Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/04/15/kip_meek_berr/

Phorm director advises UK.gov broadband minister

Conflicts denied as Amazon opts out

By Christopher Williams

Posted in Broadband, 15th April 2009 14:28 GMT

A member of Phorm's board also works as a taxpayer-funded broker at the heart of UK internet policy, in the very department tasked this week with responding to European Commission demands to tighten privacy laws.

Kip Meek defended his dual role today, insisting his job for the Digital Britain review was completely separate to any dispute between the UK government and Brussels.

The Commission yesterday began infringement proceedings against the UK over the lack of a regulatory response to BT and Phorm's secret trials of internet interception and profiling technology in 2006 and 2007. The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) is coordinating the government's response, which if unsatisfactory could lead to heavy fines from the European Court of Justice.

The action raises questions over the position occupied within BERR by Kip Meek, a Phorm non-executive director. Today the government said there was no conflict of interest and he will not be leaving the job.

"I can say with absolute certainty there has been no discussion about Phorm between Kip and anyone here in the department," a spokeswoman said.

"Kip Meek is not Stephen Carter's internet advisor. He is the Independent Spectrum Broker - appointed following recommendations in the interim Digital Britain report."

She added that Meek is paid a day rate by BERR, but would not disclose the figure.

The Independent Spectrum Broker's job is to divide up radio spectrum among mobile phone operators and encourage them to deliver on Carter's commitment to universal broadband coverage. One of Phorm's central lobbying claims, throughout the controversy prompted by its secret trials, has been that its systems will help ISPs pay for new infrastructure.

BERR's spokeswoman maintained there is no conflict. "Kip Meek is not working on delivering universal broadband," she said.

"He is working on producing a report to Government about a possible solution to the current road block on the release of spectrum, to ensure we have the infrastructure for future developments in mobile broadband. He is not looking at possible funding models for mobile broadband, only the way spectrum is used. There is no conflict of interest in this."

Meek echoed BERR's position. "I am consulting on spectrum. These things are totally separate as far as I'm concerned," he said. "It's completely unrelated to anything Phorm might do."

Meek joined Phorm in December and was quickly granted 100,000 share options. Soon after, Phorm announced that Andrew Croxon, a consultant at Meek's strategy group Ingenious Media (located a stone's throw from Phorm's Soho HQ), had been hired as its finance chief.

Meek is chairman of Ingenious Media, and describes it as a "2 plus 2 equals 5 situation". It offers investment, regulatory and strategy advice to media and technology companies. Ingenious Consulting, the arm led by Croxon, predicts that in 2009, "ISPs will... launch behavioural targeting and contextual advertising programs (e.g. Phorm, the behavioural advertising platform)".

With cash at Phorm dwindling, Meek and Croxon surely hope so.

At BERR, Meek works with Lord Stephen Carter on delivering the Digital Britain report's commitment to universal broadband coverage. The final report is due to be published in summer and will set policy on internet regulation.

Carter and Meek also worked together at Ofcom, where the former was chief executive and the latter was a senior partner tipped for the succession.

Meek didn't get the nod, but the now reunited pair work together on Digital Britain with help from David Hendon, a senior civil servant who appeared at the launch of the interim report in late January.

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that while Hendon has been working alongside Carter and Meek on the Digital Britain report, he has also coordinated the UK's correspondence with the European Commission over Phorm's secret trials. Hendon also had regular contact with BT regarding Phorm.

In October Hendon wrote to BT: "You may know there is a bit of a battle going on about our unwillingness to release, under the Freedom of Information Act, correspondence between the European Commission and the government and I am instructed I cannot give you a copy of our response either."

The Register's FOI request for the UK government's response was rejected, but BT was apparently given a verbal summary. "I would be willing to discuss the line we took with you when we meet this week," Hendon wrote to the undisclosed BT employee. Like Phorm's Meek, Hendon is working on the final Digital Britain report.

Meanwhile, Carter has limited his direct public pronouncements on Phorm to describing it as an "interesting and innovative business" to a parliamentary committee in March. Prior to becoming a peer via a stint leading the Number 10 strategy unit, Carter was chief executive of PR and lobbying group Brunswick, whose current clients include Phorm.

Freedom of Information disclosures by BERR show Carter met Phorm CEO Kent Ertugrul on November 18, before Meek's appointment to the firm's board. He was not involved in the Digital Britain report at that stage, according to BERR.

Even without his BERR role, several Reg industry contacts raised eyebrows when Meek took a job with Phorm. He is also chairman of the Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG), an arm of IT industry association Intellect that brings together ISPs, websites, equipment manufacturers and government.

Its members include Amazon.co.uk, the online retail giant, which announced today it did not want its traffic intercepted by Phorm's systems. Amazon told customers it had requested all its domains be opted out of interception.

When Meek joined Phorm in December, the BSG told The Register its members were satisfied there was no conflict of interest. ®