E-markets, Oftel and ICANN

Summary:Robin Bloor and his team of expert analysts take a look back at three of the week's biggest developments: the latest Oftel/BT pact, the latest emarkeplace research, and the future of domain names

Robin Bloor and his team of expert analysts take a look back at three of the week's biggest developments: the latest Oftel/BT pact, the latest emarkeplace research, and the future of domain names

Good news from BT and Oftel! Well, it's that time of year again. No, nothing to do with Christmas. It's the season when BT and Oftel try to convince a highly sceptical public that they are both doing sterling work. So we thought we'd just take a look at the latest news. Let's start off by looking at a rumour that BT is nearly ready to offer users unmetered local calls (both voice and data) during off peak hours in return for a fixed monthly fee. The offer, thought to be branded as "BT Together Local", would be an extension of the current BT package, "BT Together", which provides line rental and up to 200 minutes of free off peak calls (valued at 80p) for a fee of £11.99 a month. It's believed that the new package would cost around £20 a month, including line rental. A quick bout of maths indicates that the new offering would make economic sense for any consumers who make around 30 - 37 hours of off peak local calls a month, every month. Given all of the problems surrounding "free internet" services, this might look appealing - until one delves into the detail. For instance, it's reported that any calls exceeding one hour in duration will attract charges. OK, so write a small batch program to kick you off after 58 minutes. Unfortunately the service won't, it is believed, cater for local rate call numbers that are not "geographic", such as the 0845 numbers much used by internet companies. Thus BT kills off this possible usage in one masterstroke of the pen and manages to contain call volumes to profitable levels without risking a flood. It seems to us that there may not be too many people out there who find it "good to talk" for so long each and every month. We wait to see if Oftel will take any stance on this potential new offering and its in-built limitations. E-marketplaces: separating fact from fiction Hardly a day goes by without the announcement of a new electronic marketplace. Yet a recent survey suggests that delivering on the promises is proving difficult. A.T. Kearney studied 17 exchanges and wasn't impressed. The key issues were identified as content, collaboration and commerce. One of the companies studied acknowledged the weaknesses, saying they reflected the newness of exchanges. The spokesman added that capabilities were evolving rapidly to meet the criticisms. Exchanges have been seen as a benchmark for progress of business-to-business (B2B) transactions. Suppliers have said they are struggling to interface to multiple exchanges. Standards are sketchy and vendors have been reluctant to build interface tools that cut through the compatibility problems. Linking procurement tools and exchange technologies has been a way to lock in customers. The basic technologies for B2B transactions are clear enough. They involve the standard internet communications protocols and XML to carry the data. Although XML is widely accepted in principle, its adoption in practice requires further work on the definition of trading documents. Here again, vendor rivalries have combined with sluggishness of standards groups to result in slow progress. The attempt to get exchanges up and running is typical of the rush to implementation that is currently so popular. "Time to market" is the refrain. The state of exchanges suggests that however great the enthusiasm, there will still be constraints. No doubt many IT operations have become mired in the problems that inevitably accumulate. But it's healthy to aim at breaking free of the bonds of the past. IT must cope with the fast moving business environment as best it may. Yet there are limits. Sound engineering of new IT systems cannot be achieved effortlessly and squeezing schedules too hard results in either cost overruns or quality problems. Sometimes we just have to remember that patience is a virtue. Democracy on the internet? The voting's over and the results are in. Yes, the most important internet poll this month has finished with the election of five new members to the at-large board of ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. ICANN oversees internet domain names, IP addresses and the operation of the net's root servers. At this moment in time the 19 member board of ICANN is in the process of selecting new top level domain (TLD) names to supplement the existing .com, .org, .edu, .gov, .int, .mil, .org and .net addresses. The range of suggested TLD names under consideration is enormous and the whole procedure has been the subject of much heated debate. It will be interesting to note how much effect the newly elected members can have on this important issue. The five new members were elected each to represent a particular region of the world - Europe, Asia/Australia/Pacific, North America, Latin America and Africa. ICANN is keen to be seen to be a more open body than it has appeared in the past, and the elections were an attempt to bring some form of "democracy" to the institution. In total only some 34,000 votes were cast. It's interesting that there was a large range of voter participation among the regions with Asia casting 17,745 votes, Europe 11,309, while North America cast only 3,449. Even an election process that had so many problems deserved a higher turnout. Is this a true reflection of the importance of democracy within the internet population? Can the rest of the world liberate some degree of influence over the future decisions of ICANN from the clutches of the US? With such an apparent lack of interest in the whole "election" saga we have our doubts. Of those elected to the ICANN board, Andy Müller-Maguhn (Europe) has the most interesting background. Andy acknowledges his links to numerous freedom of speech and hacking societies. Indeed as an active member of the Chaos Computer Club, Andy's extensive knowledge of "internet security" issues has led to him being described as an "anarchist hacker" on more than one occasion. Unsurprisingly the other four new members of the board all have more conventional IT vendor backgrounds. It will be interesting to see whether our "poacher" will be able to maintain his independence and his forthright views whilst being surrounded by so many "gamekeepers". ICANN needs to become an organisation with more concern for the views of the majority of real internet users. Until now it's been viewed as a body whose chief concerns have included avoiding controversy, keeping the IT companies happy and, most clearly of all, doing whatever UNCLE SAM wants. It is time for ICANN to move forward and it is to be hoped that a dash of free thought and plain speaking can help. For more analysis, see http://www.it-director.com

Topics: Hardware

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