[Regulatory gag by D.Ellis]
A couple of days ago the CRTC issued its Three-Year Plan for 2012-2015. In response, Michael Geist has published a bullish comment entitled CRTC Places Consumers and Access at the Top of its Priority List. As Michael notes:
The CRTC priorities document identifies a single overarching objective: “ensuring that Canadians have access to a world-class communication system.” Given the myriad of policy objectives contained in both the Telecommunications Act and the Broadcasting Act, the singular focus on consumer access is a subtle but important change from the approach of the previous chair, Konrad von Finckenstein.
True dat. For the first time I can remember, the Commission has even let the much-neglected concept of affordability creep into its parlance. Michael points out that the three “pillars” chosen to focus this effort are summed up as “create, connect, and protect.” For me, that’s where the trouble starts. Here’s how the CRTC document explains the connect leg of this stool:
2. Connect - The CRTC’s activities under this pillar ensure that Canadians can connect to quality and innovative communication services at affordable prices and can have access to creative content (my emphasis). Continue reading
My local Prada outlet, where the $1,200 shoes are 100% accessible
Last Thursday the CRTC issued its not-much-anticipated annual effort known as the Communications Monitoring Report (press release here – see if you can find the well-concealed and unidentified pdf download link). Peter Nowak wasted not a moment getting to his point this week: the Commission is peddling broadband Kool-Aid. (For you kids who’ve never heard of Ken Kesey or Tom Wolfe, here’s a hint: Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.)
Peter argues the regulator’s rosy broadband picture is baloney – check. And their numbers are cooked – check.
My lingering concern is some people might think this year’s edition of the CMR is an aberration. On the contrary. The Commission has been cooking the numbers since it first combined its broadcast and telecomm reports in 2008. Not that many Canadians are likely to have noticed, since the CMR is strictly an inside job, the kind of compilation you’d have to be paid to read. That makes the contents well insulated from criticism. After all, the boys who gave us UBB on a stick aren’t likely to phone the regulator to say, no, actually our broadband blows.
Four years of the CMR confirm two things I’ve been saying in this space. First, all this effort is just so much marketing; it has no claim to be evidence-based reporting. Second, it belies the Commission’s self-appointed role not as guardian of the public interest, but as industry clearing house, where all that matters is keeping the supply-side machinery well greased. Continue reading
CIUS analyst Ben Veenhof provides feedback on my analysis
On Monday I posted part 3 of a 3-part series on what’s wrong with the CRTC’s broadband target. While the CRTC’s specifics – especially the 5 meg downlink, 1 meg uplink, and 2015 target date – have been grist for the pundit mill, my take is a little different. In a word, the CRTC’s regulation of retail Internet access, as well as its inability to understand how the Net works, have rendered the target meaningless.
You’ll undoubtedly want to read the posts for yourself. But it’s easy to pull out my biggest issue with the Commission’s ivory-tower approach: they’re way too stuck on the geography problem to have any time for the affordability problem. In other words, where residents happen to live in Canada should be playing a much smaller role in Internet regulation and broadband development than how much money Canadians make – or don’t make. Continue reading
How do you know?
This is an important question in many walks of life. In the natural sciences, it’s the most important question.
I’ve been doing some work with my son recently and had a chance to see that for myself. As a medical geneticist, Jordan devotes a lot of time to carrying out research and sharing his findings with other scientists in peer-reviewed journals. In his field, the standards of proof are extremely high, both because molecular medicine is so complex and because peoples’ lives are at stake.
I’d be exaggerating if I said lives were at stake in my classroom. Yet what I teach liberal arts students in a seminar about the Internet is based on a sense of respect for the same principle: you can’t write a research essay based on hearsay.
Students make bold assertions without giving a thought to why we should believe them. Of course, it’s a lot less work for the student writer to forget the “proof” and move on. But it’s well worth the effort on everyone’s part to encourage an understanding of when empirical evidence is important and when it isn’t.
Which brings us to the CRTC. Continue reading
(Updated May 25)
Broadband’s 3 A’s: access > adoption > activity
There are three distinct stages of broadband development for policy purposes.
The first is access or availability - the physical presence of a DSL, DOCSIS or other connection a consumer might lease if she so chooses. As the data show, however, the presence of a backyard drop is a necessary but far from sufficient condition of broadband purchase. Our would-be customer must also be aware the potential connection exists; own a computer; feel comfortable with technology; and feel she can afford the cost. (New evidence for this well-established finding appears in the FCC broadband report released May 20: “… the FCC report also finds that approximately one-third of Americans do not subscribe to broadband, even when it’s available. This suggests that barriers to adoption such as cost, low digital literacy, and concerns about privacy remain too high.” From the press release; emphasis original. See end of this post for more on the FCC.)
The fact alleged by the CRTC that 95% of Canadians enjoy theoretical access to wireline broadband means nothing to the average consumer, let alone a Canadian too poor or technically illiterate to adopt. Last year some provincial politicians went even further, claiming their citizens enjoy 100% broadband access. As the Wire Report noted in an article dated August 25, 2010, “Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick may boast 100% penetration, but according to Statistics Canada, [only] 77, 76 and 73% of residents, respectively, use the Internet [in those provinces].” And some of those users are still on dialup, which makes the real broadband takeup in those provinces even lower.
Canada’s mighty broadband policy: build it and they will come
A colleague of mine emailed me recently. He was responding to my April post on Rescuing Consumers from the Scourge of Netflix. He was amused. Then came this sobering thought: “Maybe things will change. Maybe. Keep pushing that rock up the hill.”
Thanks a bunch. Lately the soliloquies posted here have been sounding like a broken record and, yes, playing Sisyphus is a lot less fun than it looks. Why the annoying repetition? The problem has something to do with certain misguided policy assumptions that simply will not die – like those behind the CRTC’s May 3 decision, Telecom Regulatory Policy CRTC 2011-291. As the press release says: “CRTC sets speed target for broadband Internet and maintains obligation to provide basic home telephone service.”
Here it is, one more time: having access to broadband and being a broadband adopter are from different planets (as I explained in 2 previous posts, here and here)
Reactions to the broadband target dwelt mainly on a) why aren’t we doing more for our poor compatriots in rural Canada; b) what particular speeds to target; and c) who’s gonna pay for any buildout. I was disappointed PIAC’s Lawford stayed mostly with the rural ethos, leaving too much room for the interpretation that broadband is all hunky-dory in urban centres:
“If there is no rural broadband now, there will not be any more thanks to this decision,” PIAC counsel John Lawford said in a press release (Wire Report, May 6). Continue reading
I’ve said usage trumps access, policy-wise – i.e. sheer access does nothing for the public interest or consumer welfare (though it does a lot for the self-serving proclamations of politicians, policymakers and ISPs: We’re the best!)
How does my principle look in numerical terms? I did some analysis of the Stats Can data mentioned by Karen Fournier (see previous post), and I have a modest suggestion.
Let’s go back to that reference on the Stats Can provincial data:
Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick may boast 100 penetration, but according to Statistics Canada, 77, 76 and 73 per cent of residents, respectively, use the Internet.
Before we get to dialing these numbers down, let’s define our terms. The phrase “use the Internet” raises four terminological questions:
- One, respondents use the Internet on what kind of connection?
- Two, use it from where?
- Three, use it how often?
- And four, what’s the age cutoff? Continue reading
I was approached recently to talk with the Wire Report and CBC Radio about broadband access. One good thing about talking to journalists like Karen Fournier is they tend to be on top of breaking news. You learn some things. In this case, I learned what provincial officials have been going around saying to their lucky citizens about their alleged “access” to broadband.
Turns out many of these officials have the same bizarre ideas about broadband as their federal counterparts, as you would glean from the article’s title: Provinces criticized for reporting 100 per cent broadband access (sub. req’d). It may be ignorance, it may be manipulation, probably a little from each column:
The provinces of Saskatchewan, P.E.I., Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, as well as the Yukon, say they have broadband penetration rates—or access rates—of 100 per cent. Continue reading