At a time when tech companies are competing to provide users with ever more services, submarine cables have become a vital link in the internet chain. Today, virtually all (99%) intercontinental internet traffic goes through them.
Which is why Google, currently gearing up to launch its game streaming platform, is installing the very high capacity Dunant cable between the Atlantic coasts of the United States and France. Although a great many undersea cables are already available on the transatlantic route between the US and Europe, Google’s desire to build and operate its own cable – running counter to the longstanding use of consortia – is a clear indication of what an integral part of Big Tech companies’ strategies submarine cables have become, in the same way as the datacentres that link them. According to American market research firm, TeleGeography, content providers account for more than 50% of investments in transatlantic routes in 2019, and around a third of spending on transpacific routes.
On 26 July 2019, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) published a report on its investigation into online platforms. In it, the ACCC calls for increased regulatory action, with the creation of a branch dedicated to online platforms that is given increase investigative powers. Its recommendations also include taking better account of predatory takeovers and the market power obtained through access to data, when supervising mergers and acquisitions. It recommends that, despite the operational challenges involved, greater thought be given to solutions’ interoperability and data portability, which could help stimulate competition and innovation.
Platforms are also garnering more and more attention in the United States at both the federal and state level. The Department of Justice (DOJ), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the US Congress are also conducting investigations into American Big Tech companies. At the same time, prosecutors in some 20 states have expressed a strong interest in launching a wide-reaching antitrust investigation into online platforms.
Back here in Europe, the Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) in the Netherlands launched an inquiry in April 2019 into Apple’s App Store practices. In tune with Arcep’s report on device openness, in a report published in August, the Dutch regulator also supports the introduction of an “ex ante intervention mechanism”. Lastly, the initiative undertaken by several French bodies, including Arcep, in the first half of 2019, made it possible to observe up close the methods that Facebook uses to counter hate speech on its platform.
Report on Facebook
Report on device openness
Following in the footsteps of Arcep and telecoms regulators in the UK and the Netherlands, Austria’s telecoms regulator, RTR, has delivered its own investigation of the device issue in a dedicated report.
Based on surveys of users and app developers, this report analyses OS, application and app store models, and shows how they can restrict innovation, competition and freedom of enterprise.
Among other things, the report raises the question of the lack of interoperability between several apps, highlights the phenomenon of users’ dependence on their OS, and calls out players’ lack of transparency.
It suggests increased supervision of the issue, along with specific remedies as it is sceptical about the “platform-to-business” regulation’s ability to resolve all of the problems it exposes.
On 19 March dernier, German regulator, BnetzA, began the procedure for allocating mobile frequencies for 5G networks, via auction. This includes renewing 2x60 MHz licences for the 2.1 GHz band and allocating new licences for 300 MHz in the 3.4 – 3.8 GHz band (the pioneer band identified for the first 5G rollouts in Europe).
Four candidates are taking part: the country’s three existing mobile operators (Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica, Vodafone) and one MVNO (1und1 Drillisch, a subsidiary of United Internet). After close to 30 days of bidding, the procedure is still not finished and all of the candidates, including new entrant 1und1 Drillisch, are still in a position to obtain licences in both bands. The bids thus far stand at more than 2.3 billion euros for the 2.1 GHz band, and more than 3.5 billion euros for the 3.4 – 3.8 GHz band. The valuation of the latter is amongst the highest seen in recent auctions (close to 15 eurocents – €/MHz/capita), but half the price paid in Italy last year. It is especially in the 3.4 – 3.8 GHz band that auctions are still ongoing, chiefly to obtain a differential on the total amount of spectrum, thanks to a marginal gain of a single block of 10 MHz.
In France, the Government has just shared with Arcep the direction it wants to take on 5G frequency allocations. The auction for the 3.4 – 3.8 GHz band is scheduled for late this year.
The 2019 Mobile World Congress that ran from 25 to 28 February in Barcelona can be summed up in three numbers:
- 107,000 visitors;
- 2,400 exhibitors;
- and the number 5 as in 5G, the star of the show!
An Arcep delegation, including Sébastien Soriano and Emmanuel Gabla – Chair and Executive Board member, respectively – travelled to Barcelona for the telecoms industry’s great annual gathering.
♦ What takeaways on 5G?
5G was on every stand. Equipment suppliers and telcos alike: everyone is getting on board to ensure that this disruptive technology becomes a reality. The most highly promoted use for now is tied to online gaming. The teams also had a chance to meet with a number of players that are currently testing industrial 5G connectivity solutions.
♦ Measuring network quality: a major issue for Arcep
Also on the agenda for the trip was a series of meetings with several players involved in testing and measuring network quality. A perfect opportunity to share Arcep’s data-driven regulation strategy, and to talk about the Code of Conduct published a few months back. This Code is aimed chiefly at those involved in online testing, to set minimum requirements in terms of the measurements’ relevance, presentation and transparency.
An Arcep team led by Serge Abiteboul and Cécile Dubarry, Executive Board member and the Authority’s Director-General, respectively, travelled to South Korea and Japan in late January.
There were two reasons for this trip: to learn more about national 5G rollout strategies, and to take stock of current and past 5G trials in that part of the world.
- In South Korea
South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT) and the “5G Forum” public-private partnership defined a 5G mobile strategy back in January 2014. It was designed as a seven-year strategy with a joint (government – private sector) investment programme of 1.5 billion dollars for research and development, standardisation and 5G infrastructure.
In mid-June 2018, the country held an auction for 5G frequencies in the 3.5 GHz and 28 bands, with allocations going to three operators: SK Telecom, LG Uplus and KT. All three will be launching their 5G services on “Korea 5G Day” which is scheduled for March of this year.
In South Korea, the Arcep delegation met with teams from the country’s telecoms regulator and from the MSIT. The team also travelled to Suwon to visit the Samsung digital city, a campus that serves as a full-scale trial space for the South Korean manufacturer to test new 5G applications and their impact on people’s daily lives.
- In Japan
The Japanese government has made 5G rollouts a top priority, as part of a bid to lead the world in innovation. The 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo will act as a technological showcase. In its capacity of Ministry of Communications and national regulator, MIC is the main shepherd of 5G deployment in Japan. And the one that will be awarding operators licences in late March 2019.
The Arcep delegation met with the Ministry’s teams. It also took part in the 5G Symposium that provided an opportunity to meet the country’s four mobile operators (NTT DoCoMo, KDDI, Softbank and Rakuten) and with manufacturers involved in 5G pilot projects.
On 19 and 20 November, the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) and its Latin American counterpart, REGULATEL, hosted a joint conference in Lima on the new regulatory challenges that regulators are facing in the digital age.
At the heart of the debates: data-driven regulation! Regulators had an opportunity to share their experiences of working to provide users with greater transparency and more information.
The two-day event concluded with a joint declaration by BEREC and REGULATEL that underscores their dedication to continuing to share best practices in enforcing net neutrality, and the need to introduce new regulatory tools, such as data-driven regulation, to keep pace with the digital revolution.
BEREC engaged in similar cooperative actions over the course of the year, particularly in the area of net neutrality, with regulators from India and Canada.
The joint declaration
Several countries in Europe have begun allocating a range of frequencies that were identified for 5G rollouts. Italy is currently the only European country to have allocated all of the “pioneer” 5G bands, from low-band frequencies (700 MHz) by way of mid-band spectrum (3.5 GHz) up to millimetre-wave frequencies (26 GHz) that enable the most revolutionary speeds being promised by 5G, albeit with a much more limited range than the frequencies being used by mobile networks today.
Another example: in Germany, 100 MHz in the 3.5 GHz band will be reserved for uses linked to vertical markets and regional players.
What 5G frequencies have been allocated thus far in Europe? Check out the map (in French)!
In the United States
Millimetre-wave frequencies in the 24 GHz and 28 GHz band are being allocated at auction in November. The 600 MHz band is already being allocated to a mobile operator (TMO-US) to deploy 5G in the low-range bands. TMO is cooperating with broadcasters to enable them to release the band as efficiently as possible.
South Korea allocated 3.5 GHz and 28 GHz band frequencies to the country’s three mobile operators in June 2018.
In China, the 3.4 – 3.6 GHz and 4.8 – 5.0 GHz, and the 26 GHz and 40 GHz bands are expected to be allocated in the second half of 2019.
Japan has not yet released its timetable for allocations, even though 5G is due to be up and running for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in 2020.
Italy has just awarded licences in the three frequency bands targeted for 5G: 700 MHz, 3.7 GHz and 26 GHz. A total 1,260 MHz of spectrum were allocated to Italy’s mobile operators for a period of 19 years, during these auctions that brought in more than 6.5 billion euros. Compared to the country’s population, the band was valued at two and half times what it was in the UK and eight times what it was in Spain.
As for France, Arcep will be launching a public consultation in late October, calling on economic stakeholders and local authorities to share their views on the methods and conditions to be applied to the allocation of 5G frequencies.
Arcep’s 5G roadmap
Fortnite is one of today’s most popular mobile games. According to Sensor Tower Store Intelligence, it was generating up to 2 million dollars a day after its iPhone version launched this past spring. Apple will earn close to a third of that amount ($600,000) via the iStore, according to the company’s revenue sharing rules. Which are similar to the rules that govern Google’s Play Store...
Taking advantage of the fact that Google allows users to download apps from locations other than its app store, publisher EPIC Games elected to distribute its game directly from its site. Which saves it from having to pay over a portion of its earnings to Google (the app is still not available on the Play Store). Despite it being more complicated to install the game, and a security bug in the early days (which was fixed within 24 hours), the game was download 15 million times onto Android smartphones in less than 21 days.
Is this the shape of things to come? Already back in 2016, Spotify blocked users’ ability to subscribe using an app (despite it still being available on app stores), also as a way to get around these revenue sharing rules. And Netflix is currently testing a similar strategy.
Attempts to circumvent app stores is one of the issues that Arcep raises in its report “Devices: the weak link in achieving an open internet” that was published in February. The report contains several proposals designed to help lift, more directly, some of the restrictions imposed by the device market’s key stakeholders.
An initiative launched in 2014, the Aquila drones designed by Facebook were to deliver internet access to the world’s most hard to reach regions, thanks to a 4G LTE signal on the ground.
If Facebook announced in late June that it was halting production of these drones, it has not pulled the plug on its project. Connectivity in remote areas remains a crucial issue for the company, but it has elected to hand it over to one of the project’s manufacturing partners. The technology has made tremendous strides since 2014, and other companies have gained greater experience than Facebook in this area. It therefore chose Airbus to produce the drones from now on.
Titled “Restoring Internet Freedom,” the text fully reverses course on the provisions contained in the “Open Internet Order” that was adopted in 2015. This includes the ban on blocking, throttling and paid prioritisation. What does this mean? ISPs in the US can now, for instance, sell access plans that include differentiated treatment or pricing for certain types of content. The only condition is that they mention these practices in their contracts. The arguments that the American regulator has used to justify its actions are, paradoxically, rather similar to the ones employed by net neutrality’s proponents, including going back to a very relaxed regulatory framework which, according to the FCC, has enabled the Internet to develop as it has; as well as giving emphasis to permissionless innovation, but this time more for ISPs than content and application providers. It would be impossible for this type of back-tracking to occur in Europe where net neutrality is guaranteed by a European regulation, which is the highest level normative text in Europe. To make things clearer, Arcep – the protector of net neutrality in France – offers a pictorial map of current debates.
Elsewhere around the world, to demonstrate their commitment to net neutrality, and make it an entrenched, shared value, Europe and India have achieved a significant joint action: BEREC and India’s regulator adopted a joint statement a few days ago that sets out their common vision, along with a Memorandum of understanding for furthering net neutrality around the globe.
Close to a year after Europe, will roaming charges soon be a thing of the past in 19 countries in the Americas? This is what the Inter-American Telecommunications Commission (Citel) decided at their Assembly in March. This decision, whose implementation date still remains to be determined, would allow people travelling in the signatory countries to roam like at home, i.e. to use their mobile phones under the same conditions as those they enjoy at home.
So European regulation on the matter has gained some followers. It put an end to roaming fees across the EU on 15 June 2017, which has been a veritable revolution for Europeans. Mobile data traffic across Europe has exploded since then: + 435% between summer 2016 and summer 2017 according to figures from BEREC, the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications. Consumption rates for French people travelling in Europe have also risen considerably. They generated close to 20,000 Terabytes of data between July and September 2017, compared to 5,000 for that same period in 2016.
The countries involved in the trans-American agreement are: Argentina, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, the United States, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Trinity and Tobago and Uruguay.
Japan’s lead in 5G is the stuff of headlines. But it is to France that the country has turned for inspiration when rethinking spectrum management. So several observations can help put France’s supposed “lagging behind” into perspective.
- Despite very proactive announcements of commercial 5G rollouts starting in 2020, the first plans will be delivered more using e-LTE than with “true” 5G which will only become available later on. Some of Japan’s economic stakeholders are already concerned about the lack of clarity on future allocation rules.
- Japan shares France’s crucial challenge of achieving nationwide connectivity and coverage. Because it is an archipelago, Japan needs to ensure consistency between densely populated, profitable areas and the thousands of islands whose geographical remoteness and low population density are not likely to attract private sector rollouts.
- This is why Japanese authorities are especially interested in the New Deal that was recently put into place in France, which offers an alternative between beauty contests and classic auctions to ensure that all spending on frequencies constitutes an efficient investment that benefits network rollouts everywhere.
These conclusions can only encourage Arcep to stay the course, and maintain the roadmap set for 5G: calling on vertical industry players and operators to come together on pilot projects in 2018, followed by allocations and service rollouts in 2020.
The Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2018, the mobile industry’s largest annual trade show, was held in Barcelona in February. In the spotlight this year: 5G, artificial intelligence and virtual reality.
Confirmed: virtual assistants’ growing prominence in the consumer market, the widening array of connected products… Like ever year, there were sneak peeks of new smartphones from heavyweights such as Samsung, Nokia and Sony.
One key area of focus on the manufacturer side: 5G. MWC was an opportunity for them to showcase their upcoming equipment and provide an update on network rollouts and their applications: smart cities, factories of the future, connected cars… Several manufacturers announced pioneer trials of 5G chipsets, thus paving the way for the launch of compatible smartphones by early 2019.
Arcep’s Chair and teams were in attendance. The Authority’s work on 5G, devices and mobile coverage attracted a great deal of attention, and were very well received by the many stakeholders they met with.
More than anywhere else, Android smartphone users in India suffer from a strange lack of internal storage (affecting one out of three smartphone owners in India, compared to one in ten in the United States). The reason? A custom in India of wishing everyone in India a good day with gifs and other images… that take up a lot of room! If this little titbit is rather adorable, Google employees had to find a solution, and quickly. Mission accomplished with the creation of a dedicated app that allows users to delete these images with a single click.
What happens when user behaviour steers the market…
Find out more in the Wall Street Journal article
Our smartphones contain apps that cannot be deleted. Are they indispensable? Since 2014 South Korea’s telecommunications ministry has worked to give users the ability to delete any apps that are not vital to their telephone’s operation. By adding this recommendation to the Telecommunications Business Act in 2017, the Korean Communications Commission forbids handset suppliers, developers and operators from blocking the deletion (or installation) of applications, and gives users the power to make this choice.
On 14 December, US electronic communications regulator, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), decided to put an end to net neutrality in the United States, through a decision entitled, “Restoring Internet Freedom”. Under this new scheme, only ISPs’ obligation be transparent about their practices remains, and they will now be supervised by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
In India on the other hand, on 28 November the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) adopted a series of recommendations aimed at strengthening net neutrality, which are very close to the European regulation of 2015, ensuring a more open internet in the EU.
- European Open Internet regulation will protect Europeans – Statement by Andrus Ansip, Commission Vice-President for the Digital Single Market (in French)
- “Europe has a message for Americans on Net neutrality” – Op-ed by Arcep Chairman and BEREC Chair Sébastien Soriano in Slate US
- “Net neutrality means no censorship” – Sébastien Soriano answers questions from Usbek & Rica (in French)
- “Killing net neutrality would be a sad turn of events” – Sébastien Soriano interviewed in l’Obs (in French)
- “Net neutrality means having access to the real internet ” – Sébastien Soriano interview with Meta-Media (in French)
- "The internet in France is more neutral than it is elsewhere” – Sébastien Soriano interview in Le Monde (in French)
- Interview with Sébastien Soriano in “Les Matins de France Culture” (in French)
In Japan, the mobile operating system (OS) market has attracted the attention of the country’s Fair Trade Commission (JFTC) and its Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). Both of these authorities have elected to follow through on the investigation they conducted on the matter last year.
Concerns are galvanising around the ability to develop competing OS, and the issues created by having certain apps installed by default on devices or given preferential treatment.
Expert panels will be created to take a deeper look into the matter. This will be followed by proposals for possible solutions through revised consumer or trade laws.
Japan Fair Trade Commission report from 2016
Europe is not the only place where roaming charges are being phased out, and Africa could soon follow suit. Reducing international roaming charges for people travelling between African countries, to stimulate mobility amongst the population and unlock their use of mobile technology, is a real priority for the continent.
In early October, the fifteen members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) took a major step in this direction by approving draft regulation whose goals are:
- to eliminate call termination and roaming charges within the ECOWAS area;
- to set a cap on calling charges within the economic area.
Initially, the charges that apply in the country being visited, including for international calls (“roam like a local”), will apply to travelling users. The ultimate goal is nevertheless to fully abolish roaming charges across the region, i.e. to allow users to “roam like at home”.
This initiative follows through on the "Free Roaming" initiative introduced jointly by six countries in the region in late March 2017, and supported by the West Africa Telecommunications Regulators Assembly (WATRA).
One Web, Space X, Google and its Loon project… There are a number of projects using Low Earth Orbit (LEO) space technology to connect the planet to the internet. Their advantages:
- the ability to meet the connectivity needs of those areas poorly served by wireline and radio networks;
- enable much shorter latency for high-speed and telephone services than with geostationary orbit solutions (which are currently being used by broadband access services in France).
Questions nevertheless remain over the projects’ concrete feasibility. For instance, LEO spacecraft have a relatively short lifespan (averaging just over five years) which means they will need to be replaced on a regular basis. Frequency coordination would also need to be especially rigorous within the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to avoid interference between the different satellite constellations.
But the sector is shifting into gear. SpaceX met with Arcep Board member, Jacques Stern, to discuss this very topic at the Global Symposium for Regulators that ITU hosted in July. Arcep Chairman and BEREC Chair for 2017, Sébastien Soriano, also spoke with the teams from OneWeb.
A joint summit on the topic of connectivity between BEREC and the Eastern Partnership Electronic Communications Regulators Network (EaPeReg), the Latin American Forum of Telecommunications Regulators (REGULATEL) and the Euro-Mediterranean Regulators Group (EMERG), was held on 31 May in Portugal. A total of 45 regulators from the world over were represented.
They discussed the investments needed to provide connectivity across their regions, spectrum-related difficulties and net neutrality challenges that needed to be addressed. A joint declaration was adopted at the end of the Summit. In it, the regulators declare their support for competition as a driver of increased connectivity. They also reiterate their dedication to net neutrality, recognising every person’s right to access and distribute the content and applications of their choice, without discrimination, unjustified slowing down or blocking.
The joint declaration
Africa’s mobile market is now one of the largest in the world, with some 1 billion active SIM cards being used by close to 1.3 billion people. According to a GSMA report published in July 2016, the continent was home to 550 million mobile subscribers at the end of 2015, a figure that could climb to 725 million by 2020.
The mobile market has been the chief driving force behind an entire digital ecosystem capitalising on this connectivity:
- The banking sector, which has been shaken up by the arrival of operators such as Orange Bank and M-Pesa. With a relatively small banked population (i.e. people with a bank account) and the fast-growing adoption of mobile services, mobile banking services in Africa have proven a popular alternative to traditional bank accounts.
- The trade sector is also benefitting from this healthy momentum, with the advent of online shopping sites such as e-commerce platform, Jumia (a subsidiary of Germany’s Rocket Internet).
The expansion of this new digital ecosystem raises several questions: regulatory, notably regarding mobile operators’ banking activities, the security of transactions and the fight against money laundering.
India’s mobile market which, with more than a billion subscribers, is the second largest in the world after China, and has been going through some major changes in recent months. Changes ushered in by the arrival of Reliance Jio which has upset the balance of power. Thanks to very aggressively positioned mobile plans, Jio reached the symbolic threshold of 100 million subscribers in a matter of months, which set off a wave of mergers: Bharti with Telenor in February, Vodafone with Idea Cellular in late March. Here, it is worth remembering that there are around a dozen operators in India.
At the same time, some operators are going after the newcomer, and have filed a complaint with the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) regarding the new plans. A TDSAT hearing is due to take place in early May 2017.
NB: Sébastien Soriano, the BEREC Chair in 2017, was in India in late March and met with the Chairman of the Indian regulator, TRAI – who himself had been in Paris a few weeks earlier – and with key Indian market players, as part of a BEREC fact-finding mission.
Sébastien Soriano’s interview with the Economic Times (Indian daily newspaper)
In January 2017, Ajit Pai took over as chairman of the US telecom regulator, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), of which he had been a member since 2012.
Known for his opposition to the Open Internet Order adopted by the FCC in 2015, one of his first decisions was to put an end to investigations into several zero rating offers that were initiated under his predecessor, Chairman Tom Wheeler.
Zero rating refers to a commercial practice that consists, for instance, of operators not deducting the traffic generated by a given service or type of service from customers’ data allowance, whereas all other uses are.
Consequence: an outcry from more than 170 organisations which signed an open letter calling on the FCC to continue its actions to defend net neutrality.
Read the open letter
AT&T’s 2G network in the United States was shut down in January. Why? The carrier wants to reassign all of the frequencies used for 2G to 3G and 4G LTE networks. AT&T thus plans on better serving new mobile behaviours and the connected objects sector which requires ever faster connections.
AT&T press release
Making broadband internet access a basic telecom service for all Canadians: this is the new ruling handed down by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). Believing that it is a true measure of economic competitiveness, the CRTC wants to ensure that a high-speed (minimum 5 Mbps) internet connection is made available to everyone in Canada, one of the vastest countries in the world.
To achieve this, the Canadian government will be investing 750 million CAD (or €535 million) over five years to build or upgrade the country’s fixed and mobile internet access infrastructures.
Find out more
Since 7 November 2016, the IAB (Internet Architecture Board) - the committee in charge of overseeing and guiding the internet's evolution through various organisations such as IANA, IETF and IRTF - has recommended that, from hereon in, internet operating standards be designed and enhanced solely for IPv6, without seeking backwards compatibility with IPv4.
Arcep welcomes the IAB decision, which is a major milestone in the adoption process for IPv6, which must usher in simplification, security and innovation.
IAB statement on IPv6
Government report on the rollout status of IPv6 in France (in French)
Arcep scorecard on the transition to IPv6 (in French)
A few weeks back, Google and Facebook announced the construction of the Pacific Light Cable Network, a submarine cable measuring close to 13,000 km that will run from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, whose construction is set to begin in 2017 and be complete by 2018. An announcement that echoes other projects recently put into action by Microsoft and Amazon, two internet companies that are also investing in submarine cables, which are a vital part of the internet's global mesh and which today are paid for by telecom carriers. For internet giants, submarine cables represent an important path to gaining control over their data traffic and quality of service.
Created in California in 1998, ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) has a symbolic role on the global internet, namely as supervisor of the IP addressing system and domain name registry. It is the body that manages the allocation of .com, .net and .org domain names. After having operated under a contract with the US government since its inception, after three years of debate, on 1 October it became a self-regulating, non-profit international entity, in a bid to guarantee a more transparent and more democratic operation.
Find out more
Measure 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi connection speeds in real time? Already a reality in India thanks to the application rolled out by the country's telecoms regulator, TRAI, this summer. All of the tests performed by users are aggregated on the regulator's portal, which then provides a complete snapshot of the quality of mobile services across the country.