Thursday, August 04, 2005

DSL markets (US and Europe) moving in opposite directions

What's new? Reuters reports that the FCC postponed a meeting, hoping it could decide on DSL-based broadband. After cable modem internet service was declared an information service by the Supreme Court recently, the FCC-chairman Kevin Martin wants the same status for DSL-based internet. That would level the playing field. At the same time, the German regulator is lowering charges and tariffs for access to Deutsche Telekom facilities, supposedly to levels that are among the lowest in the country. This should stimulate facilities-based competition.

What's the relevance? Basically, good news for the Bells (Verizon, SBC, BellSouth, Qwest) in the US and the unbundlers in Germany; bad news for US resellers such as EarthLink. Facilities-based competitors in the US, mainly Covad, covering 50% of the population, seem unharmed.

What is an information service? If DSL is declared an information service, as opposed to a telecommunications service, regulation hardly applies. This means that the Bells will no longer be obligated to lease their DSL-infrastructure at regulated prices. Similiarly, in wireless communications virtual operators (MVNOs) only exist on mutual understandings between the network owner (e.g. T-Mobile or Sprint) and a company like Virgin. Virgin has several MVNO joint ventures worldwide. The network owner gains by collecting wholesale revenues (although at lower margins, but without having to do any marketing). It is left to the MVNO to market a specific niche. In the case of Virgin, it is youths.

What are unbundlers? In Germany, several carriers are building out DSL-infrastructure (DSLAMs) in Deutsche Telekom central offices: Arcor (still part of Vodafone), Telefonica Deutschland (a Telefonica unit specilising in wholesale DSL, with a company like acting as retailer) and Telecom Italia (that wants to extend its HanseNet brand nationwide). And after Tele2 acquires Versatel and sells the German asets to APAX, the latter company wants to make Versatel Deutschland (or whatever the brand will be) a national player as well. This installing of DSLAMs means taking over the local loop (the 'last mile' of the copper wire) and the customer relation form the PTT. This process is known as 'local loop unbundling' (LLU). The same is happening all over Europe and Japan. French Iliad (brand name is among the most famous. Its DSLAMs allow it to offer the full triple play.

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