Does Your Wholesale Broadband Supply Agreement Meet Industry Standards and Norms?

In the B2B space, broadband provision is based on a vertical enterprize model. A wholesale broadband provider provides high quality IP services to Internet service Providers at wholesale wholesale pipes discounts. Businesses (end users) connection to the networks of Internet service Provider (ISP) (i. e. Internet connection retailers). The wholesale broadband provider, will buy its broadband from carrier partners (Examples of carrier partners are: British Telephony; AT&T (United States); Sprint (United States)) and wholesale it to businesses down the sequence at discounts. The typical service provided by the wholesale broadband provider is that it leads end-user sites to the networks of the ISPs, but no place else (there is no connection provided to the bigger Internet).

Typically, the end users are powering the ISPs networks via ADSL and SDSL services ultimately provided by Carriers to the wholesale provider and then required about the ISP. These services are delivered to the wholesale provider’s network over connections known as “central pipes” or “centrals”. The wholesale provider then aggregates the data flows to and from these end-user sites and forwards them to the ISPs over a dedicated connection between the two companies’ networks.

RADIUS

An important aspect of the availabilit of broadband is “RADIUS” and proxy “RADIUS”. RADIUS stands for “Remote Authentication Switch In User Service” and is defined by the document “RFC 2865” as modified by RFCs 2868, 3575, and 5080; any other RFCs also define related matters. (RFCs are the series of documents which define how the Internet works and are available online. Despite the name “Dial In”, RADIUS is used on DSL connections as well.

The goal of RADIUS is to separate the authentication of connections from the devices handling their traffic. Consider a typical DSL connection to an ISP. There will be a modem at the end-user’s factory that leads, over Carrier’s service, to a “gateway” or “LTS” on the ISP’s network. The gateway then forwards the customer’s Internet traffic to various places as appropriate. An ISP will typically have many gateways tossed around their network and cannot necessarily predict which gateway a user will connection to. The vast majority of the work a gateway does is forwarding IP packets and its design located around this. These facts while others mean that it is undesirable for the gateway to also do the work of deciding whether a user is permitted to connection to the ISP’s service as well as to check whether their modem has presented the correct username and password. Carrier’s also have the issue of ensuring that the call is being offered to the correct ISP in the first place.

Instead, when a new DSL connection is being set up (for example, each time the customer’s modem is turned on), a device within Carrier’s network called the B-RAS (“Broadband Remote Access Server”) takes the user name and username and password offered by the modem, determines which ISP it relates to, and then passes them to an outside computer in the ISP’s network called a “RADIUS server”. This makes the relevant checks and gives the B-RAS a “go/no-go” decision; it can also provide other instructions to the B-RAS and the ISP’s gateway.

In some situations the ISP’s RADIUS server cannot actually choose directly but must check out of another device, this arrangement is called “proxy RADIUS”.

RADIUS servers are merely involved when a new end-user connection is about up, not though it is active. If the person turns their modem don and doff again, a new connection needs to be set up. If there is a fault in the carriers network causing several connections to be broken and then re-made, all of those connections will cause simultaneous asks for from the B-RAS to the RADIUS servers; for example, if the equipment in a particular carriers exchange resets itself as a result of fault, all the DSL users powering that exchange or that piece of equipment will have to re-establish their connections.

Outages
There is no such thing as a 100% reliable service. It is possible to provide an Internet service to a high level of reliability by, for example, providing several servers where one would do or by duplicating essential connections through physically diverse passages, so that damage to one route will not affect the alternate. However, doing this can be expensive, because more equipment must be purchased or hired, the costs for housing machines are higher, as are the electricity bills, and so on. These costs all need to be passed about the customer.

Therefore ISPs, particularly those offering a wholesale service, will choose a level of reliability to offer their customers and design their internal network around that choice. This level is typically described as a percentage availability; e. h. 99. 9% (“three nines”) indicates that the service will be inaccessible no more than 8¾ hours annually, while some telephony services are rated at 99. 999% (“five nines”), or no more than 5 minutes 16 seconds unavailability annually. The ISP will offer this service level, defined in some more descriptive manner, and will back it with some kind of guarantee (e. h. credits at a rate of X pounds for each minute or hour outage beyond the agreed amount). Sometimes either reliability levels is offered with different prices.

Where the ISP’s service makes use of facilities bought in from elsewhere, a commercial choice has to be made. The ISP must exclude the bought-in component from its service guarantee, accept that it will have to pay compensation for outages caused by the bought-in service (and price a service to match), or pay the supplier for an high enough level of reliability for that service. This last case does not mean the same level as it is offering, since this would provide no “failure budget” for its own services but, rather, a higher level. For example, if the ISP is offering a 99. 9% service, those 8¾ hours have to be shared between problems untreated network and problems on the bought-in service. If they are shared equally, each two needs to be 99. 95% reliable.

The test of whether the connection is available involves sending a regular sequence of standard test packets (“ICMP ping”) from some unspecified location within wholesale provider’s network. Such a test would prove only that IP packets are crossing the call in both directions; it would not demonstrate any other qualities, such as the maximum bandwidth being transmitted or what fraction of packets was being dangerous. In particular, it would not demonstrate that any end-user was connected through to an ISP. The wholesale provider will need to carry out the test as described.

There is an obvious need for a site level agreement or guarantee of reliability for the differing of the wholesale provider’s network.

Careful consideration needs to be intended to the “force majeure” term. Specifically you need to consider carrier’s provision of DSL service to the end users. Is there a SLA for sale for this perhaps the service? Carrier’s ADSL service, in particular, is a low margin one and carrier’s SLAs are accordingly low. The standard service aims to fix faults within 40 alarm clock hours of being reported, while the “enhanced care” service at extra cost reduces this to 20 hours. In each case compensation is payable if this is not met (though the details do not appear to be publically available). Even if there is no specific SLA for sale, a reasonable wholesale provider would pass fault reports on to carrier’s when they’re due and keep track of their response, only if to be able to claim with carrier’s own SLA.

A fault in a service of the kind being provided could have any of several causes:

  1. A fault at the end customer’s site.
  2. A problem with the telephone line used to carry the DSL service.
  3. A fault within carrier’s network.
  4. A fault on the carrier’s central water pipe.
  5. A fault within the wholesale broadband suppliers’ network.
  6. A fault on the connection between wholesaler and ISP.
  7. A fault within the ISP’s network.

The first two of these would tend to affect single end-users. The next two are most likely to manifest themselves as impacting on blocks of end-users simultaneously. A fault within either company’s network could have a range of effects. Finally, a fault on the connection between them would be likely to affect every end-user simultaneously. If there is actually more than one connection, then depending on the technical arrangements, a fault on one connection might have no effect, since all traffic is moved to one of the remaining ones, or might affect a subset of end-users.

Migration access codes
Migration Access Codes, or Mac pcs, were a process set up by Ofcom (UK Telecoms Regulator) to allow end-users to transfer between ISPs while at the same time preventing “slamming” (ISPs transferring end-users to their service without the customer’s permission). Ofcom considers that competition in the ISP market is enhanced by making it easy for consumers to transfer between ISPs that both use the same wholesale service. In principle all that is critical for the transfer to take place is for the assorted payment records in the two ISPs and at carriers’ to be updated, and for the user to be designated a new username and password relating to the new ISP; no physical action is needed at the telephone exchange. Without such a transfer mechanism, however, the only way to do this is for the customer to terminate their service with the first ISP and then order a new one with the second. This will involve several days without service, to no obvious benefit. There are commercial and in business issues to be addressed. If the “losing” ISP has control over the arrangements, they have no inducement to make them efficient or quick. On the other hand, if the “gaining” ISP can simply order a move, there is a risk an ISP would move an individual without their agreement (known as “slamming” that customer), potentially causing them significant trouble. Therefore Ofcom introduced the “MAC code” system on 14th February 2007 via General Condition 22, replacing a preexisting voluntary code.

Under this method, an end-user wishing to move their service, or their agent, asks for a “MAC code” from their current ISP. The ISP must make a reasonable effort to authenticate the customer (so as to prevent slamming) and then transfer the code from the carrier’s wholesale (or the appropriate provider) and issue it to the customer. The customer can then take this MAC PC code to their proposed new ISP, who in turn uses it as their authority to own service transferred. Mac pcs are valid for 30 days from issue; once a MAC PC has expired, it cannot be used to migrate the customer. However, the customer can request a new MAC PC at any time after the previous one expired. However, the customer does not have to transfer their service even though they have requested a MAC PC: it is purely an enabling tool and expiry of a MAC PC is explicitly not grounds to cancel a customer’s service.

ISPs need to issue the MAC PC within 5 working days in writing or by e-mail (unless the original request was by telephone and a code was issued during the call).

They may only refuse on the grounds that:

  1. they cannot authenticate the customer;
  2. the service has already been terminated or is in the process of being terminated;
  3. a still-valid MAC PC has already been issued (but they need to remind the customer of the MAC); or
  4. they cannot get a MAC PC from their own wholesale provider.

The MAC PC process is policed and enforced by Ofcom under the Communications Act 2003, sections. 94-104. Ofcom has an ongoing enforcement programme in relation to MAC PC codes; in respect of an ISP, this normally operates in three staging:

  1. Ofcom has informal discussions with the ISP over the issue, and may use its powers to request information from the ISP.
  2. Ofcom notifies the ISP that it has reason to believe it is in breach of the General Condition and sets a deadline for the ISP to remedy the situation. The ISP has a way to make representations.
  3. If Ofcom is satisfied that the ISP has failed to remedy the situation and/or to meet the requirements in the notification, it can fine the ISP.
    A term in a Master Agreement may not circumvent the Ofcom regulations overseeing MAC PC codes.
    Action.

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