that broadband will always be restricted by at least one of several factors due to an ISP’s requirement to manage increasing levels of traffic across their networks and increases in demand for bandwidth heavy content.

We agree with Sebastien and that is why our broadband packages have a clear included monthly bandwidth limit. We agree that ISPs need to be transparent about their packages, FUPs, inclusive allowances and network management.

The slow adoption of IPv6
On an almost monthly basis we seem to be hearing more and more about the dwindling numbers of available IPv4 addresses. The latest predictions forecast that all IPv4 addresses will be consumed before the end of 2011. So why has the industry been slow to adopt IPv6? As we have previously discussed, the adoption of IPv6 requires ISPs to invest further in their networks in order to support the address and often requires end users to upgrade their own equipment. Whilst demand amongst consumers for IPv6 is low and some, albeit a small number, of IPv4 addresses remain, ISPs have been reluctant to invest further to support IPv6. Entanet however has already made this commitment and is able to support both IPv4 and IPv6. As the remaining numbers fall quickly, this will be an interesting story to follow throughout 2011. Will there be a last minute panic by those ISPs that have not yet invested? We will have to wait and see.

Having your say

Our regular readers will know that we actively encourage participation on opinion.enta.net and you can tell us your thoughts on any of our articles by leaving us a comment, rating our articles or by participating in our polls.

This year the article that received the most reads was by far the “Bono –stick to singing!” article which really seemed to strike a chord (excuse the pun) with many of you as it was also the article that received the highest number of comments and the most votes.

Our informative article on Annex M titled “Annex M- What’s it all about?” was also amongst the most popular whilst other popular articles included the guest blog from Sebastien Lahtinen, founder of ISP comparison site Thinkbroadband.com titled “Unlimited broadband: Fact or Fiction?”, the follow up U2 article, “Update – U2 stick to the music” and our coverage of the DEA in our “DEA –the end is nigh” piece.

The polls have also proved very popular this year with your favourite being the poll about BT workers striking, although this could have something to do with the fact that a link to our poll was posted on a BT worker’s Facebook group. Unsurprisingly the results of the poll showed that an overwhelming majority of 91% agreed that the workers were right to strike.

Other popular polls included “BT’s fibre-based broadband will cover 66% of UK users and offer speeds up to 40-100Mbps. Is this good news to you?” and our coverage of broadband advertising speeds and the 50p broadband tax. 57% of you were pleased with the availability of fibre based broadband, 45% argued that “Accurate speed data should be given before sign up if ISPs advertise headline speeds”, whilst opinion was divided on the 50p broadband tax with 30% arguing it was “A step in the right direction but not the best approach”, 30% arguing “Availability should be left to the operators”, 20% believing it was “A great way of solving the digital divide” and 20% admitting they didn’t know anything about the tax (by willis). Not that it really matters anymore as the tax was dropped earlier this year.

Predictions for 2011
So, based on our coverage of 2010 what do we think 2011 will hold in store? Well we will undoubtedly continue to discuss the DEA well into the next year, at least up to April when we can expect the High Court’s judicial review. We will also be closely tracking the progress of the 2Mbps USC and preparations for the future EU targets of 30Mbps by 2020.

I also believe the subject of net neutrality will be one to watch over the next twelve months as the industry continues to debate the best approach. Will anti-competitive behaviour surface?  If IPv4 addresses run out as predicted before the end of 2011 it will be interesting to see the impact this has on the industry – will there be a panic as ISPs rush to update their networks to support the newer IPv6 replacements?

We will just have to wait and see but please keep checking back regularly to view our latest coverage of topical industry issues.

Have your say!

So what do you think have been the high points and low points for the Internet industry during 2010? Let us know your thoughts by leaving us a comment below.

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