Digital Canada 150: why the Tory plan is risky, not just foolish

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April 17 and a couple of updates

1 – Data caps. Not quite a breaking news update (on my caps comments at the end ofpost-dc150-caps-2 this post), since this story appeared in Ars Technica on March 13. “Time Warner Cable has been offering customers $5 monthly discounts in exchange for giving up unlimited data for the last couple of years, but almost no one has taken the company up on its offer.” In fact, only a few thousand of TWC’s 11.5 million customers have done so.

Here’s the deal: any TWC sub who wants to save the $5 a month can do so by cutting their cap from unlimited to… 30 GB! Jon Brodkin does the math and figures that three months of “excessive” Internet use and that sub loses a year’s worth of savings. The USA’s second most-despised ISP (after Comcast) has a story for that. CEO Rob Marcus claims his customers must value unlimited – duhdoy.

TimeWarnerCable_Logo_1But that’s only half the battle. If TWC merges with Comcast, Marcus’s attachment to unlimited will get swept away by the new boss, who never met a data cap he didn’t like. At the end of the day, the unlimited offer is on very shaky ground as an operating principle, since even Marcus is still mouthing the usual ISP party line: “I think that the concept of ‘use more pay more, use less pay less,’ is an important principle to establish.” In other words, we’re going to keep pretending that congestion is caused by hogs, not by aggregate traffic buildups. In Canada, meanwhile, we know for sure that Bell and Rogers would never have offered unlimited in any form were it not for the competitive embarrassment from TekSavvy and its combo of 300-gig and unlimited packages.

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2 – Mean download speeds. In this post I made particular fun of the Moore-Harper scheme to give Canadians a 2017 broadband target of… 5 Mbps! All kinds of data, including data from the real world in our own country, shows the Tories have no clue what they’re doing on the digital file. Another nail got hammered into that particular coffin a couple of days ago, when Ofcom announced that measured (actual) mean download speed in the UK has now hit 17.8 Mbps – whereas the UK mean had already hit our Tory target four years ago (May 2010). Two lessons emerge from Ofcom’s latest research.

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From Ofcom’s broadband research page (April 15, 2014)

The first is, of course, that the Tories have been overtaken by events in broadband development. As I argued below, they aren’t just struggling to keep up; they’ve already lost, for the simple reason they don’t care enough to pay anything other than lip service to the benefits of digital.

The second lesson is this: Ofcom actually does detailed empirical research and makes the results widely and readily available. And they use the data they collect to make policy. It’s time for the CRTC to start paying attention to how a consumer-friendly regulator conducts business. Here’s a hint from the page on the broadband results, in the form of the seven subject headings used:

  • Average UK broadband speed revealed
  • Differences across the country
  • Fastest download and upload speeds over a 24 hour period
  • Average download speeds by ISP package
  • Measuring speeds at peak times
  • Advertising and promoting broadband speeds
  • Ofcom broadband speeds research

There’s a nice crossover here between this update and the caps above. If the CRTC began making all these measurements, especially speeds at peak times, pretty soon we’d begin to see that caps have no role in traffic management.

In a perfect object lesson for the CRTC (which is currently trying to fix its kludge of a Web site), here’s how Ofcom describes their work under the last of these subject headings – and in particular, how their work is puposefully designed to help consumers make purchase decisions:

This is Ofcom’s tenth report into fixed-line residential broadband speeds using data collected by research partner SamKnows. The research examined packages provided by the seven largest ISPs by subscriber numbers. There were 735 million separate test results recorded in 2,391 homes during November 2013. The report is intended to help consumers understand the significant variations in the performance of ISP packages and, when considered alongside other factors such as price, to make more informed purchasing decisions.

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Four years and they give us 26 lousy pages?

Your first clue as to the astounding incompetence of the DC150 plan is its length.

(The home page gives you the option of launching a so-called “interactive” version, Ottawa’s gloss for a launch button and virtual page-turning – hurray for Javascript!)

It’s hard to understand how these guys thought they could get away with releasing what is essentially a marketing brochure and pass it off as a national strategy. Then there’s the timing issue.

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Four years ago Canadians were treated to a consultation on Improving Canada’s Digital Advantage (pdf). Until last week there hadn’t been any action on whatever that consultation turned up. You’d think after all that time IC officials would have cobbled together more things for us to read. Worse still, DC150 makes not a single allusion to the 2010 exercise, suggesting it was just window-dressing and a waste of tax dollars.

Now let’s look at how those 26 pages get used. Continue reading

CRTC demands answers from Bell on its Mobile TV shellgame

mirko-bibic-1Bell’s CRTC whisperer, Mirko Bibic, got bent out of shape when he saw the CRTC’s annoying interrogatories Friday morning

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Today saw another encouraging step in the CRTC’s management of the Ben Klass Part 1 application on Bell’s Mobile TV service. You can get the backstory in my prior posts (first one was in November) and from Ben’s blog, among other places.

That step was the interrogatories sent to Bell officials, asking for detailed information on Bell’s network architecture, subscriber invoicing, content exclusivity and competition, among other things. I’ve pasted in all 10 of the Commission’s questions below. A couple of comments in the meantime…

bell-mobileTVimageFirst off, the language of the questions demonstrates that the Commission is taking Ben’s application to heart, and that it sees a prima facie case against Bell for violating telecom rules. On one crucial point, whether Mobile TV is simply a broadcasting service as Bell claims, the Commission staff want to hear an explanation of the “inconsistency” in Bell’s statements on this matter – as well as of “how a data service that uses the Internet is not a telecommunications service” (yes, Bell argues that its quacking duck ain’t no water fowl no how). Continue reading

European Parliament votes 534 to 25 for network neutrality

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Here in Canada, our idea of a free and open Internet is being held hostage by the CRTC. Its TV Talks consultation makes it very clear that a non-discriminatory Internet is going to continue to play backseat to our quaint, moribund notion of TV culture – which Ottawa thinks is still holding the country together from sea to shining sea.

In a far more vociferous debate on net neutrality, the US open Internet community has been pitted against the outré posturings of many Republicans, who want their government to stay in the business of regulating the Internet through ICANN, but condemn the FCC’s latest attempt to revive its Open Internet Order as a form of censorship, an innovation killer and a solution in search of a problem. The Republicans have ingeniously, and disingenuously, co-opted the the whole notion of a free and open Internet in their current lingo, while winning headline battles by turning every attempt to protect innovation, free speech and access to bandwidth as part of the unspeakable idea of… gasp, regulating the Internet!

PilardelCastilloVera-1Meanwhile, earlier today, the European Parliament voted by an overwhelming majority to pass the report tabled by member Pilar del Castillo Vera of Spain that outlines a strong, unambiguous framework for protecting EU citizens from unwarranted discrimination on the Internet. The European support for net neutrality, which may still wait months for endorsement by member nations, is dripping with irony. (The release page is here, excerpt below.) Continue reading

Ben Klass post on those outrageous Big 3 mobile price hikes

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It appears Bell, Rogers and Telus are still not making a decent buck from Canada’s textbook wireless oligopoly. So they’ve raised their prices – again, all at once, all by the same amount.

To shed some light on the meaning of this further greed-is-good foray into price-gouging, I’ve asked Ben Klass to let me re-post the comments he made about the recent price hikes on his blog on March 17, under the title Wireless Carriers’ High Flying Prices. Ben documents the obvious and awful truth: out West where there’s competition, prices are… wait for it… lower! Continue reading

Intervening in support of Ben Klass complaint on Bell Mobile TV

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Last Wednesday was the deadline for followup comments on Ben’s Part 1 application, more accurately described as a complaint. In the text below you’ll find the main body of my intervention, minus the top and tail. I wrote about Ben’s original filing back in November: Ben Klass asks CRTC to stop Bell’s deliquency on Mobile TV. As of today, Ben’s current filing hasn’t yet shown up on the Commission’s site: I’ve uploaded it here. Of the other interventions filed this past week, two were especially critical of what Bell is being allowed to get away with. Teresa Murphy starts her comments by suggesting that Bell’s whole argument is founded on a phony distinction (para 2: her pdf is uploaded here):

It makes no sense whatsoever to treat competing services differently when the underlying technology and distribution method is the same. This is allowing vertically integrated companies to behave by one set of rules, and allowing them to treat their competitors differently, and frankly unfairly.

Continue reading

The Internet in 2025: 12 reasons to fear our online future (Pew 5)

patel-theverge-internet-is-fuckedBe very afraid: see Nilay Patel’s hard-hitting post in The Verge last week

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The trends are mostly about fragmentation

Or at least the triumph of depth of experience over outreach and a sense of commonality.

This is the 5th and last of my responses from the 2013-14 edition of the Pew/Elon experts survey on the future of the Internet. I only answered 5 of this year’s 8 questions; my four prior responses are these:

The final Pew question was the only one described as open-ended, i.e. it did not begin with the usual Yes/No binary choice. By the time I was done writing my relatively short response, I was seriously depressed. As Free Press president Craig Aaron said to The Verge’s Nilay Patel: “What we need right now is decisive action. We can still unfuck the Internet.” Sure, but where’s decisive action going to come from? The FCC? The CRTC? Questions for another time. Continue reading

The Internet in 2025: the Internet/Cloud of Things (Pew 4)

internet_map_2005_dataPartial map of the Internet cloud. Each line joins 2 nodes representing IP addresses. 

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Pew setup question

The evolution of embedded and wearable devices and the Internet/Cloud of Things – As billions of devices, artifacts, and accessories are networked, will the Internet of Things have widespread and beneficial effects on the everyday lives of the public by 2025?

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The visualization of the Internet you see above, while pretty dense and complicated, captures only a fraction of a certain class of networks as they existed nine years ago (i.e., less than 30% of the Class C networks reached by the Opte Project in early 2005). In the intervening time, the number of Internet-connected hosts has increased from less than 400 million to over one billion. But you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.

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This past year marked the mainstreaming – in the public consciousness if not in our actual lives – of devices that are not only a) smart so they can compute, and b) small so they can be worn or embedded, but also c) networked so they can all communicate over the Internet. Judging by press coverage, I’d say the splashiest recent entries have been Google Glass and smart watches. Continue reading

In TekSavvy-Voltage ruling, Federal Court champions privacy

voltage-productionsVoltage talent were so excited about Thursday’s decision they took their clothes off

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TekSavvy ordered to ID alleged movie downloaders: Voltage Pictures targets 2,000 customers of internet service provider — Canadian Press via cbc.ca, Feb 21, 2014

Court orders Canadian ISP to reveal customers who downloaded movies – Globe and Mail, Feb 21, 2014

Downloading Decision: Federal Court Establishes New Safeguards on Disclosures in File Sharing Suits — Michael Geist blog post, Feb 20, 2014

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[Feb 27: a few minor edits and additions]

You may have noticed something uneven about the press coverage of this week’s Federal Court decision on Voltage’s motion to get the contact info of 2,000 TekSavvy subs. The headlines made it all about the order to disclose and the prospect of a lot of personal information being revealed.

That wasn’t and isn’t the story, for two notable reasons. One, the order was pretty much inevitable; two, the order was hedged with unprecedented safeguards directed at both copyright trolling and end-user privacy. Continue reading