The COTS Project launch

The COTS Project launch

We recently launched the COTS Project, short-hand for Commercial, Operational and Technical Standards for Independent Local Open Access Networks.

The objective of the project is:

“to work with representatives of independent local and community–led broadband projects, national network operators and major ISPs to develop a low cost standardised approach to enable a wide range of service providers to offer retail services over local or community-led open networks to end users.

As a result of this initiative consumers and small businesses should be able to access a wide choice of service providers, regardless of how the underlying infrastructure is either provisioned or owned. It should be in the interests of all local or community-led projects to be compliant with this approach, as more service providers should mean higher take-up and greater revenue.”

Essentially, we have described this as making open access a reality for consumers, who often face a limited choice of service provider on independent networks. For more on the detail of the work, why we are undertaking it, and how we plan to do it, there is a briefing paper available at the bottom of this post.

The project was launched at a kick-off meeting last Wednesday 29 July (getting the work off the ground in part explains our absence on this blog for the last couple of months). The kick-off meeting demonstrated the high degree of interest in this issue: a full house of over 50 industry representatives participated in a lively exchange, with more unfortunately not able to attend owing to the capacity of the venue.

The meeting highlighted three points for us. First, there is a clear agreement across the full scope of industry players that this issue needs to be addressed. No-one present felt that this wasn’t something we should be looking at; feedback before, during and after has re-iterated that this is a challenge affecting all stakeholders in this field, and that an independent body is required to address it.

Second is that, while there is consensus about the problem, there is more uncertainty about what the potential solution could be. Industry consensus will be difficult to achieve: some are already developing solutions; others have yet to consider what type of solution would work for them. There are many potential requirements, so compromise will be essential.

Despite this, however, the meeting also demonstrated a real willingness to engage and participate in the work, again from stakeholders across the industry. Building on this we intend to establish a steering group to drive the project forward that will be drawn from industry volunteers.

Since the meeting we have had a range of feedback, and we’d like to address two particular issues that have been raised. First, a number have asked about the level of engagement from national ISPs. Although they were generally in listening mode on the day, most of the major communications providers were represented at the meeting and have indicated a strong willingness to engage in the process.

The second issue is that of how we communicate and consult with the wider industry. We are keen to ensure that this is an open and transparent process – we hope that the project will achieve an industry consensus, which can’t happen without the whole industry. We are aware that we did not do as well as we could have with the kick-off event: a lack of live streaming and capacity issues meant that many who wished to take part in the meeting were unable to do so.

We will also improve our efforts to make the project more accessible. We are committed to running a second meeting for those who couldn’t participate in the first meeting (details to be announced shortly), and will make all documentation available online. We will also ensure that we build in to the process regular consultations and a feedback loop with the wider industry, to ensure that the process considers the views of all stakeholders.

Additionally, as part of our next steps we are also continuing to meet with companies and organisations, to gather feedback and thoughts on the work and how to take it forward. We are still gathering views, and are keen to hear from those whom we haven’t yet engaged. If any organisation would like the opportunity to discuss the COTS Project with us, we would encourage you to get in touch.

Over the summer we will also be pulling together a steering group, drawn from across the industry, to take this work forward, as well as appointing an independent chair. Membership of the steering group is open to anyone; again, any organisation that wishes to have representation on the group should get in touch with us.

We will continue to provide regular updates on this project as it develops.

COTS Project Briefing Paper: Principles and Process

Peter Shearman, Policy Manager, BSG