In a post last week, I described the conference taking place this Friday and Saturday in Ottawa dubbed Rebooting our communications legislation. I’ve had a chance since then to talk to several other participants and one message emerges clearly: watch out, Ottawa, the legislation is going to get a kick in the ass.
I zeroed in on a couple of issues that I find are especially telling signs of the need for change. I’ll stick with one right now: the would-be protection for aboriginal broadcasting in section 3 of the Broadcasting Act…
The chart above was sent to our panel by Monica Auer. As she notes, section 3(1)(o) sets out a provision explicitly intended to promote aboriginal broadcasting:
“… programming that reflects the aboriginal cultures of Canada should be provided within the Canadian broadcasting system as resources become available for the purpose” (my emphasis).
In this post, I follow up on my comments about the first day of the CRTC’s hearing to review its framework for wholesale services in the telecom industry. Since the most significant sector to be affected is Canada’s residential broadband service, I’m summarizing evidence here that was compiled recently by the Open Technology Institute (OTI) that compares broadband in 24 cities in Europe, East Asia and the US, along with Toronto. This evidence is consistent with findings from other international studies. It shows Toronto lags far behind the broadband leaders in available speeds; in the penetration of fiberoptic platforms; in symmetric connectivity (uplink bandwidth matches downlink bandwidth); and, most seriously from a social policy perspective, in the high prices Torontonians are forced to pay. I take this evidence as a strong argument in favor of maintaining and extending the regulatory regime that ensures open access to networks for smaller, competitive ISPs – including not just legacy platforms like DSL, but also emerging fiber platforms. Unless the CRTC includes these next-generation platforms, Canada will fall even further behind in its long slide into slow and expensive broadband connectivity.
“We are now ready to take our place as the most technologically advanced nation on the planet.” –Stephen Harper, Digital Canada 150, April 2014
Bricks and mortar with window, Spitalfields, London E1, August 2013
How can the CRTC do a better job?
As I argued in the previous two posts, the CMR doesn’t have a life of its own; it reflects the CRTC’s larger priorities. The big one here is research and evidence-based policymaking. A close second is the Commission’s still awkward fashion of trying to reach out to the little people – i.e. anybody besides the inner circle. Here are my suggestions for how it can do what it apparently wants to do, only better:
1 – Stop wasting money on online consultations. Redeploy it for real consumer research. Online consultations aren’t just a waste of money; they can also be highly misleading. One reason for their being unrepresentative is that online “surveys” of the public can’t reach Canadians who aren’t online to begin with. Unfortunately, the Commission isn’t going to find any new money for research, not as long as it sticks to the current Expenditure Profile. As shown in the graph below, the Commission’s spending is pretty much flat from 2009 to 2016, especially if these figures were converted to constant dollars…
Last time, I described some of the ways in which the CMR has fallen short. I added that the current incarnation of this document marks a sharp departure by reflecting a greater concern for end-user behaviors and consumer welfare. I’ve been looking at the CMR less as a source of information about particular trends, and more as a window through which to gauge how the Commission is allocating priorities (the CMR page is here).
I grouped the details into four areas, and covered 1 and 2 in the previous post:
1- The emphasis on industry vs consumer welfare. That emphasis has changed quite dramatically in the 2013 edition, which stems from the pro-consumer tilt the Commission has taken under the current Chair.
2 – The reluctance to report bad news. This entrenched timidity is still holding back critical discussion. That’s one great advantage the FCC’s structure has: open and sometimes quite vocifeous partisanship, since appointees must include a balance of Democrats and Republicans.
It’s always been a challenge to figure out who the CRTC is talking to in its annual Communications Monitoring Report (CMR). This year’s edition, released last week, shows some progress has been made on the goal of putting the consumer first.
[Sept 30: some minor edits and corrections made]
What does the CMR tell us about its authors?
For anyone who cares to tackle well over 200 pages of really dense charts, tables and footnotes, with equally dense explanatory prose, the CMR can serve two very different purposes (this year it’s 262 pp: CRTC’s launch page is here). One is the obvious: use the data to better understand the trends in Canada’s legacy and digital media. The other is less obvious and to my mind a lot more interesting: use the details, the tone, the assumptions in these pages to gauge how the regulator is thinking about its changing role in the marketplace. Continue reading →
Fresh data show Canada is still a mediocre performer among the dozens of nations measured continuously by Ookla on 5 broadband performance variables. Will the CRTC’s 2013 Communications Monitoring Report, due out this week, keep up the old tradition of pretending Canadian broadband is just fine?
[Sept 24: added pointers to Ookla]
For weeks now, we’ve been pummeled by tales from the wireless wars. As recently as last Thursday, Michael Geist was reminding us how two-faced and hypocritical the incumbents can be, as if that was a surprise. Nothing gets the incumbents foaming at the mouth – behaving like “raving lunatics,” as Tony Lacavera put it – like the prospect of being disciplined by real competition.
I say it’s time to think again about the equally dismal and depressing state of wireline broadband in Canada. Wireline isn’t nearly as sexy as it used to be – not as fodder for controversy I mean. A couple of years ago, we started hearing forecasts from the likes of Cisco pointing to the triumphant rise of mobile everywhere. The mobile forecasts are holding (see Cisco’s mobile forecast for 2012-2017 here). But even 4G LTE isn’t going to make a lot of subs give up their residential DSL or DOCSIS any time soon. So let’s get back to making invidious international broadband comparisons, this time courtesy of Ookla and its ongoing Net Index broadband usage project. Continue reading →