Artist’s rendering of pentup demand for 22 more mandatory TV channels
Update (Apr 11). In citing Michael Geist’s post below, I neglected to point out the suggestion he makes to replace must-carry in the service of viewer interests. A must-offer policy would require “broadcast distributors to offer all licensed channels to their subscribers in a pick-and-pay format.” That idea seems sensible, although it’s difficult to see how it could be implemented across the board without a) confronting capacity and delivery issues, especially for smaller BDUs; and b) having the Commission set demand thresholds for very marginal broadcast services. What happens if 50 people request a service on a system with 5,000 subscribers? Whatever the merits, the big distributors are not exactly enthusiastic about pick-and-pay, if only because of the money they would have to leave on the table. But these are all yesterday’s battles and they demonstrate clearly what’s wrong with Canada’s broadcasting system: it’s 20 years out of date, based on outmoded assumptions about infrastructure scarcity, the need to “protect” our sovereignty and the passive role of the TV audience. If only we had a technology that offered a more economic, personal and interactive way to communicate. Wait. We do. It’s called the Internet.
In my previous post, I concentrated on channel-bundling in the US and how the market has been reacting to the pros and cons. Today I want to talk about the CRTC’s must-carry proceeding, an event that has triggered a lot of debate (see Broadcasting Notice of Consultation CRTC 2013-19).
Rather than convincing millions of Canadian consumers that their services are worth buying, the broadcasters need only convince a handful of CRTC commissioners that their service meets criteria such as making “an exceptional contribution to Canadian expression.” That is supposedly a high bar, yet it is surely far easier than convincing millions of people to pay for your service each month. Continue reading →
Update with correction: TekSavvy’s marketing chief, Tina Furlan, tells me the company has lowered its DSL prices, on average, by $7.50. That translates into a drop of 18%, which I’ve now indicated in the revised title. I went ahead with 28% originally, which is the drop in my own service tier, as explained below. That average is still very impressive in a part of the world where we only ever hear about price increases. I’m assuming some TSI customers will now feel able to move up to a faster service, especially in the uplink, which has always been the choke point in the asymmetric residential last mile. One meg up, which runs typically at about 750 kbps, is just no good for the kinds of data we’re becoming accustomed to, like multi-meg email attachments.
Anyone who’s ever spent more than 5 minutes reading this page knows I’ve spilt a phenomenal amount of ink over the miserable state of broadband in Canada – not that I’m alone. In addition to some of the world’s highest prices, we put up with unacceptably slow speeds, shitty customer service, off the graph latency, way too little fiber, and marketing that deliberately confuses and misleads. Then an email arrived this morning from TekSavvy. Just before we get to their unbelievably good news, here’s a clip that sums up the status quo like a punch between the eyes. It’s from the US, but don’t tell that to Bell or Rogers (speaking of which, when I ran this at one point, the Google ad was for… Rogers Home Monitoring, yowzer!).
I’ve been gathering reactions to last week’s CRTC decisions on wholesale rates for Internet access. My takeaway is a lot of people are having trouble understanding what the hell it all means. So in this series of posts I’m going to provide some plain-language context.
Today, I’m covering broadband competition, and the unusual structure of Canada’s wholesale and retail Internet access market. In the next post, I’ll look at how the CRTC arrives at wholesale costs and what that will mean for your residential bill. Finally, I’m going to focus in the third post on the UBB controversy of two years ago and how that relates to the recent rulings.
A pig in a poke
Communications services play an increasingly important role in our lives. Yet the evidence is that awareness among consumers about what they’re getting when they buy broadband is stunningly low. Continue reading →
Mandatory mittens for men on casual Fridays has been shown to reduce sexual harrassment at Voltage*
Some updates and changes (Thursday, December 13)
Monday’s court hearing. Voltage has managed to schedule a hearing at the Federal Court for Monday, December 17, which leaves little time for targeted TekSavvy subscribers to organize their defence. TekSavvy couldn’t notify these customers until it had churned through a huge pile of logs, in order to correlate subscribers with the thousands of numeric IP addresses Voltage dumped on them. And it wasn’t until December 7 that TekSavvy was served with the final Notice of Motion, the document that compels TekSavvy to attend at court where, Voltage hopes, it will be ordered to turn over all relevant customer information so the bullying can proceed.
Many people I’ve talked to seem to have missed the crucial point that TekSavvy itself is not a defendant in this case as it is not liable for any putative infringing activity on its network. In Canada, when a customer requests a file from, say, The Pirate Bay, and the customer’s ISP simply provides the platform over which to have the file delivered, that ISP is deemed to be acting as a mere carrier. The ISP is not deemed to be a “user” nor considered to be “authorizing” the download. Hence TekSavvy is not a defendant in the Voltage claim. I raise this point simply so that interested parties, especially possible defendants, are clear on TekSavvy’s legal standing in this action. Continue reading →
This is the 3rd instalment of my comments on the CRTC’s wireless code consultation.
In part 2, I strayed into some wireline data to make a larger point about shortcomings in the CRTC’s handling of two major duties: conducting research and communicating with the public. Today I want to add some followup on the issue of competition.
Update (Nov 23).For a good time, give a listen to this 15-minute audio version of the TekSavvy conversation that Devin put together – quite different from my original edit of the transcribed text below.
Our broadband future may not be a wasteland after all
Last week I sat down to talk shop with three TekSavvy execs who are breathing new life into the indie ISP sector. At the table were Marc Gaudrault, co-founder and CEO; Tina Furlan, Director of Communications & Marketing; and Pierre Aubé, Chief Operating Officer. They were wrapping up a visit to the Toronto ISP Summit, where the keynote speaker was CRTC chair Jean-Pierre Blais.
We discussed the broadband market in Canada, including the continuing enthusiasm over J-P Blais. We also talked about TekSavvy’s cool rebranding campaign and how it reflects the company’s approach to growing its subscriber base, now at 180,000. If you haven’t seen the new creative, here’s what one of the ad banners looks like…
This one has proven so popular in the Toronto subway that riders are actually stealing them as souvenirs. Continue reading →
I think the CRTC’s decision to get the incumbents’ financials out of the closet is very positive – another demonstration of Chairman Blais’s public-spirited philosophy. But even Chairman Blais has a corporate history to live with, and that’s not going to be a cakewalk. So before we start counting our chickens, let me outline four factors working against consumer-friendly broadband in this country:
Canada’s market share failure
misgivings about switching providers
the unfulfilled goals of the Telecommunications Act
the 2006 Direction to the CRTC on market forces.
1 – Market share failure. The long-standing failure of Canada’s broadband competition policy is summed up in the time series above, which I concocted from data in the CRTC’s latest Communications Monitoring Report (pdf uploaded here; see Table 5.3.2, p.150). The graph contrasts total market share for the independent ISPs, in blue, with that of the incumbents, in green (both exclude business services and dialup). For all the pontificating over the years from the von Finckenstein CRTC and Tory politicians about how super-duper competitive everything is in Canadian telecoms, the data tell a very different story. Continue reading →
“It really boils down to this. How can we compete if we don’t have cost-based input prices!? When incumbents have retail rates that are lower than the CRTC-approved costs and foreign investors run for the hills, you know something smells! We need real cost-based prices so that competition can work. We’ve tried it the other way, and it didn’t work. This has to be the solution.”
– Marc Gaudrault, CEO, TekSavvy (blog post - Oct 26, 2012)
The CRTC has done it again. On October 26, as Bell’s lawyers were just starting to lob hurt feelings about Astral in the direction of Ottawa’s Deciders, the Commission was issuing another pro-consumer decision. That would be Telecom Regulatory Policy CRTC 2012-592: “Confidentiality of information used to establish wholesale service rates.” Bill Sandiford, president of CNOC, the Canadian Network Operators Consortium (which includes TekSavvy), said they were “very pleased” with the decision (Wire Report, paywall).
In a phrase, the Commission has taken away the blank check that allowed the incumbents to hide demand forecasts, service level costs, corporate cost factors and other inputs associated with wholesaling Internet access. Henceforth, the incumbents will have to reveal far more information about the costs of their Internet services than ever before. All in the interests of that noble precept we call transparency. As you can tell from reading the decision, the incumbents hate the idea that mere mortals finally get a chance to peer up their skirts. Continue reading →