Sky clouds the picture

Sky has been much in the news these last 24 hours, not least for the continuingly spreading tentacles of Hackinggate, for Offsidegate, which has – rightly – now claimed Richard Keys (albeit via a resignation) as well as Andy Gray, and for Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt being minded to refer to the Competition Commission NewsCorp’s bid for the majority of BSkyB that it doesn’t already own on the grounds of the threat to media plurality (although he has given NewsCorp more time to come up with a bit of a defence – if you like, a sort of opportunity to re-examine an assistant referee’s offside decision).

Somewhat squeezed out by all these MBs of bandwidth coverage, but also of considerable importance in its own right, is Sky’s purchase of The Cloud – a network of 22,000 urban Wi-Fi hotspots across Europe. Other operators are also in the market, with the key aim of being able to retain subscribers across a range of platforms rather than loosing them to other operators in different locations, so Sky’s acquisition is absolutely within the prevailing market strategy. The Cloud – both in its own right as well as via its arrangements with market leader BT Openzone – is likely to have a large market share but, with a nod to the impact over time of Sky’s obvious pulling power, this is not a question of market dominance of the Wi-Fi hotspot market.

But, the news was broken by The Sunday Times – which, of course, is also in the NewsCorp stable. So, a newspaper arm of a media company (and one which charges for online access) gets first dibs on the story of an important business acquisition of another company in the same group. Perhaps Jeremy Hunt might like to focus on the media plurality aspects of that when he sits down to ‘negotiate’ NewsCorp’s bid for BSkyB with The Digger over the next few days. That’s right – negotiate. In the context, what a terrible word. Perhaps Hunt should, as advised by Ofcom, have simply blown for offside. One aspect of the ConDem’s attempt to ‘return policy to ministers’ is that we end up with this sort of undignified haggle over terms which leaves the process itself completely lacking in integrity.

There’s a rat loose…

… and last spotted in Downing Street, apparently.

<Insert own joke here>

With the outgoing head of the CBI today criticising the coalition government’s lack of vision, the vision may actually be one of greater rubbish in the streets – a sign of what the coalition is doing to public services, perhaps.

Has The Guardian‘s Steve Bell resurrected his 80s-style surfing rats since May’s election, I wonder? Perhaps he should!

Furthermore, with the economy now heading down the tubes – and this one the conscious impact of faulty government decision-making – perhaps an explosion in rat catchers will be the private sector’s contribution to the fufilment of its mission of generating additional jobs to replace those lost in the public sector?

Tesco Mobile reaches 2.5m

One of my more enduring posts on these boards is the one(s) relating to UK mobile market share. Outside the big four/three (plus 3…), the mobile world is dominated by virtual network operators of which the largest are Virgin Mobile (which pitches up on the T-Mobile network) and Tesco Mobile (which uses O2) – thus neatly putting each on either side of the everything everywhere/3 and Vodafone/O2 network duopoly.

So, in this context, I noted with interest this week Tesco Mobile announced that its subscriber base had topped 2.5m (indeed, it was one of the company’s bright spots in an apparently disappointing Christmas period). Tesco Mobile reported this Christmas as its ‘best ever‘ [NB Not sure about the longevity of this link], increasing its subscriber base in each quarter and the total by 25% over the course of 2010 (thus adding 500,000).

The company believes it is ‘well on the way to becoming the No. 1 MVNO’. Last time I posted, Virgin Mobile had a total of just under 3.2m subscribers although these refer to the end-2009 position. Whether Tesco is gaining ground needs to await further figures from Virgin Mobile – and there is no reason to assume that Virgin Mobile, as a separately-owned company, is sharing the same woes as T-Mobile. Nevertheless, 25% growth in a saturated market – there are over 80m ‘active’ mobile subscriptions in a country of 60m+ people – is an impressive achievement and the gap is evidently likely to have narrowed sharply.

Ofcom published its 2010 second quarter market update figures just over a week ago; this was the first quarter in which joint figures were published for Everything Everywhere (the merged T-Mobile and Orange operation). This indicated that Vodafone had 17.3m subscribers, O2 20.7m and Everything Everywhere 27.1m (Section 3 on the mobile market, Table 4 – p. 20). The data is incomplete since it excludes 3 and also, apparently, both Virgin Mobile (now) and Tesco Mobile, but it evidently shows a mobile market for the top players of 65.1m subscribers, leaving the rest therefore with 15m. These would divide roughly as follows: 3 claims 6.2m subscribers (a figure which is in all its press releases, the most recent of which is here); while Tesco Mobile now has 2.5m. This would leave room for – say – c. 3.6m with Virgin Mobile [Edit 20 February: I was over-generous: it’s actually 3.1m (Table C4, p. 20)] and the remaining 2.7m or so as various re-sellers and niche players and a market structure something like this (figures approximate):

Return of the landline duty?

thinkbroadband.com is today reporting that Internet Service Providers have put the issue of a residential broadband levy back on the agenda in a meeting with Ed Vaizey, Minister for Communications, Culture and Creative Industries, which took place earlier this week. The story first appeared on ISP Review, where there is a little more detail about the meeting.

The story is a little confused, not least by the context of the meeting being intended to discuss the controversial rating system for fibre installation, but ISPs appear to have suggested that the government institute an £8/year levy on residential fibre to the home connections of 1ooMbps.

The purpose of the levy is not clear, and neither is Vaizey’s reaction to what was apparently a ‘lively’ discussion. The last government intended to legislate to raise a £6/year levy on ordinary telephone landlines so as to generate funds to roll out fibre in the ‘final third’, but this was derided by the Tories in opposition, with George Osborne taking great delight in cancelling the by then already-dropped plans in June’s ’emergency’ Budget. It is not evident that this newly-proposed levy would be used in this way. Further mystery is added by the absence from this week’s meeting – apparently invitations weren’t extended – of both BT and also Vtesse Networks, the latter of which has made probably the most amount of noise on the issue of the rateable value of fibre installation which was, after all, the purpose of the meeting [Edit 14 January: ISP Review has since corrected its report to state that, although not being invited to the original meeting, Vtesse was represented, by its Finance Director, at this week’s re-scheduled one].

An £8/year levy on residential 100 Mbps connections isn’t likely to raise much money – though getting the principle in place would be a useful start to raising the sorts of money that would be required to make a serious dent in the ‘final third’. Neither does Vaizey have much political scope for manoeuvre on the issue, given both Osborne’s actions in dismissing the landline duty so comprehensively and the Tories having also dropped their manifesto commitment to reviewing the tax paid on fibre connections. Though this of course wouldn’t be the first policy U-turn by this ConDem government, even this week.

Global Solidarity Forever

A New Year welcome to Radio Labour, the labour movement’s established global radio station. Radio Labour’s briefings, which were weekly but which have now gone daily, can be downloaded as podcasts, while you can also read the scripts online if podcasts aren’t your bag. A good way of keeping on top of what’s happening in the international trade union world, under the byline of global solidarity forever.

Oh – and they tweet as well: follow them at @radiolabour.