DoJ appeals AT&T/Time Warner deal on grounds of ignorance

The Department of Justice has attacked a trial judges approach and methods when reviewing AT&T’s much debated acquisition of Time Warner, in it’s against the greenlight for the deal.

AT&T closed it’s $108 billion acquisition of Time Warner two days after District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Richard Leon gave his seal of approval, though the Department of Justice is not done yet. An appeal has been launchedx      , arguing competition would be distorted in the pay TV market as a result as AT&T would have a bargaining advantage over rivals, with the main focus of the appeal seemingly being directed at the Judge Leon.

“The district court held otherwise, but only by erroneously ignoring fundamental principles of economics and common sense,” the appeal document states. “These errors distorted its view of the evidence and rendered its factual findings clearly erroneous, and they are the subject of this appeal.

As you can see from the statement above, the Department of Justice seems to be claiming Judge Leon was not able to consider the long-term economic impact of the acquisition of competition, but also has found issue with the court made the ‘vast majority’ of its evidentiary rulings during sealed bench conferences and declined to release the transcripts of these conferences to anyone during the trial.

“The district court substantially constrained the government’s presentation of evidence showing that the merged entity would have greater bargaining leverage,” the appeal reads.

Part of these discussions included evidence which the government would have wanted access to, AT&T’s own analysis of the potential competitive impact of the acquisition for example, but also that Judge Leon dismissed public FCC filings made by AT&T and DirecTV explaining the potential competitive harm from vertical integration, refusing to treat the documents as relevant submissions. The Department of Justice also argues it was not given enough air-time to question economic experts or evidence presented by AT&T.

The implication seems to lean on the idea of bias. Although it has not been directly said, the Department of Justice seems to be hinting Judge Leon favoured AT&T and was not able to offer an independent evaluation of the saga.

While this is a massive acquisition, vertical deals are not unusual in the technology industry, in fact, some might suggest it is the norm for growth. With big ticket acquisitions becoming more common in the industry, some might suggest the Department of Justice’s opposition to the deal might be more political than economical. President Trump’s distain for Time Warner owned brands are no secret, a public hatred which might be fuelling the theories.

Consumer focused telcos are treading on thin ice – China Telecom

We are paraphrasing with the headline, but the message from Lui Aili, President of China Telecom was very simple; evolve from a consumer focused business or struggle.

To demonstrate this message, Aili used a bowl of soup as an example. At the beginning the bowl of soup is full, but every time it is nudged a little spills out. Keeping the bowl steady is impossible, therefore the volume of soup will always be decreasing. The volume of soup is the total revenues in the telco industry, while the nudging of the bowl is the constant battle for consumer subscriptions.

In China, mobile subscriptions already exceed 100% of the population. It is an incredibly saturated market, with little room to grow. There might be more consumers entering into the dual-SIM lifestyle, but this is already a trend which has been developing for some time. Relating this back to the analogy, the bowl is unlikely to get any bigger any time soon, therefore the volume of soup is also unlikely to increase.

This is the challenge with the consumer facing business. Every time a telco steals a customer (nudges the bowl), the monthly subscription of that user also decreases. When this happens numerous times, the total amount of revenue in the industry gradually decreases (soup spills out of the bowl). Undercutting current providers is the primary way in which telcos gain new subscriptions, and it does not look like there is grounds to justify an increase in ARPU right now. This might change with the introduction of 5G subscriptions, but that remains to be seen.

This is one challenge for the industry, the total revenues are getting smaller, but parallel to this, the demands of the consumer are also increasing. Aili points to global trends of increased data consumption as a worrying sign. Delivering on these expectations, limitless data tariffs are starting to become the norm nowadays, is an expensive business. With this in mind, focusing on the consumer connectivity business is a slow erosion of revenues.

The ambition of China Telecom is a simply one; as it stands it owns the pipeline of connectivity, but the future is all about owning the platform and content as well. In the household, this looks like delivering connectivity, but also the smart home platform which manages applications and products, but also content in the entertainment world. While it might seem like a simple point to make, there still are telcos out there striving to dominate consumer connectivity alone; with the soup bowl gradually emptying, and increasingly becoming more expensive to maintain, should this be deemed a sensible business model?

China Telecom doesn’t want to be a telco anymore, the ambition here is to be an intelligent services company, sounding very similar to cousins in the OTT world.

Will the UK ever agree on the internet?

This week has 16 year-old Shannon O’Connor joining the team for work experience, and today’s ‘thrilling’ task is to join Jamie at the Connected Britain event in London. Here are her thoughts. 

With the Connected Britain event bringing together executives from TalkTalk, CityFibre and Openreach, as well as government representatives, the question still remains as to whether they will be able to work collaboratively to progress?

As the speakers continue to roll out their plans for an accelerated investment in high capacity networking across the UK, there still seems to be a lot of busywork.

“If you could rollout out connectivity through reports and investigations, Britain would have faster broadband than Japan and Korea,” said Matthew Howett of Assembly, the chair at this year’s event.

But is there any action?

Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, Margot James highlighted the inequality of connectivity not being reached within the rural areas of the UK. As major towns and cities continue to prosper and develop, those living in the outskirts face difficulties in sustaining accessible, basic broadband. Something which interested attendees intently as plans begin to emerge for infrastructure collaboration.

However, in the following panel it was clear that collaboration would not only create conflicting ideas between competitors but also allow those to question whether proper competition could ever come while working hand in hand.

Emerging from what the speakers said at the conference was quite simply uncertainty. There had been too much discussion and not enough action in developing fibre broadband within the public sector and beyond in the UK. There doesn’t seem to be any consistency or coherence; it seems asking adults to be mature and agree on a logical path is too much (and that’s coming from a teenager – Ed.).

As our Europe counterpart continues to prosper both economically and industrially, the UK continues to fall further behind because of an inability to agree.

Sprint CEO steps aside to keep Legere away from the grown-ups

Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure has undertaken a new role at Softbank, heading up the acquisition team, in what we can only imagine was a calculated more to keep the eccentric T-Mobile boss John Legere away from the suits.

Taking on the role of Executive Chairman at of SoftBank Group International and COO of SoftBank, Claure will head up the team designed to woo regulators and agonise through the cumbersome process of navigating the red-tape maze. Claure has taken a bullet for Legere here.

Legere does not seem to be a man who suffers fools gladly (putting it lightly), therefore asking the wild-eyed, at times almost rabid CEO to be calm and considerate when dealing with bureaucratic busybodies might not have been the best strategy. John Legere is not necessarily offensive, but some might be offended. Referring to AT&T and Verizon as ‘Dumb and Dumber’ might not get the same giggles in the offices of the FCC, and we doubt the FTC suits in Washington will be entertained by the magenta t-shirt or jokes about offering ‘doobies’ in goodie bags at events.

“Let me be clear that while I’m shifting my focus, I’m not leaving,” said Claure, as he confirmed Michel Combes would be moving from the CFO office to take on the CEO role.

“The main reason for effect in this change now is to collaborate with John Legere on securing regulatory approval over the next nine to 18 months. That is the most important goal to optimize in shareholder value. This is going to give me the capacity to focus on securing regulatory approval without compromising the day-to-day operations.”

Combes will now be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Sprint business, having done such a great job at Altice, however Claure remain responsible for liaising with Softbank, as well as delivering performance and financial results to the parent company. Aside from managing the merger, Claure will also aim to ‘optimize synergies’ across the Softbank portfolio, as well as identifying how the wider group can work with the new, combined entity in the future.

Claure might not have the same flair as his counterpart at T-Mobile, but you have to give the man a bit of credit. Quietly and quite humbly, he spearheaded somewhat of a turnaround at the Sprint business since his appointment in 2014. Sprint is still at the bottom of the rankings when you look at the four major telcos across the US, though the gap is no-where near as monumental. Recent reports have suggested Sprint is quickly improving network performance, while the last few quarters have seen an improvement in the steady flow of customers flocking to the emergency exit. It hasn’t all been glamourous while Claure has been in-charge, but perhaps this is the reason he is the perfect person to liaise with the starch-heavy collars of government.

When announcing the deal, both Claure and Legere seemed to realise the government is going to be a major pothole to negotiate. The announcement, which you can see below, made several references to how it would aid President Trump’s political objectives including job creation, investment and the battle against China. Buttering up the White House from the outset is a tactic here, and quite rightly so; this deal will need all the favour and luck available if it is to have any chance of success.

While this is a merger the telco industry has been eagerly awaiting for some time, Claure will have to muster all his Latin charm to win over regulators who have not been gazing favourably on acquisitions in recent months. The team is confident this deal will improve the lives of consumers, either through an accelerating role out of 5G or a more comprehensive challenge to the AT&T and Verizon duopoly, but there will certainly be resistance.

“Sprint and T-Mobile will be hard pressed to demonstrate how their combination would benefit the public interest,” said Phillip Berenbroick, Senior Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge. “This task proves increasingly difficult when a merger drastically reduces competition in the wireless marketplace, as this combination certainly will.

“If approved, this deal would especially hurt consumers seeking lower-cost wireless plans, as the combined company’s plans would likely increase while competitors AT&T and Verizon would have even less incentive to lower prices. Unless the merging parties can demonstrate clear competitive benefits we have yet to see, we will urge the Department of Justice and the FCC to reject this deal.”

There are arguments for both sides of the case, but one argument which will have to be addressed before too long is Canada. The friendly neighbours to the north of the US have three major carriers, Bell, Rogers and Telus, with tariffs priced almost identically. Some will argue this is primarily due to the reduced levels of competition. Claure will have to make some pretty bold promises to make sure this does not happen in the US, as should this deal go through, it is highly unlikely a fourth player would rise up to take Sprint’s vacant spot; the table stakes are simply too high. Competition is paramount in the eyes of regulators.

This is a deal which will face a very-high level of scrutiny, especially considering previous T-Mobile merger attempts have been quashed by regulators on the grounds of competition, so perhaps the calm, collected and charming Claure is the best man to be sent to Washington.

What do you think?

Following comments from the European Data Protection Supervisor, do you feel the internet giants are taking advantage of the digital economy?

Loading ... Loading ...

Tech giants are stifling the internet – Berners-Lee

On the 29th birthday of the World Wide Web its founder Sir Tim Berners-Lee has written an open-letter condemning the dominance of the big tech players, pointing out the negative impact on competition and society on the whole.

While no specific names were named, it’s not hard to guess which companies he is talking about is you read the comment below.

“The web that many connected to years ago is not what new users will find today,” said Berners-Lee. “What was once a rich selection of blogs and websites has been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms. This concentration of power creates a new set of gatekeepers, allowing a handful of platforms to control which ideas and opinions are seen and shared.”

The issue here is that the internet does not serve the little man which Berners-Lee hints was its purpose in the first place. While there is some logic to his argument, it is pretty much undermined with a complaint the biggest businesses in the world shouldn’t chase after the best talent or acquire innovative businesses to enhance their own platforms. Perhaps we should abandon the whole idea of modern day economics?

In a perfect world influence would not be concentrated in the hands of a few. The control of Facebook, Amazon, Google etc. would be more evenly distributed, but because of this scale innovations have been born. Google invested into the unprofitable Maps offering for years before it inspired various businesses and applications. How many SMEs have been created by Amazon’s scale? Would the information economy exist without Facebook’s contributions to how we view privacy and share details about our lives?

Berners-Lee might complain about the concentration of power, and it certainly isn’t a perfect scenario, but the internet is what it is today because of scale. Without scale of certain brands, credibility would not have been achieved and the online community which we have today would not exist. The sheep mentality is very evident today.

Everyone started going on Facebook because everyone else was already on there. Then everyone started sharing more because everyone else was sharing more. If Facebook’s community was split between 20 and 25 different platforms would the same snowball effect have been achieved? What would social media look like? Would we be as extroverted and open? Would the information economy exist? We’re not too sure.

It is easy to only concentrate on the part of the argument which you like and ignore everything else. Berners-Lee is doing this from his very, very high horse.

Google fined for search engine bias in India, but probably doesn’t care

Google has been fined roughly $21 million by the Competition Commission of India (CCI) for search engine bias; on most recent financial results, it would take Google around 90 minutes to work off the fine.

The investigation into Google initially began in 2012, following a complaint from dating website and social justice group Consumer Unity & Trust Society. The investigation ruled that Google abused its dominant market position around the design of Search Engine Result Page, with the team favouring commercial relationships.

“The CCI in its order noted that the allegations against Google in respect of search results essentially centred around design of Search Engine Result Page (SERP),” the CCI said in a statement.

“Exhibiting a self-imposed regulatory forbearance from scrutinizing product designs in ascertaining anti-trust violations, CCI noted in its order that product design is an important and integral dimension of competition, undue intervention in designs of SERP can affect legitimate product improvements.

“CCI further observed in its order that Google, being the gateway to the internet for a vast majority of internet users due to its dominance in the online web search market, is under an obligation to discharge its special responsibility.”

This is of course not the first time Google has found itself on the wrong side of right when it comes to antitrust watchdogs. Back in June it was fined €2.42 billion by the European Commission for bias on its comparison shopping service, Android got put in the naughty corner by authorities in Turkey in March, while it has also been under investigation in South Korea. These are only a couple of examples; Google is no stranger to the courtroom.

While action from the regulatory authorities is a positive sign, the time it took to make this decision and the amount which Google is being fined are the issue.

Firstly, five years to come to a decision is way too long. During this time Google would most likely have carried on with (now found) dodgy activities, profiting considerably off them. Google is an incredibly profitable machine and would have made hundreds of millions, if not billions, across this period. If a business practise is wrong it needs to be identified and stopped quickly. Five years is abysmal.

Secondly, the fine; it is nowhere near high enough. As mentioned before, using a crude calculation based on the total revenues brought in over the last quarter ($32.323 billion) it would take Google approximately 90 minutes to pay off the fine. If authorities want to be taken seriously they need to impose fines which are taken seriously by the guilty. $21 million is nothing to Google and is hardly going to be considered a deterrent. Right now, the CCI is looking like a very toothless watchdog.

CMA blocks Murdoch’s Sky high ambitions

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has blocked Rubert Murdoch’s and Fox’s $11.6 billion attempt to full control of Sky on the grounds of media plurality.

In short, the CMA doesn’t want any one individual or organization controlling too many press outlets in the UK. It would not be in the public interest, according to the watchdog, due to the importance of diversity of publicly consumed information to the democratic process. Murdoch’s assets are already read, heard or watched by a third of the UK population, which is already a questionable amount in our own opinion.

“The CMA has provisionally found that if the deal went ahead, as currently proposed, it is likely to operate against the public interest,” the CMA said in a statement.

“It would lead to the Murdoch Family Trust (MFT), which controls Fox and News Corporation (News Corp), increasing its control over Sky, so that it would have too much control over news providers in the UK across all media platforms (TV, Radio, Online and Newspapers), and therefore too much influence over public opinion and the political agenda.”

This will certainly come as a blow to Murdoch and the Fox business, as this is a deal which has been in the making since December 2016. It was referred to the CMA in September by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, over the concerns of media plurality, and this has been realised today. It is a clear message; no one individual or group should be able to influence public opinion to that extent.

Of course, there was a lot of hedging in the statements. The CMA praised Sky, Fox and Murdoch on its ability to inform the general public on the important issues of today, but irrelevant of precedent the CMA has to be on the lookout for nefarious intentions. Should one individual has such control over this many popular outlets, there is a risk of some stories being over hyped and some down played. Fake news might be a problem on social media, but it would be nothing if this many mainstream media titles started playing the same tune of euphoria and distraction.

This is not the end of the road however, as the CMA has put out a couple of suggested remedies to maintain media plurality, the first of which is simply banning the transaction and maintaining the status quo. The problem here is that should the CMA prevent the deal, there is a risk Sky News could be shut down. CMA has banned the closure of Sky News during the investigation, but there is a possibility of it happening. This is not a realistic solution, so we’re not too sure why the CMA is considering it.

Another possibility could be spinning off Sky News as its own standalone business. This might prove to be an interesting option for Murdoch considering the threat of extinction has been used as a bargaining chip to force through the deal. Why threaten the destruction on an asset when money can be made selling it off, achieving the desired result.

The final area is the deal with Walt Disney Company. During December, The Walt Disney Company announced that it was to acquire 21st Century Fox, after the spin-off of certain businesses, for $52.4 billion in stock. According to the CMA, this deal would weaken Murdoch’s hold over Sky, the root concern for media plurality, and therefore put the Fox/Sky deal back on the table. The door is not closed on this deal, but the CMA is not letting Murdoch do things his own way. One person having that much control over the media in one country is not a situation which should be allowed.

The Disney/Fox deal is of course subject to its own criticism and scrutiny from market watchdogs, so there might be a few nervous executives. A deal of this size usually hits hurdles in one or two markets around the world, so pinning the hopes of a controversial acquisition, on the success of another is certainly not an idea situation.

AT&T/Time Warner vs. Department of Justice; bout set for March 19

Judge Richard Leon of the District of Columbia has set a date for the antitrust trial to finally settle AT&T’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner and the Department of Justice’s wobbly.

What started as a relatively simple acquisition process for AT&T has quickly turned into a nightmare as the DoJ sued both the telco and Time Warner in an attempt to block an acquisition it views as anticompetitive. There is a glimmer of hope the saga might be resolved by the April deadline set by the two companies to complete the acquisition, but Judge Leon has warned any optimists should not hold their breath.

AT&T had been pushing for an earlier trial date due to the looming deadline on April 22. Should the acquisition not have completed by this time, the telco would have to fork out an extra $500 million to Time Warner investors. That said, it is not unusual for companies to agree deadline extensions, and this is certainly a situation which would warrant it.

Earlier this year, everything was rosy. AT&T was securing approvals all over the world for the deal, and it had found a couple of routes around US watchdogs to ease the regulatory process. Prior to the summer, few of the AT&T execs would have been worried about the April 22 deadline, but how things have changed.

President Trump has very vocal about his opposition to the deal, though a couple of commentators have pinned this down to his hatred of CNN (owned by Time Warner), and the Department of Justice has sued both parties. These lawsuits are seemingly built on the idea that AT&T would charge its rivals extortionate amounts of cash to access popular content, such as Game of Thrones. What is unclear is how much the DoJ has been influenced by the opinion of the Commander in Chief.

One comfort for AT&T is Judge Leon himself. The judge is known for handling high profile cases, and also a no-nonsense attitude towards basically anyone and everything. Politically he also appears to be pretty neutral.

What we find quite amusing is the government’s self-righteous stance on consumer protection when the Trump-led administration seems to be doing everything its power to destroy consumer protection when it comes to net neutrality and privacy. The current administration has continued to grant more powers and less accountability to intelligence agencies, while simultaneously scaling back all net neutrality regulation.

In terms of the net neutrality story, a lighter touch to regulation was probably a sensible decision to make, telcos have to be allowed to make money after all, but FCC Chairman Ajit Pai seems to have seen the line and sprinted as far past it as possible. Removing all net neutrality regulations is probably going too far, but that is the partisan nature of American politics. It’s all a game where the goal is to beat the politicians on the other side of the isle rather than help the American people.

Boresome bureaucrats make power play over frightening foreigners

We all knew Canadians were afraid of the dark and that Scots are not always fond of vegetables, but who knew the European Commissioners were wary of foreigners?

In her latest speech, the European Commission’s chief Gaggler for competition Margrethe Vestager, has seemingly set the tone; foreign money isn’t as good as the Euro. The latest move is a bit of a power play, with the Commission (hereafter known as the Gaggle of Red-tapers) seeking more influence over M&A activity.

“Because we know that fair competition is the way for Europe to succeed. But it needs to be based on a real level playing field,” said Vestager.

“In the last few months, we’ve heard concerns about foreign – often state-owned – investors taking over European companies that control key technologies. This issue isn’t simple. It needs careful consideration, before we decide how to act. We’re working on this issue now, and we plan to put forward concrete proposals in the autumn.”

In short, the Gagglers are hoping to emulate those crafty Germans. In the land of beer and sausages, the Government now has the power to veto certain acquisitions, should said acquisition impact national security or involve cutting-edge technology. There are several versions of these rules throughout the European Union; deals can be blocked if it can be proved to impact something of national importance, such as defence, energy, financial stability or security.

The rules were drawn up after the lederhosen enthusiasts objected to a bid for robot maker Kuka from Chinese organization Midea Group. The acquisition ultimately went through without intervention, but it seems the grumpy Germans seemingly wanted to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

It’s a nice, broad brief (which will put a smile on the faces of the lethargic legislators, who seem to work most efficiently [if efficient is even possible when talking about the Gaggle of Red-tapers] in the grey areas), which will extend the influence of the weary watchdog.

Currently, the Gaggle can only intervene in deals on the grounds of competition, but this new approach will make sure Commissioner Vestager will be able to make sure European companies are for European people, like any worthwhile Xenophobe.

And for those who have already felt the sharp edge of the Gagglers tedious (albeit slow very slow moving) stick, such rules would allow the cumbersome bureaucrat to weigh in pretty much where ever it want. Almost everything in the telco or technology space could be considered cutting-edge; nothing will be safe from the army of meandering coffee-breakers.

If you were under the impression regulators were able to slow down technological developments to date, wait until these rules get passed. You appreciation for how little can get done by over-paid and over-indulged public servants will be taken to a new level.

Where is the line in the sand for zero rating?

It’s a trend which has been growing steadily in the UK, but the line has not been found yet; when are zero rating offerings going to irk the bureaucrats of the telco world?

Vodafone has just unveiled VOXI, a young-orientated mobile service which provides zero rating on Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp, Pinterest, Snapchat, Twitter and Viber. Three has Go Binge, which offers free streaming on Netflix, SoundCloud, Dave and other channels. EE offers Apple Music streaming for free. Virgin Media offers zero rating for Twitter, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. It’s become endemic.

But when will competition authorities decide the practise is not fair? Over in the US, AT&T and Verizon have been bickering with the FCC over the legalities of zero rating offers, but such arguments don’t seem to have crossed the pond in any substantial manner to date. This in itself seems odd; usually the European Commission usually can’t wait to get it’s hands on a competition challenge, but it doesn’t seem to be bothered yet.

Maybe it is preoccupied, maybe it’s because its holiday time, or maybe the telcos haven’t crossed the invisible line yet. As regulation usually lags behind technological developments, there is often a testing of the boundaries. Like toddlers, the tech giants will push the limits until they upset the overseers and get sent to the naughty step.

That seems to be where the zero rating offers are at the moment. The line hasn’t been found and the lumbering giant in Brussels remains snoozing, working off a gluttony of lunch time chocolate smothered waffles. But this does seem to right in the Brussels ballpark, after all, zero rating offers do nudge users towards preferential services.

Data is a precious commodity for millennials; you wouldn’t want to run out in the middle of a cat video. Therefore, users will naturally lean towards applications which don’t run down the data allocation. It’s irrelevant as to whether most of these applications (excluding the video ones) use marginal amounts of data, when you are told something is free the natural inclination is to use it.

In this light it discourages competition. The operators are favouring the established and larger scale platforms, making it much more difficult for competitors to break into the space. It doesn’t matter that there is unlikely to be a Facebook usurper, with zero rating offerings favouring Zuckerberg and his cronies, user preferences will naturally lean that way.

Of course, operators will state they are open to new partners, but there has to be something in return. The operators will be sending a steady flow of users towards the platform, so there will naturally have to be some sort of reward; these are businesses not charities after all. The financials behind the zero rating offers have not been unveiled, but you can imagine there will be a kick back.

Maybe there is some sort of discount on Facebook advertising or free promotional activity on Twitter? These are platforms which have millions (if not billions) of users, there is an incentive for the cash-conscious operators. But what is the leverage for the challenger businesses? It will be unlikely they have the user base or the footprint to attract interest. So it is an uneven playing field which is growing steeper.

On the other side of the coin, some might argue this is just sensible business. It is a contra agreement between two organizations who are making best use of the assets which they have. It’s a relationship which benefits both, which possibly does not involve any cash transactions. In this light, it might be sensible to say fair enough, but this hasn’t usually stopped boresome bureaucrats in the past.

The European Commission is currently in an antitrust battle with Google over its Android software, though this is a different slant; Google is being accused of favouring its own services. That is seen as a no-no, but with the operators favouring the big boys and not getting involved with any challengers, you can just imagine this is the sort of competition debate the beer-swilling Belgium’s usually love.

Maybe zero rating is okay, maybe it will be viewed as a fair business exchange or maybe the operators will start looking for smaller fish to fry. Or maybe when the lethargic legislators are awoken from the summertime slumber in September, there will a new round of antitrust arguments.