Europeans: only two weeks left to comment on ICT & standards whitepaper

By Rick Jelliffe
August 30, 2009 | Comments: 1

European readers have until September 15, 2009 to comment on the really excellent whitepaper from Brussels Modernising ICT Standardisation in the EU - The Way Forward.

I am not a European (though I could become one by right) and not part of a campaign. But it looks like a good chunky issue for people to consider reading and responding to it. They allow anyone to comment, and I think I may submit a comment, because Australian policy-makers will naturally study the final European approach.

On my brief reading, the whitepaper is very good in many of the issues that concern me: it mentions balance as well as openness, it mentions vendor-neutral technologies, they mention the need for flexibility. I especially like the encouragement that research efforts need to be more standards-aware. I like the inclusion of consortia (in a way that allows seniority to the international and national bodies.) I like that timely maintenance has been given prominence. Regular readers will know these issues from previous blogs.

There are a few things I am not keen about, most relating to so-called Intellectual Property, a euphemism for monopoly rights and market distortion. I would like the whitepaper to have gone much further than it does.

I think FRAND/RAND-z standards should be preferred in all cases to fee-paying standards: this in particular would mean that Ogg Vorbis and so on should be equal or preferred to MPEG fee-based standards. I think the issue of whether dual-licensed standards that are OK with GPL should be favoured in some way deserves consideration. (I don't have a firm view on this, myself, but if we want to be eco-system neutral I suspect it needs to be a consideration.) I'd like to see more explicit consideration of whether the Microsoft-style commitment-not-to-sue is really adequate.

I think the whitepaper should mention three issues in particular: the first is the need for a clearer regulatory framework concerning submarine patents, the second is the need for patent organizations to consider standards as part of their due diligence (I mean clear direction to the patent bodies that standards are not to be undermined by overly strict interpretation of their meaning: standards need to encourage open industry not be re-proprietorized); the third issue is that where IP rights have created a market domination for a technology, there should be compulsory standardization under at least RAND terms (this may not require an International Standard: just a Technical Report or some consortium document may be perfectly adequate for the public good.)

I would like a more assertive statement on balance of interest: the whitepaper is perhaps a bit too passive rather than active at the moment: if balance cannot be demonstrated from participation records, and if there it cannot be demonstrated the there was a good-faith effort to get balance, then that should be factored in to procurement preferences. Similarly, on the issue of vendor-neutrality, this needs to include cartel-neutrality as well as individual vendor-neutrality.

I would be a bit more assertive that the less that a standard can prove it has had systematic and independent review (in particular ISO review of a consortium standard) the less "Brownie points" it gains for procurement preference. In practical terms, this would not be an issue of judging the technical results of the review, but merely the existence of the review. So it is not really a question on technical quality.

And I would have more material endorsing the standard-as-library view of IT standards: that the adopting agency or government cannot delegate to the standards body decisions about fitness for the particular agency or government's purpose. There are hints of this, but I think it should be more explicit.

Finally, the whitepaper should be more upfront about $$$. Or I mean €€€. Europe and the individual governments need to be participating in standards development as stakeholders, independently of the activities of NGO national standards bodies. Open Standards are no different from FOSS: the system falls apart where stakeholders just become passive users.

The whitepaper has the response address in it. It is available in all EU languages.


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1 Comment

It is far more political. What you focus on is basically just the decoration. The core is recognition of consortial specifications on the same level as EU-"standards" via performance based criteria. The criteria they propose are so weak as a threshold that this would make the traditional EU standard bodies as CEN, CENELEC etc. obsolete. So it won't fly and exactly that would be the goal. And do not forget, it is just a whitepaper. So basically they continue to discuss a reform so that it won't happen or would result in giant failure which wins the defenders of the status quo yet another 7 years. And many companies in traditionals ICT fields are satisfied with the status quo, it is just that it does not suit the software and web standard sphere very well where other DGs make impact and push forward. So DG Enterprise which has more authority for the standard rules paralellises the activitities with a reform placebo. Think of CAMSS for instance as a set of more market oriented criteria.

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